As we enter the last lap of the 15th general election campaign, it remains tough to predict the outcome, although some patterns have emerged based on a number of surveys.
Barisan Nasional (BN) helmed by Umno, which was the favourite to win at the start of campaigning, is now trailing behind Perikatan Nasional (PN) and Pakatan Harapan (PH).
The battle between PN and PH is now neck-to-neck, as we enter the last day of campaigning with the likelihood of either one emerging as the winner with some 112 or 113 seats if combined with the seats of the winning coalitions in Sabah and Sarawak.
This is as good as a hung parliament, which occurs when a winning coalition obtains 111 seats (or 110 because one candidate has passed on).
But surveys are basically a prediction of the probability of an event's occurrence and can never be 100% accurate – that’s why they are always accompanied by a margin of error.
If you understand statistics in the context of the probability theory, you’ll be humbled enough to know that a poll which said, for instance, that PH has a 99% chance of winning the election, does not mean it’s a sure 100% win, and that the 1% chance of PH losing is something that can take place in the realm of reality.
Similarly, a poll that says BN has a 90% chance of losing does not necessarily mean BN is going to lose with its pants down because there is a 10% chance that it will win, and this 10% chance can become a reality.
The problem with most pollsters is that when they announce the results of their poll, the small margin of losing (or winning) is taken as a fact that will never happen in reality.
In recent years, the reliability of political polling in predicting the outcome of elections has come under question.
In the 2016 US presidential election, for instance, despite most polls predicting Hillary Clinton as the favourite to win, albeit in a close fight, as all polls are within their margin of error, Donald Trump, against all odds, clinched the presidency.
You might be surprised to know that on the eve of election day then, the majority of the polls had predicted that Clinton had a more than 90% chance of winning the presidency.
But this is not to say that political polling has no value, or that because they usually have a relatively small sample size, political surveys cannot be used to generalise on the opinion of a huge population as alleged by Umno president Ahmad Zahid Hamidi.
Many of the current surveys on GE15 are mere propaganda tools, he claimed, depending on whether the ownership of the survey is vested in entities that are close to certain politicians.
Suffice to say that there are conditions where even a relatively small sample can be used to generalise on a huge population as long as the sampling method involves the element of randomness in selecting the respondents and the sample has an element of representativeness to the population.
Moreover, as mentioned earlier, a margin of error must always be specified in a survey.
But we don’t have to look at surveys to predict the outcome of GE15. Political analysts and observers have made their predictions at every election, using their own theoretical constructs and assumptions which do not have to be quantitative.
And in most cases, when the majority of analysts predict that a certain coalition will win, they turn out to be right.
In the case of Malaysian elections, they were always right in their predictions with one exception: GE14 where PH won the election against all odds. This is called an upset.
In GE15, many analysts say that BN's days are numbered. From the favourite to win the election among the three coalitions, it has emerged in third position, overtaken by PN and PH.
How can such a thing happen, and what is the basis for this drop to third position?
We can see it in a number of events. The turning point from favourite to third place happened on Nov 1, when in unveiling its candidates, Zahid dropped a number of Umno ministers, thus reviving the infighting between Umno’s court cluster and the minister cluster at a critical time.
During the campaigning period itself, on a number of occasions, it looked like Umno was campaigning against itself, in a sort of a civil war, where it appeared more like a campaign for a party election.
When its Sungai Buloh candidate, the affable Khairy Jamaluddin, bemoaned the fact that the odds are against him in that constituency because it is a stronghold of PH, his president Zahid responded by saying Khairy deserved it because Sungai Buloh is the latter’s own personal choice for a constituency.
In an election campaign, as the leader of a party, you don’t train your gun at your own comrade. You instead give words of encouragement to spur him on to victory because his victory is also yours and your party’s.
Then, when there is an allegation that you are offering someone a minister's post should BN win, you admit it, leading to the accusation that you harbour an ambition to take over as prime minister, and then you argue that the prime minister's post is determined by the King’s appointment, thus sabotaging your own poster boy.
And when we don’t see the loudmouths in the court cluster of Umno campaigning for the party as evident in their conspicuous absence from media reports, this is tantamount to an admission that Umno/BN's days are numbered.
By the end of the first week of campaigning, PN and PH had overtaken BN, with PN in first position and PH a close second.
Momentum for PH picked up on the 12th day of campaigning, when the Malay votes for Umno were split between PH and PN.
Those on the ground campaigning admitted to this neck-to-neck battle between the two on the 13th day of campaigning. Only an upset will cause BN to emerge as the victor.
So as the last day of campaigning comes to a close on Nov 18, and because you can only do so much in a day, it looks like either PN or PH will emerge victorious with a wafer-thin majority, which is as good as a hung parliament.
If this is ultimately the case, it is something the people do not relish, as they look forward to an outcome of a winning coalition with a handsome majority that will substantially reduce their sufferings.
This is unlike a government with a tenuous majority, which will only heighten their sufferings due to the political and economic instability that will ensue.
Only another upset will see a winning coalition with a substantial majority.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the position of MalaysiaNow.