Why are people afraid to admit they voted Conservative?

Last night's loser (PA)

Alas, the tragicomic spectacle of the British Labour leader Ed Miliband going eyeball to eyeball with Vladimir Putin now belongs in a very niche sub-genre of “what if” history books.

I wonder if Miliband was surprised by the exit polls in yesterday’s general election. I certainly was, being all prepared for the “ajockalypse” and an Ed Miliband-Nicola Sturgeon government.

Despite Miliband being tipped by most pundits, last night was a disaster for Labour, both in England and Scotland, where they have as many seats as the Tories. It’s been a while since that happened.

The biggest losers, however, were the pollsters, who all had Labour and the Conservatives neck and neck, when in fact there was a six-point gap.

Why did the opinion polls get it so spectacularly wrong, worse even than in the 1992 general election?

Margaret Thatcher wrote about the phenomenon of shy Tories back in 1979. It’s the very nature of small-C conservatives that they’re wary of tribal displays. In contrast, proclaiming socialism is a good way of expressing what some call “virtue signalling”.

Part of the reason for this shyness, it has to be said, is that people don’t like other people shouting “Tory scum” at them or vandalising their cars. Such violence, which has also been known to happen to Republicans in America, is the extreme end of a more general hostility towards conservatism.

My six-year-old daughter, who happens to share the same name as our new Labour MP (she was confused that lots of people were displaying her name in their windows), asked the other day why, if there are two main parties, no one had the blue Conservative party banner outside their front door.

Although where I live is barren territory for the Tories, in American terms rather like Vermont, even in my part of town one in six vote Tory. Probably twice that number would if the Liberal Democrats were not the main anti-Labour opposition. Yet out of hundreds of placards displayed outside people’s home, not a single person dared to admit voting Conservative.

And being a conservative, both big and small-C, has become so socially unacceptable that about one in eight Conservative voters routinely lie about it even when they are guaranteed anonymity by polling companies, let alone on Facebook.

Conservative causes generally tend to suffer from their supporters being “shy” about expressing views they know to be unfashionable or unpopular, but which they feel to be right.

David Quinn is making the same point about the Irish same-sex marriage referendum, which may well also surprise the pollsters.

It doesn’t help that socially liberal people tend to have a higher status in society. They are richer, more successful and more socially sophisticated – and it’s human instinct to defer on these subjects.

The general election obviously represents a great result for the Conservatives, but in the longer term Tories may want to ask what it means for their future if being a supporter has become something to hide.