FEATURE11 January 2016

The birth of sentiment analysis

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To mark the 70th anniversary of the Market Research Society, some of the industry’s most influential names have written about the ‘game-changers’ since it was founded. First up: the 1940s and the birth of sentiment analysis, by Adam Phillips, MRS fellow and MD of Real Research.


After World War II ended, it was widely assumed that Winston Churchill would be elected Prime Minister. He had led the nation through the war and Britain had won. All the media expected him to win the General Election in 1945, and the polls confirmed this. So the landslide victory of the Labour Party was a shock. This was the first major failure of ‘scientific’ polling to predict an election result. The only research organisation to forecast that the Labour Party would win was Mass Observation.

At the beginning of 1945, Gallup put the Labour share of the vote 20% behind that of the Conservatives. The polls continued to show a significant Conservative lead throughout the campaign. The actual result of the election in July was a Labour win with a 7% lead over the Conservatives. On the day of the election, Gallup published a poll that was very close to the actual result, but it was too late to have any ...