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In Italy referendum, pollsters finally got it right – sort of

Supporters of the "No" faction for the referendum on constitutional reform hold a banner in front of Chigi palace in Rome. The banner reads: " Did you want to change the constitution? See you"

After getting egg on their faces over Britain‘s vote to leave the EU and the US presidential election, pollsters finally called it right in predicting Italians would reject Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s constitutional reform – or did they?

All surveys in the month before a Nov 18 legal cut-off forecast Renzi would lose Sunday’s referendum, but none came close to predicting the extent of his crushing defeat.

Polls continued to be conducted right up to the day of the vote, though journalists were not allowed to publish them. In the last week most showed a lead for ‘No’ of between two and seven percentage points – excluding Italian ex-pats living abroad.

In the end Renzi lost by a whopping 20 points, or 19 points when ex-pats were included.

Three days before the vote, the big outlier among the polling agencies, Eumetra Monterosa, forecast a win for ‘No’ by 14 points, and was easily the closest to the final outcome.

Federico Benini, the head of the Winpoll agency, said much could be explained by turnout, which at more than 68 per cent in Italy, was some 10 points higher than expected by pollsters.

“A lot of people who said they were going to abstain ended up voting, and nearly all of them voted against Renzi,” Benini said, adding that some Italians also did not reveal their true intentions to pollsters.

In the face of the negative polls, Renzi had forecast that the “silent majority” would prove the polls wrong, suggesting that Italians were reluctant to admit they were going to vote ‘Yes’. In the end, the opposite happened.

“It was the ‘No’ vote that some people hid and that is no surprise, because people tend to be more reluctant to admit to a protest vote, or a vote which is “against” someone,” said Benini.

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