In Depth

EU referendum: There's no exit poll, but here's how to track the results

Currency markets might offer a clue to the relative performance of the Leave and Remain campaigns

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The polls have closed in Britain's referendum on EU membership, but one ritual familiar from general elections is missing: the 10pm announcement of an exit poll.

What is an exit poll?

It is an indication of how the country has voted, based on surveys of voters leaving polling stations after they have cast their ballot. Over the years, pollsters have honed in on the people and stations that are the best bellwethers.

At the 2015 general election, the BBC's exit poll defied all of the campaign surveys to correctly predict a victory for David Cameron's Conservative Party - although it still understated the scale of the win.

Why is there not one this time?

This is a unique vote, which will be reported by local authorities that do not tally geographically – or demographically – with general election voting wards. Voter allegiance also does not split along party lines, so pollsters would have to make a number of assumptions. Wary of getting the result wrong, the broadcasters decided against commissioning an exit poll.

Will there be any early indicators?

Of sorts, yes. Some financial analysts also tentatively suggest watching currency markets, as banks and brokers have commissioned unprecedented on-the-day polling updates and are likely to trade accordingly.

Consequently, if the pound had begun to fall precipitously against the dollar, it could have suggested that Leave was doing well. In fact, the pound rose slightly against the dollar today, adding to yesterday's high-water mark for 2016.

But beware: trading volumes could be low so any movements will be exaggerated. 

Are there any official figures that will help?

Turnout could be an interesting pointer, as it has long been assumed by pollsters that Leave supporters are more motivated and so will be disproportionately represented in a thin vote.

Big turnout therefore favours Remain, especially as there is a record registered electorate following a late surge of younger people, who are mostly Europhile. It is thought that any percentage around general election levels, in the mid-60s or above, favours Remain.

But the FT also says an "exceptional" turnout of 80 per cent or more might swing the balance back to Leave, as it could mean more anti-establishment voters have come out.

Will regional results help?

Dr Chris Hanretty, a reader in politics at the University of East Anglia, says regional results will give hints on how the national vote is panning out, based on analysis of demographic profile, campaign opinion polls and previous levels of support for UKIP, which is fighting for Brexit.

Writing in The Guardian, he says we should expect Sunderland, which should return its results first, at around 12.30am, to show around a six-point lead for Leave if the national vote is essentially a dead heat. On the other hand, in Wandsworth, in London, a tied national vote would mean around a 30-point Remain victory.

When we get a clearer picture?

At around 2am, we will get the "first big wave of results, with 22 councils expected to declare at or around this time". Wrexham, a Eurosceptic part of finely-balanced Wales, could be a key area to watch in this batch.

By 2.30am, the FT adds, party activists around the country will probably have a good idea how it's going - with only two options to choose from, it should be easier to judge how the ballots are stacking up on either side as they are being counted.

So if you're watching the TV coverage, look out for the regional correspondents' anecdotal reports to get a sense of the mood.

When will we get a final result?

If the result has not been called by 7am, it "could be because the numbers are very close". Jenny Watson, who chairs the Electoral Commission, will declare the final outcome in Manchester Town Hall, some time on Friday morning.

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