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By Alastair Jamieson

LONDON — Prime Minister David Cameron's Conservative Party performed better than polls had predicted in Britain's election — but not well enough to win an outright victory, according to major exit poll by broadcasters.

The Conservatives are predicted to win 316 House of Commons seats — 10 short of a majority — while Ed Miliband's opposition Labour Party is set for 236, the poll found.

If the prediction is accurate, it means Cameron will have a mandate to enter talks with smaller parties in order to stay in power. The polls are based on a sample of more than 20,000 voters in about 130 constituencies.

However, political leaders immediately urged caution on the exit poll. The center-left Liberal Democrats said they didn't believe the prediction while Scottish National Party leader Nicola Sturgeon, who was predicted to win a landslide 58 out of 59 seats in Scotland, said that such a "huge" outcome was "unlikely."

Polling stations closed at 10 p.m. (5 p.m. ET) in what is the tightest and most unpredictable race in a generation.

Related: UK General Election Q&A: What You Need to Know

The majority of confirmed results are expected by 4.30 am Friday (11.30 pm Thursday ET) — but with the outcome on a knife-edge, it could come down to rural House of Commons seats such St Ives, on the southwestern tip of England, where the result isn't expected until the middle of Friday.

As expected, Cameron was reelected MP of Witney Oxfordshire, election officials there said. Cameron called the overall election results "clearly a very strong result for the Conservative Party."

Historic buildings including windmills and pubs were among the more unusual polling locations for Britain's 45 million registered voters to cast their ballots.

As many as one in four voters said they could still change their mind at the polling both, according to one survey, making it hard to accurately predict the outcome.

Voters have drifted towards smaller parties, including the right-wing U.K. Independence Party (UKIP), which wants Britain to quit the European Union, and Scottish Nationalists, who last year narrowly lost a referendum on whether Scotland should become an independent country.

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