Paddy Ashdown had to eat his hat. Alastair Campbell had to eat his kilt. In fact, the majority of the electorate has eaten a piece of metaphorical clothing. The inaccuracy of the pre-election polls has been blamed on the shy Tory voter and the influence of the pre-election polls themselves; I’m sure the former played a part but as election fever dies down over the next few weeks we must not forget the influence of the latter.
In such an uncertain election, the polls were always going to influence the outcome; they don’t simply predict the result, they actively affect it. This election changed the meaning of tactical voting, the choice wasn’t so much who you want to be in government but who you did not want to be in government: vote Labour, get SNP; vote Tory, get UKIP; vote Lib-Dem and give up your ability to influence.
The election became like a game of prisoners’ dilemma, except in this case Prisoner A is playing against the rest of the electorate (Prisoner B) and there’s a security guard who tells Prisoner A he is sure that Prisoner B is going to stay silent. Prisoner A assumes that the security guard is right so he confesses. In reality, Prisoner B confesses and they both face the next 3 months (read 5 years) in jail.
This isn’t a political statement: whatever your political standpoint the election result changed as a result of the pre-election polls. Inaccurate pre-election polls don’t inherently benefit one particular party: if the polls had predicted a Tory majority, the Lib-Dems would have most likely benefited and Labour are unlikely to have suffered such a crushing defeat. The influence of the pre-election polls on the eventual election result means that they are by definition likely to be inaccurate. In 2015 the Tories benefited; this was largely luck and maybe partially strategy, but they can’t be blamed for exploiting the polls to their own advantage.
Banning pre-election polls isn’t the solution; this could be seen as a violation of human rights and with the influence of the internet it would be impossible to enforce anyway. Pre-election polls will not disappear but we – the electorate and political parties alike – must not have forgotten their influence by 2020.
Lucy is a Senior Consultant at Volterra.
Image by Volterra