The election, the polls and why someone was always going to be eating their hat….

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.

Prisoner's DilemmaThe 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 Dean

Lucy is a Senior Consultant at Volterra.

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Alex O’Byrne, Associate at Volterra, is an experienced economic consultant specialising in economic, health and social impact, economic strategy, project appraisal and socio-economic planning matters.

Alex has led the socio-economic and health assessments of some of the most high profile developments across the UK, including Battersea Power Station, Olympia London, London Resort, MSG Sphere and Westfield. He has significant experience inputting to EIAs and s106 discussions as well as drafting economic statements, employment and skills strategies and affordable workspace strategies.

Alex is also experienced at economic appraisal for infrastructure. He was project manager of the economic appraisal for the City Centre to Mangere Light Rail in Auckland. He also led the economic and financial appraisals of the third tranche of the Transport Access Program for Transport for New South Wales, in which Alex developed and employed innovative methodological approaches to better capture benefits for individuals with reduced mobility.

He is interested in the limitations of current appraisal methodologies and ways of improving economic and health analysis to ensure it is accessible to as many people as possible. To this end, Alex recognises the importance of transparent and simple to understand analysis and ensuring all work is supported by a robust narrative.

Alex holds a BSc (Hons) in Economics from the University of Manchester and he was a member of the first cohort of the Mayor’s Infrastructure Young Professionals Panel.


Senior Partner

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Ellie is a partner at Volterra, specialising in the economic impact of developments and proposals, and manages many of the company’s projects on economic impact, regeneration, transport and development.

With thirteen years experience at Volterra delivering high quality projects to clients across the public and private sector, Ellie has expertise in developing methods of estimating economic impact where complex issues exist with regards to deadweight, displacement and additionality.

Ellie has significant experience in estimating the economic impact across all types of property development including residential, leisure, office and mixed use schemes.

Project management of recent high profile schemes include the luxury hotel London Peninsula, Battersea Power Station and the Nova scheme at London Victoria. Ellie has also led studies across the country estimating the economic and regeneration impact of proposed transport investments, including studies on HS2 and Crossrail.

Ellie holds a degree in Mathematics and Economics from the University of Cambridge.