There are many stories about counts, and how people have won at the count, when all seemed lost at the close of poll.
Many people will tell you that they can predict the result and often you can these days with high quality sampling and a lap top computer.
But, one of the things that people cannot predict is the turnout, especially if you have not been telling properly. However, one of the first things journalists will always ask you, especially a young TV journalist like Laura Tevelyan of the BBC, is ‘what’s the turnout?’
It might seem a reasonable question, and might even fill a minute or two of the time they have to try and fill on a by-election special, or BBC News Channel.
On both occasions I stroked my chin sagely and gave a very specific answer. In Wigan, after some thought I said, ‘25.2% I reckon,’ it was 25%. In Preston, Laura swept up to me saying to her crew, ‘this is the man to ask, he knows.’ After much thought I said I reckoned the turnout was ‘about 29%, but it might be a bit higher if the suburbs turned out.’ It was about 30%!
So, how is this trick achieved if you have not been telling on polling stations? Well, to be fair it is more difficult these days because of the variability of postal voting, but nearly always, as a rule of thumb turnout would double between 6pm and the close of poll, so if you asked a few tellers to ask their polling officers, in the polling stations, what the turnout was at about 6pm, you could roughly guess what it would be by the close of poll.
With this knowledge you could astound the media and baffle the opposition, who would scoff at you apparent accuracy and then be red faced at the revelation that you were in fact right.