NEWS20 May 2020

Current Australian polling disclosure standards ‘inadequate’, says inquiry

Asia Pacific News Public Sector

AUSTRALIA – The Association of Market and Social Research Organisations (AMSRO)’s inquiry on Australian polling has released an interim report calling for new disclosure standards.

AMSRO began the inquiry into the performance of opinion polls at last year’s Australian federal election after all the polls incorrectly forecast the result.

In an interim discussion paper published ahead of the full report, the inquiry panel has recommended that the industry adopts a comprehensive set of disclosure standards. The paper lists 23 proposed standards, including some based on existing International Standard Organisation (ISO) and Australian Press Council guidelines, and new recommendations.

Darren Pennay, chair of the AMSRO polling inquiry panel and founder of the Social Research Centre, said: “It’s our view that the current disclosure standards as they apply to publicly released election and other political polls in Australia are inadequate. Australian pollsters have less rigorous disclosure obligations than pollsters in the US, UK, Canada and New Zealand.”

The new disclosure standards for pollsters recommended by the inquiry panel include: the names of the research organisation undertaking the poll or survey and the organisation funding it; the name of subcontractors used for fieldwork or sample; the in-scope population (e.g. eligible voters); geographic scope for the poll; description of the sampling frame and its coverage of the population; and which language or languages the poll was conducted in.

Standards for Australian market and social research practitioners, including polling companies, are provided by the Australian Market and Social Research Society (AMSRS) and AMSRO, however, these are not mandatory.

Pennay said: “The majority of polling companies in Australia remain unregulated and there are no mandated standards set by government or others. It is the view of the inquiry panel that this needs to be rectified to ensure the most transparent and accurate polling practices are adopted and to restore public faith in election and political polling.”

The inquiry panel published the interim paper ahead of its final report, planned for October, to give AMSRO and pollsters more time to implement the initial recommendations ahead of the next election polling cycle.

The panel also recommends that any entity set up to regulate election polling standards should include a committee of members from industry, media and academia, in addition to pollsters themselves, and that the chair of any such committee should be independent from current polling organisations.

Pennay said: “There has been no consensus among the polling companies or anyone else regarding ‘what went wrong’ at the last federal election and the reputation of opinion polling with the Australian public appears to be at a low ebb.

“It is imperative that the broader polling industry takes this opportunity to improve the accuracy and reporting of the polls because it underpins a modern, well-functioning democracy.  It’s also important for the credibility of the polling companies, as well as the wider market and social research industry, that the public has confidence in the results of the major polls.”

Craig Young, AMSRO board member, said: “AMSRO welcomes this discussion paper from the inquiry panel and looks forward to the full report being released in October. We believe greater transparency and disclosure regarding how the published polls are conducted is critical to reestablishing public confidence in polling.

“As the research industry association, AMSRO is also supportive of extending these disclosure standards to all published market research, not just polling. We look forward to working with the polling companies and other important stakeholders to discuss the creation and oversight of appropriate standards to bring about these much needed changes.”

The terms of reference for the inquiry panel were agreed last June and the consultation period is open until 12th June.

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