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NEWS17 April 2018

Lords report calls for BPC to have greater polling oversight

Brexit News UK

UK – The House of Lords committee on polling has found that there has not been a decline in the accuracy of polling but that confidence in it has been shaken.

The Committee on Political Polling and Digital Media, chaired by Lord Lipsey, former opinion polling advisor and co-chair of the All Party Statistics Group in Parliament, was reporting after being asked to look into the ‘effects of political polling and digital media on politics’ following a perceived failure in polling in the 2015 and 2018 general elections and the EU referendum vote in 2016.

In its report it said: “Our central concern was that, if it is becoming less likely that polls can provide accurate estimates of the likely election outcomes, then there is a significant risk that future elections will be affected by misleading information, potentially distorting the democratic process.”

It went on to say that the available data on longer-term polling performance trends suggest that “it would not be correct to say that we are witnessing a decline in the accuracy of polling” but that “although polling performance has not worsened in a statistically significant way, there is little doubt that confidence in polling has been shaken”.

More broadly the committee expressed concern about “the profound change in the way we access and share news, political developments and opinions” citing how the internet and rise of digital media has impacted polling, as well as the deliberate spread of political misinformation and the way social media has created an echo chamber.

The broader political and democratic consequences were beyond the remit of Lord Lipsey’s report but the committee said “the issues raised are complex and rapidly evolving, representing a very significant threat to our democratic processes” and it recommended that the government address these challenges as part of its Digital Charter.

The committee said the current system of regulation was unsatisfactory, calling it “fragmented and disjointed, with different elements of regulation disconnected from each other”.

It called for the British Polling Council’s remit to be expanded to have a greater “standard-setting and oversight function” as well as for media regulators to quickly deal with polling misreporting.  

It also called for the Electoral Commission to have an enhanced role monitoring voting intention polling during election campaigning periods.

“We hope that these bodies in combination can provide more effective oversight of polling,” said the report.

The report was generally welcomed by those in the industry.

The British Polling Council (BPC) was pleased that the committee had not called for a ban on undertaking and publicising voting intention polls in the run-up to elections and accepted that it should revise its guidance to journalists on the reporting of polls and work with other organisations to develop a suitable journalist training programme.

But as the BPC is run on a voluntary basis with limited resources taking on a wider remit may be a challenge.

The MRS also welcomed the conclusions and said it was committed to working closely with the BPC and its members, pointing out that the MRS Code of Conduct provides stringent professional standards which its members follows.

Jane Frost, chief executive of MRS, said: “It is important that the sector continues to be challenged and responds to the changing market if it is to continue to develop as a healthy profession, and we welcome the spotlight that the committee has given to these issues.”

Ben Page, chief executive at Ipsos Mori, said: “The report is absolutely right that both the industry and the media need to do more to explain the inherent margins of error involved in all polling, and to call out misleading coverage.” 

James Endersby, managing director of Opinium, said: “Well done to the Lords. I think this was a well-run, fair and thorough review. I welcome their findings and recommendations, especially to expand the role and responsibilities of the BPC, and that it should revise its guidance to journalists on the reporting of polls.

“I’m also delighted to see their recommendations that sources of poll funding are declared and that polling performance is openly reviewed after each general election. This is good for political polling, the wider research industry and for the strength of our democracy.”

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