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OPINION20 April 2010

Another day, another accusation of polling bias

Features

Another day, another accusation of polling bias. YouGov is once again defending itself.

Stephan Shakespeare writes in a blog post today: “In swift succession, YouGov has been accused of being anti-Labour, anti-Conservative, and (yesterday) anti-Lib Dem.”

The anti-Labour claims come fairly regularly, what with the agency’s work for Rupert Murdoch and Tory links (ex-CEO Nadhim Zahawi left to stand for election for the Conservatives, while Shakespeare was a Tory candidate in 1997 and co-owns ConservativeHome.com). Labour made a complaint against the agency for supposedly overstating the Tory lead in the London mayoral election of 2008 – but quietly withdrew it after losing, as predicted.

The claims of bias against the Tories appeared earlier this month in this Telegraph story. The claims were apparently based on the fact that YouGov employs statistical weighting – hardly a shock revelation for anyone acquainted with how polling works.

The latest accusation is of alleged ‘push polling’ on behalf of the Tories, against the Lib Dems. Push polling is when a campaigner uses the guise of asking a survey question to try to influence a voter’s opinion or sow doubt in their mind, e.g. ‘Would you vote for councillor Willy Weasel if you learned that he was an ex-drug pusher and convicted paedophile?’ Naturally, that sort of thing is against all the rules.

When the Lib Dems learned that YouGov had been running negative statements about Nick Clegg past people in its surveys, they pounced on it. But YouGov denies the accusation and said it was conducting legitimate message testing.

Any high profile pollster is bound to attract suspicion, but when all sides are accusing them of bias at the same time, the credibility of each claim drains away quickly. We can’t help but wonder whether another reason the firm gets picked on is its online methodology, which is so easy for the media and casual observers to take pops at.

@RESEARCH LIVE

2 Comments

9 years ago

I've been following the YouGov thing on Twitter, and one thing that struck me was this: "When the Lib Dems learned that YouGov had been running negative statements about Nick Clegg past people in its surveys, they pounced on it. But YouGov denies the accusation and said it was conducting legitimate message testing." They didn't actually strictly deny the accusation. Wells (of YouGov) admitted to Craig Murray (Lib Dem) that they asked the questions but insisted they were "not for publication". YouGov confirmed on the public timeline on Twitter that Wells was telling Murray the truth. So they don't deny asking the questions, they just say they weren't for public consumption. If they were transparent in their questions - ie, if we the public had access to what was being asked in what order and what circumstances, we'd be able to make up our own minds as to the credibility of the research and there'd be less chance of accusations of impropriety caused by a lack of knowledge of the facts. Basically, I ain't got a clue what to think. There's just not enough to go on.

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9 years ago

When I say YouGov "deny the accusation", I mean that they deny the accusation of push polling. They don't deny testing people's reactions to negative statements about Nick Clegg (and it's no surprise that these results were for their client's own use rather than for publication). That's a legitimate and not uncommon type of opinion research. A push poll, on the other hand, is basically a campaign message disguised as a poll, which is clearly dishonest and wrong. Of course, some people may find the testing of negative messages distasteful too, but then, this is an election campaign.

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