OPINION1 June 2010

Poll dancing

Opinion

Who had a good general election? Well, Cameron and Clegg aren’t complaining, for starters. But thecoalition was forced as a result of there being no clear winner in this contest. If you are looking for aclear winner, you could do worse than look to the polling industry, which played a stormer on two fronts.

Who had a good general election? Well, Cameron and Clegg aren’t complaining, for starters. But the coalition was forced as a result of there being no clear winner in this contest. If you are looking for a clear winner, you could do worse than look to the polling industry, which played a stormer on two fronts.

First, the prediction of the result itself. The pollsters thankfully avoided doing a ‘92 and gave a highly creditable account of themselves. OK, so they somewhat overestimated support for the Lib Dems – but who didn’t? The general election is a nailbiting time for the research business. In a sense, you can never win. Call it correctly and few people notice, get it wrong and you’re incompetent.

This was a particularly demanding election for the pollsters. The public and media were looking to the polls to make sense of what was clearly such a closely run contest. Not only did the polls hold true but the pollsters’ work culminated in an exit poll that, despite the initial disbelief of the pundits and politicians, pretty much predicted the result to the last seat.

So, a good result for research on that count. However, there was another reason to celebrate success. Perhaps a more profound reason and one that’s more pertinent to the wider research community.

Alongside all the stats, bar graphs and worms you expect the research industry to generate, the pollsters generated something else. Insight. Pollsters including Ipsos Mori’s Ben Page and ComRes’s Andrew Hawkins made their mark in laying out the research, setting it in perspective and positing potential outcomes. A process that research clients the world over cry out for. Page, in particular, seemed to defy the laws of time and space by appearing almost continuously on all the major channels through the election. He made the political leaders themselves look underexposed.

He was called upon to be a researcher, a commentator, a storyteller and pundit. It was good to see a researcher being treated as something more than a stats monkey. The election coverage was a great showcase for the creation and communication of narrative around research findings. It doesn’t matter what branch of research you work in, there were some real lessons to be learnt from the pollsters here.

As a footnote, two market researchers, often featured within this magazine, have been welcomed to the House of Commons as new MPs. For the Conservatives, Nadhim Zahawi and, for Labour, Simon Danczuk. Congratulations to both.

@RESEARCH LIVE

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