OPINION9 May 2011

Polling the pollsters post AV referendum

Now we know that the UK will not be changing the way MPs are elected it’s time to ask how the pollsters fared in predicting the results. ICM is claiming to have the “most accurate telephone poll on record”, correct to one decimal place, but online pollsters Angus Reid and YouGov reported average error margins of seven and eight percent respectively.

The final outcome (and the ICM poll) was 32.1% in favour of Alternative Voting with 67.9% opposed. Martin Boon, ICM’s head of social and government reporting, credited “a little bit of luck” amid the art and science.

He said he was “quite fortunate” to have carried out some work for the Yes camp earlier on in the campaign, which had given him some insight into likely turnout figures.

Asked about the performance of the online polls, Boon said that “people on online panels appear to be more liberal, which may explain the higher Yes vote”.

YouGov’s director of political and social research Joe Twyman said a ‘liberal bias’ was often ascribed to online panels, though it wasn’t something he’d encountered. In fact, he said that during the last European parliamentary elections YouGov overestimated support for the far-right British National Party – about as “illiberal” as it is possible to get, Twyman said.

As to YouGov’s performance, he said: “We could have done better and we will take a look at our methodology, and make small adjustments here and there.”