Wednesday 14 August 2019 4:34 am

DEBATE: In light of the row over alleged bias in the Telegraph’s survey, is there any point to polls?

Eliot Wilson
Eliot Wilson is head of research at Right Angles and a former House of Commons official.

In light of the row over alleged bias in the Telegraph’s survey, is there any point to polls?

Olivia Utley, deputy editor at TheArticle, says YES.

Since the dawn of polling, people have found imaginative ways of getting the result they want.

And the ComRes team who found that a majority of people would back Boris Johnson shutting down parliament to deliver Brexit may have lightly manipulated their subjects to give a result favourable to the former star columnist of the Daily Telegraph, which commissioned the survey.

But polling is not useless just because pollsters can sometimes be influenced.

Anyone even remotely interested in UK politics is aware that the Telegraph is pro-Boris, so will take that particular poll with a pinch of salt.

But they should also know that most pollsters take great pride in their work, and – when commissioned by an independent body – will do their utmost to deliver accurate results. A well-conducted poll offers valuable insight into the mood of the nation.

Instead of slating pollsters, we should be teaching our citizens media literacy to distinguish between a good poll and a bad one.

And don’t shoot the messenger just because you don’t like the message.

Eliot Wilson, chief writer at Right Angles and former House of Commons clerk, says NO.

The Daily Telegraph reported yesterday that a poll showed 54 per cent of the electorate in support of proroguing parliament to force through a no-deal Brexit.

That seems impressive, until you realise that the methodology involved excluding “don’t knows”, and the actual figure of those in favour of this drastic move was only 44 per cent.

If polls are susceptible to such deliberate, conscious bias intended to generate a news story, what’s the point?

And it’s not just about how they’re reported, but about pure inaccuracy too. Polls have never been perfect, but they’re becoming a lottery. The EU referendum was not a red-letter day for pollsters: only 55 of 168 polls predicted a Leave vote – statistically worse than guessing. This came hot on the heels of a bad 2015 General Election for almost all the polling companies.

It’s time to look at new technology and new ways of charting intended behaviour. It’s what PR and advertising companies do all the time, and we’re good at it. Old-fashioned, biased opinion polling should be on its way out.

Main image credit: Getty

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