Voodoo corner

As we get closer to the election I expect we’ll also get a flurry of what Bob Worcester calls “Voodoo polls” – open access polls that do not make any attempt to gather a representative sample.

In yesterday’s Sun and Times, and today’s Indy, we have a “poll” from a website for mothers, that claims to show mothers rushing to support Cameron and intending to vote in record numbers.

As far as I can tell, it was just an open access poll on a website for mothers. It will, therefore, be skewed towards mothers interested in politics who would have been likely to take such a poll(hence the high figure of them saying they will vote), probably towards mothers with an interest in the sort of issues discussed on websites for mothers, and certainly by the demographics of the people who read the site. We know that last one for sure, since the poll gave some demographic breakdowns of respondents which show that stay-at-home mums and part time workers were over-represented, full time working mums were under-represented, and low income mums and single parents were grossly under-represented. With that income skew it should be no surprise they were very Conservative!

Philip Webster in the Times can be partially forgiven, since he did at least add the caveat that the survey “cannot be regarded as in any way conclusive and is not an opinion poll […] is not representative because it is self-selecting and the organisers accept that people responding to such a survey are more likely to be politically engaged than those who do not.” Unfortunately, he then went on to report the figures as if they did mean something – far better to have done what one editor who mailed me about it on Tuesday, and one veteran political editor who I spoke to today did, and not touch it with a bargepole.

If you see something in the papers proporting to be an opinion poll and it is not from an established polling company, read it very carefully. How did they gather the sample, who are they claiming it represents the views of, and what measures did they take to make sure the it matched the demographics of that group. If the answer is they took whoever came along, and didn’t take any measures at all to make it representative, I think you know how useful it is.

62 Responses to “Voodoo corner”

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  1. Scottish Conservatives have now also sent me a questionnaire which asks how I intend to vote.

    As well as the obvious five options (Con, Lab, LibDem, SNP and Other (with space to indicate which) it invites the choice of Con/Lab, Con/LibDem, Lab/LibDem and Con/SNP.

    Curiously, this incomplete list amounts to a forced option for those contemplating Lab/SNP or LibDem/SNP or Other and another possible choice.

    The tough question is the forced choice between DC/GB for PM. No “Don’t Know” option here.

    No doubt the purpose of the poll is to inform campaign strategy.

  2. John – nope, that will almost certainly be for voter ID purposes (i.e. find Conservative voters so they can knock on their doors on polling day and remind them to vote, classify other voters so they know what sort of literature to send them.)

  3. Alec

    I think a run on the pound would be politically significant – yes thankfully we are not in the Euro.

    The GDP figures will be interesting. I hope they are strong but I think not.

  4. Another “no change” poll from Angus Reid


  5. Angus Reid show the Conservatives once again, 16% ahead.

  6. If AR turn out to be the closest to the actual GE result, they surely will have a seat in the pollsters hall of fame. Their consistency is remarkable.

    I know they have no ‘track record’ in the UK but, I just can’t follow why other pollsters’ Tory lead is so variable. Even YouGov which is considered by many to be the most reliable, has significant differences in their published data. Why, or how, does AR manage to keep this consistency?

  7. Actually, Yougov and ICM have both been pretty consistent since the start of December, in giving the Conservatives 40%, and a lead of 9-12%.

    MORI and ComRes seem to move around a lot more.

  8. BarryP. Why not ask them?

  9. @ Collin

    Tempting. Doubt if they would even consider a reply though.

  10. BarryP. Everyone seems to be trashing their figures, I would have thought they would be happy to respond(especially if Anthony put the question).

  11. Anthony:

    ( … classify other voters so they know what sort of literature to send them.)

    Actually it was that level of campaigning I had in mind.

  12. @Wolf – in the NE we had news last night of 400 workers taken on by Nissan as they opened up a new night shift on one of their new lines, although these are temporary posts at this stage. A Korean company whose name escapes me announced earlier this week that they had purchased one of the mothballed chemical plants at Wilton and would create 120 new jobs, while there is a new food production factory whose opening was announced last week creating another 100 or so jobs – I’m not sure whether this would be particularly export driven though, and again I can’t remember the company name. Set against this we saw the announcement of 900 redundancies at a Shopping Direct call centre in Sunderland last night, but 200 new call centre jobs being announced elsewhere in the area, so it’s still swings and roundabouts.

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