Time for some bad poll reporting, or more specifically, bad poll headlining (Nicholas Watt’s actual article is eventually perfectly clear about the details of the poll). Tonight the Guardian report that “Labour support up 14 points after Miliband’s energy pledge”. Now, one might very well interpret that as meaning Labour’s share of support in the polls has risen fourteen points since Ed Miliband made his pledge on energy prices. Of course, this isn’t the case. Labour were up in the high thirties before conference and now they are in the high thirties – perhaps a tad higher, it’s still unclear. What the poll actually shows is that amongst middle class people who say they are struggling to make ends meet Labour are up 14 points since the general election in 2010. Given the vast majority of Labour’s increase in the polls happened in the tail end of 2010 or after the omnishambles budget in 2012, it’s fair to assume this was not the result of Ed Miliband’s energy pledge.

That said, 14 points is a big increase considering Labour are only up about 8 or 9 points overall. Once
Peter’s actual article and the tables are out it will be interesting to see the contrast between those people who are struggling and those who are doing well (Though its worth considering that correlation will not only work one way – people who feel badly off may be more likely to support Labour, but I suspect people who support Labour are also more likely to say they are struggling. Poorer people will already be more Labour anyway, the interesting contrast will be the changes). It’s not up on the Progress website yet, but presumably will be in the next few days.

Today’s papers also have some ropey poll reporting from a different source in the the Telegraph. It reports a poll of Countryside Alliance members, but headlines as if it were representative the views of rural voters as a whole. Again, the problem is the headline, Steven Swinford’s actual article is fine. Needless to say, the membership of the Countryside Alliance is not interchangeable with the entire population of rural areas, for reasons which I would hope were blindingly obvious (it’s a pressure group, so it attracts more politically active and engaged people. It grew from the campaign against the hunting ban, so it attracts more pro-hunting people. It doesn’t restrict it’s membership to people actually from rural areas, etc, etc). The Speccy has got very excited about the same poll because it shows 13% of Countryside Alliance members saying they’d vote UKIP… so, roughly the same proportion of people as in the country as a whole. If anything, one might have expected a more rural and conservative demographic to be more supportive of UKIP than the population as a whole, in fact, they seem to be exactly the same. It strikes me a bit as a “Pope in no more Catholic than anyone else shocker”.

Finally, while I’m picking on people, I might as well waste a few pixels being horrid to the Daily Express, which today claims 98% of people think Britain should close its doors to all new immigrants. It seems almost superfluous to point out that almost any survey in the Express is complete tripe, like making the effort to write that things in the National Enquirer may be untrue. Perhaps so, but I feel the need to point it out occasionally – it would hardly be fair for me to pick upon upon the motes in the eyes of the Guardian and the Telegraph and ignore the forest sprouting from the Express. Express “phone polls” are premium rate numbers they put in the paper, to get people to ring up to vote yes or no (multiple times if they wish), presumably after reading a foam-flecked Express rant on the subject in question. There is obviously no attempt to get a representative sample and they always show around 97%, 98% in agreement with whatever the Express’s line is. On the Express’s old website they used to have a wonderful archive of them but they don’t seem to be put up online anymore, presumably to stop people laughing at them.

174 Responses to “Bad poll reporting corner”

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  1. @Neil A

    “Miliband, and Labour (and John Major) have decided that the energy companies are definitely overcharging and they have excess profits which can be shorn away from them through a price freeze or windfall tax.”

    To be scrupulously accurate you should include Stephen Fitzpatrick, managing director of Ovo Energy, in your little list. His evidence at the Parliamentary Select Committee suggested that he thought there was profiteering going on too, and he’s an “insider”, not a centre left politician!

    By the way, any mention of John Major should always be accompanied by parentheses and I commend you for following this important convention!

  2. JimJam

    And not just recently. We’ve had 30-odd years of the proceeds of growth going disproportionately to an ever-smaller group at the top of the income scale. It’ll swing the other way eventually. The question is: which political party will reap the benefit when the changes does happen?

  3. @Lefty Lampton

    “Book Lack in Ongar.”

    That’s a brilliant play on words!

    Mind you, The Sun excelled itself with this one on its sports page in 2000 after the mighty Celtic were bundled out of the Scottish Cup by the then lowly, and wonderfully named, Inverness Caledonian Thistle:

    “Super Caley Go Ballistic Celtic Are Atrocious”

    Julie Andrews eat your heart out!

  4. I feel it is a shame that the select Committee didn’t point out that the only things rising faster than the Energy bills are the rates of pay of the Energy Companies CEO’s

  5. I don’t know if anyone’s read Richard Littlejohn’s latest portion of vitriol, but after it squirmed its way onto my Twitter feed I don’t think I can agree with the Mail looking like the Morning Star next to the Express. The Express is ridiculous – the Mail is terrifying.

    Ticks all the boxes for hatred – Women, Single Mothers, The Poor, Public Sector Workers, Left wingers, The Guardian (for publishing recipes that dare to include food that isn’t “spaghetti out of tins”), People who have eaten kale, People who know what pesto is, Cait Reilly, The Unemployed…

    I genuinely don’t think Richard Littlejohn is stupid. He’s just figured out a way to wring a million quid a year out of people who are.

    Anyway, on to today’s YouGov. That’s remarkably grim reading recently for Lib Dems. After a tiny conference boost, it seems they’ve actually fallen further back (lots of sub-10%s recently). It takes some skill to lose 60% of your vote in three years.

    If I were a Tory, I’d be relatively pleased with a 35%. It’s just that a couple of weeks ago I could have expected a 35%, so there does look to have been some slippage there.

    UKIP definitely on a downward trend, but will the European elections haul them out of it? Possibly, although I don’t remember a great UKIP boost in 2009. Having said that, we live in quite different times.

    As for Labour, very little movement so difficult to comment on. As long as they keep the pressure up on issues where they’re strong, they’ll do alright.

  6. One of your best AW. Depressing thing is – it will make no difference to the journalists concerned. It would be good if the supposedly neutral TV stations like BBC, ITV, Sky, invited you on to review the papers polls at the end of their news bulletins.

    Nice little earner too.

  7. Were there any by-elections yesterday?
    No results on ALDC site yet, or is that just because the LD’s didn’t do very well.

  8. Ewen

    There was just one (Newport West, Pillgwenlly)

    LAB 500
    LD 233
    Plaid 167
    Con 155

    LDs move from 4th to 2nd

  9. The sub-editor at the Graun shouldn’t carry all the blame. The article itself, to be charitable, is confusingly written. It repeatedly makes sensational vague assertions that are later made more specific and less interesting. Viz:

    First paragraph: ” Voters in the “squeezed middle” are flocking to the Labour party…”

    Second paragraph: the “flock” turns out to be 14%, and we are now talking about ” voters classified as members of the squeezed middle”. That word “classified” is in effect a caveat that a special definition of “squeezed middle” is being used but we arenot told what that classification is until-

    Paragraph four: where we are told that they are “people in the ABC1 social groups under the age of 60 who feel they are struggling to make ends meet”. Now to me, adding a comma after “60” changes the meaning of this phrase (not every reader is that punctuational I’d bet) but given past experience of journalistic punctuation I can’t be sure even now which group of people we’re talking about. It could be “people who are feeling the pinch, are under 60, and are ABC1” or it could be “all ABC1s under 60” and be telling me that this group as a whole are struggling. Adding the info that the group we are talking about is 26% of the electorate may help someone who has memorised the political demography of the UK. It didn’t help me much, and probably didn’t help most readers at all.

    Paragraph 6 gives the clue that we are not talking about the “comfortable middle” here, and finally in paragraph 7 we are told that there are two “middle” groups under discussion. The piece is only 8 paragraphs long!

    This, for my money, is either just poor writing, or manipulative writing. Either way it doesn’t do its subject justice, and Watt, not the sub, wrote the article.

    (And I don’t see why groups A and B are being classified as “middle” without comment. We here may understand this results from financial and technical limitations, most casual readers of the piece won’t.

    We eventally

  10. @ EWEN

    Think only by-election was near Newport Wales, which Labour won with about 50% of the vote, which was actually down from the 64% achieved previously in the same seat.

    As for energy prices increases, I raised this point the other day. Are the energy companies as financially well off as they apppear to be ? They may be producing good profits, but what liabilities exist ? I suspect that due to the cost of maintaining the infrastructure and investing in new power plants, that they are not in as good a state of financial health as they should be.

  11. Apologies for the last line of that post. Should have been deleted. Blame the subeditor.

  12. EL
    A feather in their cap if you are all reading LDV and ALDC. Even AW I understand (haven’t seen that one although I understand it was a complaint about polling comments?). Actually I find the LDV editing mainly non-partisan except for anything written by Caron Lindsay.

    Anthony, I hope will be impressed that I quite frequently (well once or twice a year) post to the Members only portion to scotch the nonsense that partisans come out with there.

    My favourites are ‘look who commissioned the poll – so what do you expect?’ and ‘we are bound to recover to (think of a high teen %) in 2015’. Mind you we get that latter one here now and then. In fairness if they quoted the ICM method as supporting their contention, I would understand such a comment as somewhat ‘evidenced’..

  13. Howard

    I used to post regularly on LDV but I am little tired of their policies on who gets to post and who doesn’t. Also, there are some people there who believe that only paid up members are allowed to express and opinion – seeming us voters are persona no grata

    I have also been called ‘extreme left’ by someone there which I found amusing, the same poster though seems to think anyone to the left of Genghis Khan is a crypto-communist which leaves members of the party a bit bemused as well I think.

    I don’t think an assumption of 16%, back to 97 levels, is that unrealistic to be honest, especially if the tactical voting in the south continues. I fear for you in Scotland and urban north though.

  14. Chordata and RHuckle

    Thanks for the by-election info, the Labour vote at 500 exactly is very precise, almost as though they stopped once they had got enough!

    Read Littlejohn, what a piece of work he is, do you think all this bile is a reaction to his surname subliminally implying he is undersized in the Trouser department?

  15. Peter’s actual article is now up on the Progress site here:


  16. Howard
    I don’t read LDV, too much like intruding into private grief, and ALDC viewing is limited to their by-election service.

  17. BCrombie
    I may have misunderstood, but I was referring to the Members section which is, er, only for Members.

    How have you managed to post there?

    If you are talking about the public section, (you must be), I would only imagine your posts could be refused if they contained what would be removed by any other public site. Apologies if I have missed something here (perhaps they are lax in checking current membership?).

    Apols to AW for this but it could be a ‘good thing’ for free speech, and I won’t mention it again, unless it emerges as being interesting.

  18. EL
    Yes I too, (ALDC by elections) and I don’t anymore because colleagues here report the results, so I don’t need to. Thanks all.

  19. @Norbold

    Have we heard of cross-party consensus on this? No. Punch and Judy.


    I’m not an opponent of Miliband (galling etc), so bear that in mind. This ‘price freeze’ is the stuff of the funny farm, a la ‘x’ thousand new apprenticeships promised at every election. Yes, it’s a good idea. No, it’s not something that can work. NickP’s comment,

    “Freeze and investigate. Then dismantle maybe even nationalise. Perhaps even fine and jail.”

    Can you imagine the impact that might have on business investment in the UK, if governments just take over the running of companies in that manner? They’ll look elsewhere.

  20. Howard
    ” I would only imagine your posts could be refused if they contained what would be removed by any other public site.”

    Nope. I pointed out a poster had libelled another & advised that LDV would be wise to delete the offending post.

    Guess what – I was banned & the libel remained in place !

    There are some very unwelcoming members on there & the site is rapidly becoming yet another anti-anyone that doesn’t always share everything the LD’s say.

    Sad but true.

  21. Chordata
    Thanks. Wow. I wrote earlier that I only go to the private bit and I must say the front page does give a very different image to what it used to be (to my mind anyway). In fairness, just try some of the other party sites, if bias is what you want! I have frequently tried the Labour site (proving my open mind I hope) and I would cry if I were a dedicated Lab supporter or member. See if you can find a section called ‘Policies’ for instance.

  22. Howard

    Clearly I mean the non-members section

    Currently membership stands at 60000 or so – not enough for a single seat so musings between members may be interesting, the more important thing is how to engage with voters and in that the actions of certain members in the non-members section has managed to alienate a number of ex-LD voters

  23. Looking at PK’s article I just wonder why he grouped C1 in with AB? My canvassing experience is that these are different animals but I am trepid about questioning the President!

  24. Howard
    My approach is, “You’ve got the best (ukpr) why try the rest ?”
    Life is too short ,especially when it comes to politics, to be having one’s prejudices and fears confirmed all the time. Even the occasional ‘fact-finding’ trawl of certain web-sites can upset my equilibrium for the day, so l don’t do it.

  25. @AW
    Thanks for the prompt. Peter Kellner is as clear as day, as usual, and interesting. Definitions and procedures are up-front. So very different from Nick Watt’s tendentious evasiveness that reading it just made me cross with him again. You were too kind to him. He’s supposed to be writing for a quallity paper.

  26. @Howard
    I mentioned the ABC issue at the end of my long post above. I just think you need a lot of respondents to separate the groups and only Ashcroft cares to pay to do it.

    I’m sure you’re right, the ABs are nothing like the C1s. For a start they’re the group less likely to be “squeezed”, and more likely to vote Con.

  27. @Howard
    Also – nice to see the word “trepid” out for stroll – “intrepid” shouldn’t keep her chained to the kitchen sink so much!

  28. Populus:

    Lab 40 Con 33 LD 11 UKIP 9

    Makes sense when the lowest YouGov lead in a while is followed by the biggest Populous lead for ages. These guys must really hate each other :-)

  29. ewen

    “My approach is, “You’ve got the best (ukpr) why try the rest ?”


  30. For those of you who would like to revel int he glory of Daily Mail headlines, but without waiting for them to actually write them: http://www.qwghlm.co.uk/toys/dailymail/

  31. Cracking link Mr. Sheep.


    Oooh, a toughy.

  32. mmm….. daft rather than imaginatively amusing.

  33. MrNameless

    Mrs Jack Monroe has used a space on her blog to reply to Littlejohn.


  34. Paul Croft

    Troll -ey

    ( ‘specially as l was ‘splainin to H why l avoid sites with too much of the old ‘Ad Hominem’).

  35. As a veteran of various jobcentres can Imention (for Richard Littlejohn’s benefit) that the legions of workshy spongers that would run a mile from work that he and his rag attack daily DON’T ACTUALLY EXIST.

    Some people are on benefits and have barriers to getting back to work. But I don’t think there are many that choose that as a lifestyle and opted for a life with no prospects at all. I never met any in Catford, Greenwich, New Addington etc etc

    Good Afternoon to you.

    I think members of the AB ‘demographic’ might well be feeling ‘squeezed’ by lots of financial burdens, and the squeeze pre dates the 2010 GE.

  37. Actual numbers from the Pengwelly by-election:

    Labour Omar Ali 500 47.4% -3.4%
    LD Paul Haliday 233 22.1% +12.0%
    PC Khalilur Rahman 167 15.8% -2.8%
    Con Tony Ismail 155 15.7% -2.9%

    In 2012 there were two Labour winners called Ron Jones (whose death caused the BE) and Ibrahim Hayat . Ron got 756 votes and Ibrahim 703. The bottom of the poll LDs were called Mustafa Ali and Sophique Miah. The PC candidate was the same (277 votes) and the Tory was Zafar Ismail (306)

    The names struck me. Any polling research on ‘what’s in a name?’

  38. @Chordata

    Best antidote to Littlejohn is to watch the peerless stand-up comedian Stewart Lee’s sketch about him. It’s coruscating and hilariously funny at the same time and, by the end of it, Littlejohn is completely dismantled.

    A YouTube must.

  39. Guymonde,

    You may have a point there. And I suspect a ‘foreign-sounding’ name might affect some voters more than they’d be willing to let on.

    Of course, this could just be the result of the LDs getting their vote out particularly effectively there. We can’t really know for sure.

  40. shevii

    I think this latest YouGov is an outer

  41. Nick p

    I disagree, they do exist although not in the numbers that are imagined by the likes of Richard littlejohn. But is it really a problem? The fact is that there is always enough unemployed folk that want to work to fill any vacancy. Why do we want to force the workshy into jobs which the workwilling want to do? Why do we want to burden business with the worksky when there is more than enough workwilling unemployed folk. Now when the economic climate changes and there aren’t enough workwilling unemployed people then it makes sense but what we find is that as wages rise the workshy become the workwilling

  42. My view on the whole ‘workshy’ thing (and this actually goes for educational underachievers, the odd underperforming hospital, etc.) is fairly simple:

    There aren’t very many of them, so is it worth the quite considerable resources needed to flush them out and eradicate them when with the same amount of money you could do a lot more good?

    Frankly, if a couple of thousand people nationwide really don’t want to work and would rather live on paltry benefits, I say let them. More work for those who would try hard and be good at it. Give them enough that they don’t die in the streets and stop making a fuss over a few people who are statistically irrelevant.

  43. Of course, I’m not saying you shouldn’t take reasonable measures to help educational underachievers, the unemployed, failing hospitals etc.

    But to have wholesale restructuring of education, health, social security to deal with these issues seems to me a lot like having your house demolished and rebuilt to fix a leaky pipe.


    “Have we heard of cross-party consensus on this? No. Punch and Judy.”

    What’s that supposed to mean? Ed has put forward a proposal which the Government rubbished as Red Ed and back to Socialism.

    Now you tell me what it is you think Ed should be doing considering he’s not in Government.

  45. mr nameless

    My view precisely. Until we have full employment, surely it is better to let those who want to work have the work?

  46. I heard Ed on PQT offer to get together with Cam to sort out the energy companies. If there’s punch and judy going on, we know which Crosby strategist wants it that way.

  47. Going back to PK’s analysis, assuming that the ABs gave the same result as the C1s (so my earlier question mark was not in the end relevant), the result is significant beyond VI, because these are the people who will help with canvassing and leaflet delivery, organise ra ra events, and make donations.

    In other words their switch will do wonders for the party to which they have switched (in this case Labour and to a lesser extent, UKIP).

  48. I defer to the greater expertise of others who post more regularly on this site but could the reason YouGov produce more outliers ( especially with the erratic Tory VI ) be because they:-
    a) post daily, so there will be more short term fluctuation and
    b) I notice they seem to be more outlying the greater the difference between the weighted and unweighted samples? (They seem to have a particular problem with 18 to 24 year olds which may explain the sometimes odd results they get for this group).

    The cynic in me thinks that is the very reason The Sun commission these polls – to generate headlines with the outliers, especially if favourable to the Blues!

  49. Paul A

    No, it’s just easier to identify outliers with daily polling, we have seen some polls from other companies which look like outliers but because the changes are from a month/ ago, it’s difficult to say with certainty that they are outliers

  50. The Sun is probably doing daily polls so it can be more certain of backing the right horse in good time before the election

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