One of the key bits of evidence on why the polls got it wrong has today popped into the public domain – the British Election Study face to face survey. The data itself is downloadable here if you have SPSS or Stata, and the BES team have written about it here and here. The BES has two elements – an online panel study, going back to the same people before, during and after the election campaign, and a post-election random face-to-face study, allowing comparison with similar samples going back to the 1964 BES. This is the latter part.

The f2f BES poll went into the field just after the election and fieldwork was conducted up until September (proper random face-to-face polls take a very long time). On the question of how people voted in the 2015 election the topline figures were CON 41%, LAB 33%, LDEM 7%, UKIP 11%, GRN 3%. These figures are, of course, still far from perfect – the Conservatives and Labour are both too high, UKIP too low, but the gap between Labour and Conservative – the problem that bedevilled all the pre-election polls, is much closer to reality.

This is a heavy pointer towards the make-up of samples having been a cause of the polling error. If the problems had been caused by people incorrectly reporting their voting intentions (“shy Tories”) or people saying they would when they did not then it is likely that exactly the same problems would have shown up in the British Election Study (indeed, given the interviewer effect those problems could have been worse). The difference between the BES f2f results and the pre-election polls suggests that the error is associated with the thing that makes the BES f2f so different from the pre-election polls – the way it is sampled.

As regular readers will know, most published opinion polls are not actually random. Most online polls are conducted using panels of volunteers, with respondents selected using demographic quotas to model the British public as closely as possible. Telephone polls are quasi-random, since they do at least select randomised numbers to call, but the fact that not everyone has a landline and that the overwhelming majority of people do not answer the call or agree to take part means the end results is not really close to a random sample. The British Election Study was a proper randomised study – it randomly picked consistencies, then addresses within in them, then a person at that address. The interviewer then repeatedly attempted to contact that specific person to take part (in a couple of cases up to 16 times!). The response rate was 56%.

Looking at Jon Mellon’s write up, this ties in well with the idea that polls were not including enough of the sort of people who don’t vote. One of the things that pollsters have flagged up in the investigations of what went wrong is that they found less of a gap in people’s reported likelihood of voting between young and old people than in the past, suggesting polls might no longer be correctly picking up the differential turnout between different social groups. The f2f BES poll did this far better. Another clue is in the comparison between whether people voted, and how difficult it was to get them to participate in the survey – amongst people who the BES managed to contact on their first attempt 77% said they had voted in the election, among those who took six or more goes only 74% voted. A small difference in the bigger scheme of things, but perhaps indicative.

This helps us diagnose the problem at the election – but it still leaves the question of how to solve it. I should pre-empt a couple of wrong conclusions that people will jump to. One is the idea polls should go back to face-to-face – this mixes up mode (whether a poll is done by phone, in person, or online) with sampling (how the people who take part in the poll are selected). The British Election Study poll appears to have got it right because of its sampling (because it was random), not because of its mode (because it was face-to-face). The two do not necessarily go hand-in-hand: when face-to-face polling used to be the norm in the 1980s it wasn’t done using random sampling, it was done using quota sampling. Rather than asking interviewers to contact a specific randomly selected person and to attempt contact time and again, interviewers were given a quota of, say, five middle-aged men, and any old middle-aged men would do.

That, of course, leads to the next obvious question of why don’t pollsters move to genuine random samples? The simple answers there are cost and time. I think most people in market research would agree a proper random sample like the BES is the ideal, but the cost is exponentially higher. This isn’t more expensive in the sense of “well, they should pay a bit if they want better results” type way – it’s more expensive as in a completely difference scale of expense, the difference between a couple of thousand and a couple of hundred thousand. No media outlet could ever justify the cost of a full scale random poll, it’s just not ever going to happen. It’s a shame, I for one would obviously be delighted were I to live in a world where people were willing to pay hundreds of thousands of pounds for polls, but such is life. Things like the BES only exist because of big funding grants from the ESRC (and at some elections that has need to be matched by grants from other charitable trusts).

The public opinion poll industry has always been about a finding a way of measuring public opinion that can combine accuracy with being affordable enough for people to actually buy and speedy enough to react to events, and whatever the solutions that emerge from the 2015 experience will have those same aims. Changing sampling techniques to make them resemble random sampling more could, of course, be one of the routes that companies look at. Or controlling their sampling and weighting in ways to better address shortcomings of the sampling. Or different ways of modelling turnout, like ComRes are looking at. Or something else yet unspeculated. Time will tell.

The other important bit of evidence we are still waiting for is the BES’s voter validation exercise (the large scale comparison of whether poll respondents’ claims on whether they voted or not actually match up against their individual records on the marked electoral register). That will help us understand a lot more about how well or badly the polls measured turnout, and how to predict individual respondents’ likelihood of voting.

Beyond that, the polling inquiry team have a meeting in January to announce their initial findings – we shall see what they come up with.

154 Responses to “What the BES face to face poll tells us about what went wrong”

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  1. @NeilA

    Recapturing those oil fields should be top priority. And I don’t know why we’re putting up with the Turks acting as middlemen selling the oil.

    According to the King of Jordan, the jihadis are being lured with incomes of $1000 a month, which is a fortune in that part of the world. If that money disappeared, the incentive to die so their families would be better off would also disappear.

    And the Sunnis in northern iraq are backing ISIS because they seem to offer better financial prospects than dealing with the Shia Iraqi govt. But if it turned out they were worse off financially, they’d go back to negotiating.

  2. Candy

    We put up with the Turks because they are in Nato. We have to decide whethe Putin is worse than ISIS. We had to do similar prioritisations in the 1940s.

  3. @Candy

    Yes, the money driving wars was the part of it that I agreed with. It is almost certainly true that money does play a substantial role in it all (not least for the obvious reason that without money you can’t buy the weapons or supplies needed to wage war); but all things have their own intricacies and differences as well and its worth bearing those in mind when making judgements.

  4. Hawthorn – “We have to decide whether Putin is worse than ISIS.”

    Well about 200 people (mainly Dutch) were killed when the Russians downed that plane. And the toll in Paris is about 150.

    On the death toll front they are about equal. On the refugee front they are about equal – Poland and other eastern europeans have seen a flood of Ukrainians and Russians streaming into their countries. On the terror front ISIS are way ahead, because they are succeeding in frightening us in a way Putin hasn’t.

    But if you remove the emotions and the fear, they are much of a muchness. Which means the solutions are the same as well.

  5. @neila

    “I sometimes think people need to re-check their calendars and remind themselves that Afghanistan and Iraq were a result of 9/11 and not the cause of it.”

    True but it is possible to argue there was a causal link between the first Iraq war and 9/11 ( and the Nairobi bombing and the first attack on the WTC). And it may be stretching a point to argue that the second Iraq war really had much to do with 9/11and responding to Al Qaeda.

  6. @Colin

    if you’ve got the bottle go into any mosque in Birmingham and say you want volunteers to kill all ISIS.

  7. Candy

    We don’t know if it was a Russian, although it would be one of Russian supplied weapons. It would probably be a cock-up much like the USA downing the Iranian jet in the 1980s or the bombing if the Chinese embassy in Belgrade. Putin also has nukes anyway and deterrence works both ways.

  8. @Crossbat11 11.56 a.m.

    “It’s depravity and brutality off the scale and it’s easy to categorise it as madness, but there was a rationale behind what they did. A religious self-justification and a burning hatred.”

    The problem with this analysis is that it is only ‘off the scale’ for liberal Europeans, which, as you rightly pointed out, ISIS and their supporters are not. There is a rationale – but the ‘religious self justification’ and ‘burning hatred’ arise out of that rationale. They are not themselves the content of the Islamic faith.

    Am I alone in wanting the word ‘extremist’ to be banned from journalists’ vocabularies? It just doesn’t help in understanding the situation. It give the journalists a reason for not bothering to find out what ISIS and their kin (and Muslims as a whole, for that matter) really believe – thus leaving the vast majority of people totally ignorant. This ignorance is equally obvious, for that matter, when most journalists try and speak about any other faith.

    Surely the first rule in dealing with a threat such as ISIS is ‘Know your enemy’ – and liberal Europeans who dismiss all religious faith as anacronystic (or worse) and fail to get to grips with the reality on the ground (and in the theology text books) are fooling themselves if they think that taking such a position is going to be of any use to any one, other to ISIS itself.

    @Amber Star

    A belated “Welcome back”!

    And am I right in thinking that whatever the offending piece it was that Old Nat wrote last night has been taken off the site?

  9. TOH – 1.49

    “We are at war already so appeasement is not an option, nor is there a peace option, as these people have no interest in peace, until the whole World bows down to their awful ideology.”

    Using a word such as ‘awful’ doesn’t help in the least. You need to be clear on what exactly it is in their ‘ideology’ (I prefer the word ‘faith’) you find to be so wrong. Until you’re prepared to do the theological work you don’t stand a chance.

    The Communists believed they could defeat the Catholic Church on economic and political terms, They failed because you can only counter a religious faith if you are prepared to get involved in discussing what it believes – because religious faith is about questions of truth. Just dismissing ISIS’s version of Islam as ‘awful’ will achieve nothing.

  10. @Neil A – 2.17

    Agreed to some extent. But western liberalism is not going to defeat Islam. And the Crusaders (who were western, but not ‘liberals’ in any sens ewe would recognise) didn’t either.

    And what exactly do we mean by ‘defeat’?

  11. @Candy – 3.24

    Economics is not the answer.

  12. JOHN B

    @”Am I alone in wanting the word ‘extremist’ to be banned from journalists’ vocabularies? It just doesn’t help in understanding the situation”

    I think it is absolutely vital.

    What we know is that IS fighters murder in the name of Allah-the Parisian murderers did. They said so.
    We also know that they kill “apostates”. They said so in Paris. They also say so when killing Shia Muslims , Christians, Yazidies etc etc.

    They are doing all of this in the name of one side in Islam’s murderous schism.

    Shia kill Sunni for the same reason.

    Unless we have a word for these people to distinguish them from the majority of Muslims who don’t want to kill in the nanme of God, we have a problem.

  13. I’ve often wondered about the motives of those who indulge in the sort of depravity we saw in Paris on Friday, and on many other occasions too in recent years, and it’s starting to occur to me that there is quite often a psychopathic delight in brutality on show and a casual infliction of suffering that borders on sadism. Jihadi John displayed these traits and eye witness accounts are starting to emerge from the atrocity in the Bataclan Theatre in Paris of some victims being stabbed and tortured during the slaughter before they were executed.

    This is where I then get to a more bestial and basic interpretation of what these people do. If you had a predisposition for this sort of behaviour, then wouldn’t the Isis campaign in Syria and Iraq, or Islamic terrorism in general, represent the perfect killing field and slaughterhouse for you? Why wouldn’t you be attracted to it, especially if rape and the subjugation of women was on offer too?

    I wouldn’t look too deeply into the motives of such people, and quite a bit of it may be about the attraction of anarchy and the opportunity to indulge in unbridled savagery. There have always been people like that, seeking superficial justification for their actions, and it may well be that the killing is really what attracts them to it. A hideous violent video game made real. The suicide aspect of it may be the ultimate expression of self loathing that quite often comes with living such a miserably inhuman existence.

  14. @colin

    IS does not in any way mainstream Sunni Islam.

  15. @John B

    I didn’t mention defeat, or Western Liberalism, (did I?)

    My comment was basically about the battle being within Islam. In that sense, the battle is “winnable” – if ultimately a form of Islam becomes dominant that absolutely rejects the use of force to spread faith, accepts that people of all faiths and none are equal and to be respected, and accepts democracy over theocracy.

    That battle has already been fought within Christianity, and mostly won.

    The military fight is not to defeat the enemy, but to protect ourselves as best we can whilst the real battle plays out.

    The core problem is that, despite all the fluffy “all religions are in favour of peace” stuff, there is plenty of evidence in the Koran and the Hadiths to justify a pretty brutal and savage interpretation, if you want to. Islam will become a religion of peace when the proportion of muslims who see it that way reaches a high enough level that extremists no longer have a permissive environment in which to thrive.


    I think you’re right. And this impression is further reinforced by what seems to be a frequent story of jihadists having been through a criminal career before turning to extreme Islam. A lot of them are just “Bad People” looking for a reason to be bad. Not all, obviously – some seem to have made a measured judgement that unspeakable horror is the correct route to piety and immortality.

  16. No doubt IS footsoldiers include many poorly educated criminal types attracted for the reasons CB 11 suggests.

    But one only has to read WIKI on IS & it leadership to appreciate that these are not a bunch of common criminals. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, is a highly educated Muslim theologian. The leadership contains many elements from Sadam’s higher echelons. And the control swathes of Iraq & Syria because they enjoy the loyalty & support of local Sunni Tribes.

    EXtreme Salafists these people may be-but they are not to be confused with the petty criminal & drop outs they recruit for cannon fodder. And Wiki describes their objectives clearly :-

    “ISIL has detailed its goals in its Dabiq magazine, saying it will continue to seize land and take over the entire Earth : “blessed flag…covers all eastern and western extents of the Earth, filling the world with the truth and justice of Islam and putting an end to the falsehood and tyranny of jahiliyyah [state of ignorance], even if American and its coalition despise such.”[168] According to German journalist Jürgen Todenhöfer, who spent ten days embedded with ISIL in Mosul, the view that he kept hearing was that ISIL wants to “conquer the world” and all who do not believe in the group’s interpretation of the Koran will be killed. Todenhöfer was struck by the ISIL fighters belief that “all religions who agree with democracy have to die”,[169] and by their “incredible enthusiasm”—including enthusiasm for killing “hundreds of millions” of people.[“

  17. As with so much in “science” there is a large element of bunkum in all this.

    Having facts, or conclusions if you will, and then re-arranging the deckchairs to fit them is, and always has been, a short term fix. Sooner or later something will happen to prove the rule. Then the deckchairs will need to be reshuffled again.

  18. Really interesting article about ISIS (warning; it’s a long article):

  19. I think it is important to understand the motives of these people because it is only by doing so that we can formulate a strategy to break the cycle of violence.

    Here is another article about ISIS, also very interesting. It offers a window into the motivation of their ‘footsoldiers’.

    The Paris attackers may have been cut from different cloth; perhaps more fanatical, more prepared for martyrdom than the people interviewed in this article. And yet there is another possibility that springs to mind that I haven’t seen anybody discussing so far, because it doesn’t fit the narrative people want to believe in, i.e. that these people were pure brutal sadists. These people may have had families held hostage by ISIS commanders, told that to carry out the attacks was the only way to secure their lives and prevent torture and death. This is pure speculation on my part, but it does happen.

    It in no way justifies the attacks, of course. And some might invoke Occam’s Razor to say: “We know there are jihadists prepared to die for the cause, and that is the simpler explanation”. It is also the explanation that we find the least repellent, because we do not wish to feel any scrap of human connection with these people that thoughts of family hostages might instill.

  20. Thanks guys, two very illuminating articles.

  21. JOHN B

    You misunderstand me. I am all for understanding your enemy and his motivations. It’s a key part of winning any war.

    I chose not to use the word faith as it would then characterize all Muslims in the same way, which IMO is clearly not true.

    On the question of extremism, Colin has already answered your point. I agree with him, they are extremists.


    “…I actually stopped reading & commenting for a long time because of Old Nat’s partisan nonsense – quite a few people noticed I’d gone ‘missing’.
    I really like this site; it’s a gem & Anthony is amazing. But it’s ruined for me by Old Nat. :-(…”

    This site attracts partisans almost by definition, and consequently so are the comments, which in turn can be hurtful as partisanship becomes intemperate. The important thing to know is that very few of the comments matter long-term, and will look very different after a few months. So if you are distressed by the comments, my best advice is to state your position calmly and simply, stop posting for a couple of days/weeks, then return refreshed to the site. Although I frequently disagree with them (if I wanted to talk to people who agree with me, I’d talk to myself!), your comments are interesting, worth reading and would be missed should they be permanently absent.

  23. @OldNat

    Oh, and OldNat, just to make it clear I’m not taking sides here, the same applies to you.

  24. CANDY

    I came across that article in The Atlantic the other day.

    I found it deeply worrying & quite frightening to contemplate.

  25. I don’t think any of us can fully grasp the motivations that drove the people who perpetrated the atrocities in Paris to do what they did and, like most things in life, the explanation may be complex and multi-faceted. I mean, how do you explain what motivates a person to empty the magazine of a Kalashnikov into a group of defenceless people having a meal in a cafe, or watching a football match or rock concert, and then calmly reload and repeat the exercise until all the bullets are spent? All the way along those action lines come stages where you might stop, where your humanity might cut in and notice the appalling suffering you’re causing. But, no, the killers calmly carried on, even stopping to stab and torture by all accounts between the magazine changes. The suicide bombers were desperate to get into the Stade de France too, by all accounts, in order to maximise the slaughter. You would need an enormous level of hatred and brutality to behave like that, and some may call it madness, but offering political and religious motives, or explaining some of it might be as a result of brainwashing and/or fear of reprisals against family., doesn’t do it for me, I’m afraid.

    Like many of my generation, I lived through the Provisional IRA’s mainland bombing campaign of the 70s and 80s, and knew and often frequented the pubs they blew up in Birmingham in 1974, causing appalling loss of life and injury, but their brand of terrorism always carried a certain calibration that, whilst being alien and unforgivable to us, could be understood. It had a political logic and objective when all was said and done. This stuff in Paris, I don’t understand. There’s a nihilistic savagery at play here which is truly shocking and, on a certain level, quite beyond comprehension.

  26. @Colin – 6.02 p.m.

    My point about the word ‘extremist’ is that it is a lazy copout for those who do not wish to enter into and explore (and therefore find a way of counteracting) the thinking of those who do things of which we disapprove.

  27. @Neil A – 7.20

    “My comment was basically about the battle being within Islam. In that sense, the battle is “winnable” – if ultimately a form of Islam becomes dominant that absolutely rejects the use of force to spread faith, accepts that people of all faiths and none are equal and to be respected, and accepts democracy over theocracy.
    That battle has already been fought within Christianity, and mostly won.”

    That we need to live in a society which treats people of all faiths (and none) equally before the law is, of course, a fundamental tenet of modern Protestant Christianity. But what do you do if someone has a faith which demands theocracy? What do you do if someone has a faith which denies the right to change beliefs?

    No Christian can accept that democracy is higher than theocracy. What the Protestant version of Christianity teaches is that the State ius subject to God – but not sibject to the Church, which is its partner.

    As for ‘all religions being equal’ or ‘of equal value’, (which is not what you said but perhaps what you implied – forgive me if I am wrong) that is plainly difficult to accept, because the rather important mattter of the truth of what any faith says needs to be addressed at some point. For example, Christians say that Jesus was crucified and died on the cross. Muslims deny that he died on the cross. One is true. The other is not. There is no middle way.

    You may reply that to you nad millions more it matters not a jot either way. But many millions more would beg to disagree! And then where is your ‘democracy’?

  28. JOHN B

    I don’t know if you have ever read IS’ English language online Journal.

    I have -this morning for the first time:-

    40 odd pages of 15c Sectarian grievance & history; incomprehensible references to Goodies & Baddies in the Historic Islamic past, Updates on the Fight in every country; a list of the most recent attacks & suicide bombings-with casualty counts; Top 10 videos of unspeakable things; two adverts of hostages for sale with pictures & CVs; Articles attacking every “apostate ” from Cameron, to Assad, to Erdogan to the Iranian clerics. Articles setting out global ambitions for expansion of “the Caliphate” by force etc etc etc.

    How much more “exploring” of this stuff do you need in order to be able to characterise it.

    For me “Extremism” is perfectly adequate-but doesn’t begin to describe the feeling in the pit of the stomach as you log off.

  29. @Colin

    I fear that you show the weakness of your position when you describe fundamental events and people as ‘incomprehensible’. My point is that to dismiss anything prior to the ‘modern era’ as incomprehensible or anything which does not fit into enlightenment European thought as ‘extreme’ will not help us in the battle against these people who, as you rightly say, are doing things which sicken us. If you want to enter into the conflict against the ‘Islamic State’ (or whatever else you wish to call it) and those who hold a fundamentally different view of reality from your own you have to get to grips with the people and events which form the foundation of their beliefs.

    The Communists thought that they could destroy the Christian Church by talking about economics. They failed because they refused to engage on the Church’s own ground, from whence it drew its strength. If we don’t enter into a discussion on the truth or falsehood of Islam per se (and not the validity or otherwise of a particular interpretation of Islam) we will do no better.

    In the end, the question is not ‘are these people extremists or not?’ but ‘is Islam true or false’?

  30. JOHN B

    I don’t know who you mean by “we”-but speaking personally I have no expertise or credibility in the various sides of five hundred year old theological disputes within Islam.

    That is for Muslims to resolve. So far they have failed-they still kill each other with impunity because they are the “wrong” sect. Provided that didn’t impact on my safety I wouldn’t care too much.

    But one party in this sectarian war has declared an objective to impose its beliefs by force on my country.

    I don’t think that needs skills in Islamic Theology to respond to.

  31. @Colin

    I disagree on two matters:

    Firstly, it is not any individual country which is the target for these people; the idea of the ‘nation state’ is alien to them. They think in terms of ‘culture’/’faith’ (umma/caliphate).

    Secondly, if ‘know your enemy’ is to mean anything, then you will have to get to grips (at least in terms of some basic outline) with the seventeen centuries of Islamic history/theology/culture. Otherwise you cannot achieve anything.

    Of course, there is an alternative, and that is to live in a bunker, or a fortress, keeping all aspects of Islamic culture and faith at bay. But are you going to request the removal of all Muslims from Europe? I think probably not.

  32. @JohnB

    In our modern state, democracy has primacy over theology.

    We’ve reverted back to a Greco-Roman civilization, after a flirtation with the Abrahamic religions.

    That’s why we’re so obsessed with voting (we’re having referendums in a way our predecessors would find astonishing). We’re obsessed with politics. Women’s rights lifted from Sparta (including property ownership and training women to fight!). Gay rights lifted from Athens. Obsession with science, education and books. It was the Christians who were anti-knowledge – Cyril, the Bishop of Alexandria burnt down the Great Library of Alexandria, to plunge us into the dark ages, so there were no books to compete with the Bible. (He also got Hypatia killed – the Abrahamic religions could not tolerate a female mathematician, they held both states in contempt). Boko Haram btw means “schools forbidden” – not much difference between them and the wicked Cyril.

    This is why reading about the middle ages feels very alien, but reading about the Ancient Greeks gives a sense of recognition, right down to the politics, for example Themistocles was treated in a similar manner to Churchill.

    Religion does not have primacy in our world – we tolerate it, but squash it when it threatens our democracy (which is our true religion). In that sense we’ve copied the Greco-Romans too, as they tolerated many religions and took the attitude that you could believe what you wanted to as long as you didn’t threaten the state.

    I think that if it came to a crunch point, we’d actually ban a religion rather than see it threaten our world. We’ve already done that with with minor religions that are no more crazy than the older ones.

  33. P.S. I should have added that the power of our civilisation is such that there is already a community of ex-muslim atheists.

    They even have their own sub-reddit and are trying to get publicity so that people having doubts about islam know they arn’t alone.

    They spend most of their time discussing how to find a spouse who will accept their atheism (the consensus seems to be that listing yourself on as an atheist is the most successful strategy). They also struggle with how to enter a mainstream community that stereotypes them all as muslims as soon as they see the names. From time to time they pop into the UK sub to let everyone know they exist, and people pop into their sub to give them advice (mainly the ex-catholics who write heartfelt posts about how to dealt with the guilt of separating yourself from your community).

    The biggest issue seems to be that they are too scared to tell their parents and larger community for fear of reprisals. Some move to a different city where no-one knows them and they can live an atheist life with their new spouse. My impression is that there is a chunk of secret atheism going on that will out itself when the older generation pops their clogs and the ex-muslim atheists feel they arn’t hurting anyone by saying they do not believe.

  34. JOHNB

    @”But are you going to request the removal of all Muslims from Europe? I think probably not.”

    Only if-as you seem to be suggesting -that every one of them is or could become an IS terrorist.

    This seems unlikely.

    Lesser measures would be appropriate though-keeping real track of those identified as a threat -possibly by tagging as Sarkozy suggested today.
    Formal approval of the qualifications & liturgy of priests in all Religions-and conversely banning & closure for those not qualifying.
    Of course for Religions with a recognisable & transparent hierarchy & internal disciplinary procedures this will be a formality. For religions without this transparency or internal structures for nationwide imposition of compliance , then individual places of worship would have to reviewed & possibly closed……….or the religion in question will be encouraged to develop overarching compliance structures .

  35. JOHN B
    @” live in a bunker, or a fortress, keeping all aspects of Islamic culture and faith at bay.”

    On the contrary -the objective surely is to encourage the “real” Islam which we are constantly told is a peace loving religion.

    But it is for the adherants of this “true” faith to cast out the apostates who preach violence in its name.

    Otherwise-in a secular democracy like ours-the law intervenes where threats to peace & security are apparent. We don’t need to get involved in the theology of it all.

  36. @John B,

    You did slightly misunderstand me, in that I don’t think that believing people of all faiths are equal necessarily means that you have to believe all faiths are equally valid. You simply don’t judge someone’s value by the faith they follow, even if it’s not your own.

    As I said, that’s a battle that raged fiercely in Christianity for centuries, and it’s not quite over. But in the West it mostly is. I think if a group of doctors were discussing which sick child should get a PICU bed, it would be pretty astonishing if they came to the conclusion “let’s give it to little Brian, as his parents are Christians”. If you polled 10,000 practicing Christians on the question, I suspect very few would answer that a Christian’s life is more valuable than any other. I wonder what response you’d get from UK Muslims (and from Muslims in traditionally Islamic countries).

    When a wicked view becomes unspeakable, so that someone who holds it keeps quiet even in the company of their peers, that’s when the battle is being won. It’s the old Pyramid theory, suggesting that the worst and most extreme beliefs can only survive because of a support structure of people with less extreme beliefs to rest on, who rest on a wider structure of even less extreme beliefs etc.

    It seems to me that in the Middle East, the sides of the pyramid are much less steeply sloped than in the West.

    As to the debate being about whether Islam is “true” or not, well that may be but it is playing into the hands of ISIL. They are quite transparently clear about their theology. Part of its appeal is that it employs no “ifs” or “buts”. It just takes the story of a vicious imperial conquest a millennium and a half ago and transposes it, unmodified, into the present. If we tell the worlds Muslims to choose between their religion being “true” (ie ISIL) and “false” (i.e. everyone else) then we risk pushing hundreds of millions of currently peaceful people into the arms of the enemy. Even if, in our hearts, we don’t believe that Islam is as naturally peaceful as some people claim, it’s not a good tactic to bang on about it.

  37. Hmm…despite some fine and thoughtful posts, these ‘post major events’ discussions on UKPR are rarely the best we see, especially when highly emotive matters of defence, terrorism and foreign policy are to the fore.

    Amid the rush to consider further military action in the Middle East, @Neil A has hit the nail on the head. We are dealing with an ideological battle within Islam, not a physical conflict within a defined geographical space. This doesn’t mean that a bit of bombing and associated collateral damage won’t necesarily help, but it does mean that it will never provide the full answer.

    Islam as a whole is still struggling to cope with a world where it is no longer the dominant force. Despite vast wealth and natural resources in the Middle East, over the last couple of centuries the western, democratic, small ‘c’ christian dominance of the global environment has been striking, and the Islamic world doesn’t seem to quite know how to respond to this. Do they westernise, and adopt critical concepts such as equality, democracy etc within an Islamic framework, or do they retreat to a more medieval version of Islam, and seal themselves off, or try to impose this alternative world view?

    We could, with a bit of time, lots of money, and large amounts of death, wipe out IS in Syria and Iraq, and still we would not have answered this question. The problem would not, therefore, be solved, although the immediate incarnation would be neutralised – as Al Qaeda was – another would yet come forward, until such time as Islam resolves it’s world view.

    In my view, we have a good deal of experience of dealing with terrorist movements, with examples, good and bad, of what works and what doesn’t work.

    We know that changing our principles to allow for things like internment, detention without trial, summary execution etc might make us feel better, but doesn’t, ultimately make us any safer.

    There may be a role for conventional military action, but rarely, if ever, has this solved terrorist conflicts based on ideology.

    ‘Hearts and minds’ campaigns can work, and work very well, but they need to be done wholesale, not piecemeal, so what we say actually means something.

    Peeling moderates away from the people of violence is critical, with the need to avoid establishing ‘recruiting seargents’ by policy missteps being critical. Get these things right, and over time the threat will pass, but I suspect that violent Islamists are going to be a feature of the world well beyond my lifetime.

    We could go to war in Syria, and feel good about ourselves, but the problems won’t stop. The vast mass of humanity, Muslim or no, really doesn’t like the kind of thing we saw in Paris. Such naked violence really does turn away very many people, and in due course Islam itself will overcome this version of it’s philosophy, but if we can get our side of the response right, we could greatly speed up that process.

  38. @Alec

    As I said, I see military action not as a solution, but as self-defence. If a lorry full of explosives is hurtling towards a hospital, igniting it with a drone strike is unlikely to convince Islamists that they are wrong. It will however save the lives of the people in the hospital.

    For me, the whole of Syria and Iraq is basically one big Kobane. Innocent people, under terrible threat, the consequences of defeat too awful to dwell on, fighting to the best of their ability to stay alive, to keep their families safe. And sometimes, not always but sometimes, a bunch of beer-swilling, bacon-munching, morally bankrupt Westerners firing missiles at those who want to kill you is just the ticket.

    Responsibility rests with those who have the ability.

  39. The United States has finally started to attack the ISIS oil trucks. See

    Wish they’d done this a year ago.

  40. @Candy

    There is considerable doubt about the destruction of the library at Alexandria. Julius Caesar is blamed by Plutarch, there may well have been damage much later when Aurelian captured the city, some blame the Christians under Theophilus and Cyril (I think Gibbon takes this line, but he was not a great fan of Christianity), and some even blame a later Muslim decree. I don’t think the stories provide a very secure base for the anti-Christian line you take (which is not to say that Christians didn’t do some pretty unpleasant things).

    To turn to polling: Has there been any indication of the effect on VI of Corbyn’s views about terrorism?

  41. @Candy – 2.54

    You are quite correct to suggest that our modern, multi-faith, multi-cultural Europe is far closer in many ways to the world of the Greek and Roman empires than it is to the medieval world.

    This is important for the discussion about religious faith, for whereas Islam assumes, I think, that Muslims will be (or ought to be) in charge of the societies in which Muslims live, (the Caliphate, for example), there is no such assumption in the New Testament. In fact, the Christian faith ought to be far more able to adapt to modern conditions than Islam, because modern conditions are far closer to the world of the first three centuries of the Church.

    (It all went down hill when the Roman emperor Constantine adopted the Christian faith as that of the Empire. I wish he never had!)

  42. Re. “Shy Tories” giving pollsters false voting intentions.

    I recall the same thing happened when Thatcher came to power. The level of aggressive canvassing by the manic street preachers of the left made people frightened to speak openly and risk at the very least verbal abuse. The same situation happened pre the last election. It started with the Scottish Independence vote, and I well recall Ms Sturgeon’s regular use of polemic ‘hate Tories’. does she ‘hate’ the 1 in 6 of the Scots that voted for them. I think she does, and she most certainly hates the 2 in 5 English that voted Tory, and has said as much…

    Why is it acceptable from anyone to publicly say the ‘hate’ another party or indeed any other group of individuals. The same tone was adopted by Milliband’s Labour at the last national election, with understandable results; the skilled working classes voted for economic stability, but hid their intent to do so for genuine fear of physical attack by lefty loonies whom now think it ok to vent their bile without constraint of the laws of the land.

    Alas the faction that resurrected ‘hate’ as a political force is now enshrined within Corbyn’s Momentum movement. They will come to bite him on the arse one day, much as Militant did for Kinnock.

    Hate is a negative force and the last person to win an election through it cause a World War.

    Take the hate out of politics.

  43. We are in danger of over sophistication .

    Mixing up the “Hearts & Minds” business-trying to get Muslims to persuade all their brethren to behave like “proper” muslims. ( a task for them in the main) – and a response to an organisation which is running a government in large swathes of invaded territory whose objective in life is war against any country which it considers “apostate”.

    First we have to destroy these people & return that territory to its legitimate governance. ( yes , I know the question of who runs it is a whole box of frogs) .We have to do this to protect ourselves.

    THEN-we can help Islam to persuade its young men that the true path is the more appropriate one.

  44. @JohnB – “It all went down hill when the Roman emperor Constantine adopted the Christian faith as that of the Empire. I wish he never had!”

    I wish he never had either. It took until the 18th century to recover to the level of civilisation of the late Roman period.

    I imagine someone in the late Roman era would have felt just like us – utterly secure in the belief that their way of life would just continue, after all it was already centuries old. And it just got destroyed. The stoic schools closed because they were competing with christianity. Books burnt. Educated people murdered before they could recreate the books again from memory. And in the end they achieved a single homogeneous world with just one religion, one book and one source of authority. But what a poor pathetic world it was!

    Could it happen to us?

  45. Thank you @Anthony for this piece – illuminating and informative.

  46. @ Candy,

    Thanks for the link to The Atlantic article, fascinating, I had to keep pinching myself to remind myself that I was reading something about 2015 and not some medieval historical tome. It’s so alien to me I cannot begin to understand how we combat people who believe this sort of stuff

  47. My goodness! A well informed, rational, articulate debate on the main page of UK Polling Report! Without Scotland being shoehorned into the debate! Jesus I need a lie down. With particular thanks to Candy, whom I always enjoy reading.

  48. Well, it may be a blinding flash of the obvious but the assault on Paris has changed the approach of the international community.

    Without official recognition as a state, it was not possible to impute that an act of war had been perpetrated by the aggressor. The USofA went to great lengths, but ultimately failed, to have ‘state sponsored terrorism’ defined, in international law, as an act of war. The burden of proof was placed on the state which was making the allegation that the terrorism was ‘state sponsored’.

    But the UN does not recognise ISIS as a state. Nevertheless, France has either:
    1. been permitted to respond to an act of war perpetrated by a ‘state within a state’; or
    2. France has sought & received permission from the Assad government to bomb targets within Syria.

    Being an international law geek, I would very much like to know whether it is 1. which has quite far reaching implications in IL or 2. which may have interesting political outcomes with regard to the peace process being put forward at the G20 summit.

    If you think that I have missed an insight as to whether it is 1. or 2., amongst the many news reports, please be kind enough to post a link.

  49. I can read about ISIS etc on any number of sites. It would be better of people confined their remarks on his one to polling issues. Back to the actual point of what these comments are supposed to be about, this BES survey seemed to identify all sorts of problems for pollsters but give us no clue as to the solutions. The best thing that the pollsters can do is to try to arrive at some sort of adjustment factor to apply to the raw data. The difference in the figures since the General Election are most likely due to the fact that its more acceptable again for people to describe themselves as Conservative Voters and less fashionable to say you’re voting Labour or UKIP. The fact is that floating voters and people who in reality don’t vote at all, like to think of themselves as being on the winning side. One thing that the pollsters might consider is the propensity of committed supporters of one party or another in safe constituencies not to vote at all, or to vote for a minor party or candidate which takes their fancy at the time, on the assumption that their side is sure to win or sure to lose, and people who (accurately) tell pollsters they support one of the minor parties, but on the day vote tactically for one of the parties with a chance of winning. This might well explain variable propensity of UKIP supporters to return to the Tories depending on what constituency they live in. When people answer opinion pollsters they are answering who they want to win the General Election, This is not an exact measure of how they vote in their own constituencies and is an ample factor in making a difference of quite a number of seats in the difference between the two main parties. I myself voted Conservative in the General Election in Montgomeryshire and describe myself as a Conservative. Had I lived seven miles away in Ceredigion, I would have voted Lib Dem and in Ynys Mon (Anglesey) would have voted Plaid Cymru. But if a pollster asks me which Party I support I intend to vote for I would say Labour so as to lull them into a false sense of security.

  50. Ronald Olden:

    “But if a pollster asks me which Party I support I intend to vote for I would say Labour so as to lull them into a false sense of security.”

    I am curious as to your motives for doing so. You appear to be treating politics as some sort of game of tribal warfare. Isn’t it about policies?

    “It would be better of people confined their remarks on his one to polling issues.”

    You appear to wish to negate the value of polls.

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