The start of what was the hunting season was greeted by a new opinion poll from ORB, commissed by the Countryside Alliance, which they claimed showed that support for a ban had dramatically fallen over the last 6 years, and now had only minority support. It was immediately rebutted by the League Against Cruel Sports claiming that the Countryside Alliance’s figures showed that “the support for a ban has increased since 2002, so they must be gutted”. So, they can’t both be right, has support for the hunting ban gone up, or down?

The ORB poll asked a straightforward question on whether or not people supported the ban, “To what extent do you personally support or oppose a ban on hunting with dogs?” This found that 45% supported the ban, 30% opposed it, and 23% didn’t really care either way. This is identical, or close enough to compare, to the wording used by MORI in their previous surveys on hunting, which found that in February 2005 47% of people supported the ban, and 26% opposed it while all the way back in 1999 63% supported it and 24% opposed it.

Now, if we compare the change in the figures between February and now, there is a small move against the ban – although it could probably be explained by sample error and differences in methodology between the two pollsters. On the other hand comparing the figures today with those back in 1999 it’s pretty undeniable that the level of support for a ban on hunting has fallen dramatically, though the majority of the change seems to be people who once supported a ban now having no opinion either either way.

So, what was the League Against Cruel Sports talking about? I think they are, rather cheekily, referring to an NOP poll commissioned by the Countryside Alliance back in 2002, which gave people the choice of either a ban (36%), no ban (18%), or hunting continuing under regulation (41%). The Countryside Alliance used the combined figures of people who wanted to keep hunting under regulation and keep hunting unchanged to claim in newspaper adverts that 59% wanted to keep hunting, adverts which became the target of complaints to the Advertising Standards Agency. The pro-ban option in the poll was worded “hunting should not be allowed to continue at all as cruelty is more important to me than civil liberties”, which reads like rather leading wording to me, although in fairness ICM polls giving a three way choice with more neutral wording gave pretty similar results.

So the League Against Cruel Sports seems to be having a bit of fun at the Countryside Alliance’s expense – if you compare this poll with the answers to the polls that gave a three way choice – ban, no ban or regulation, which the Countryside Alliance always used to use as its statistics of choice, then the number of people supporting an outright ban has indeed gone up since 2002 – but in reality you cannot compare the two question designs at all, since we don’t know what those people who supported regulation would have said in a straight choice about whether they supported a ban or not.

The only real change in opinion seems to be that, now there is a ban in place, a lot of people who once said they supported a ban no longer seem to hold an opinion either way. That could be because people have seen the ban in action and no longer think it such a good idea, or it could simply be that now hunting is no longer a hot political issue, people no longer care one way or the other.

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