Closing up shop

Anyone who used to regularly read UKPollingReport has presumably noticed it has been many months since I have updated it. You’ve probably already assumed that it is being wound down, but the time has come to make it official. Over the next few weeks I’ll be archiving some posts I want to keep for another day, and then shutting the site down.

I started writing UKPollingReport in 2004, back when blogs were the new exciting thing on the internet. It was when I was an amateur observer of polls, rather than someone who actually carried them out. Over time my hobby became what I actually did for a living, which is nice at first (after all, who wouldn’t like to get paid for something they are interested in doing anyway). As the years go by it switched over though, and there comes a point when the last thing you want to do when you log off from work is to write about your work. UKPollingReport had long since become a chore rather than a pleasure, so it’s time to move on.

I hope I achieved something along the way. Opinion polling has become less opaque since I started writing (though that is largely because of the advent of the British Polling Council, rather than anything I have done), but it still remains something of a mystery to many people. Any poll that people don’t like still generates a thousand replies asking how come they weren’t polled, or everyone they know thinks different, or how polling companies are all run by lizards (plus, of course, the Peter Hitchens meme, which even Peter Hitchens appears sick of). Making polling methodology more open only helps if people want to understand how it works, and naturally enough, many people have better things to do, but I hope I provided a useful resource for those who do have an interest.

More realistic is spreading the message to journalists and political observers (and, indeed, to my own industry. Being called out by your peers should always be a good deterrent). What polls can and, more importantly, really can’t do. Why a question like that won’t work, or doesn’t actually tell you what it appears to on the surface. What that question is terribly biased and should be quietly ignored. Why that poll using sampling that is probably skewed and one sided.

I think newspaper reporting of polling has genuinely improved over the last twenty years. There is a habit of being extremely cynical about journalists and their honesty or ethics – “one cannot hope to bribe or twist, etc, etc”. I don’t subscribe to that point of view. Most of the political journalists I’ve worked with over the years have been my favourite clients. Pressure groups, campaigning groups, etc, inevitably have an answer they want to get (and we often have to spend long hours saying no to various ways they try to bias questions). Journalists don’t – they tend to be the clients who just want to ask a fair question and report the results.

Overall, I think the press treat voting intention polls far better than they once did – putting it in the context of other recent polls, not massively over-reacting to small movements. It is very easy to point to places where they have fallen over, but these tend to be polls that have been commissioned and spun by pressure groups, rather than ones where the journalist talks to the pollster (or worse, things masquerading as “polls” which have never been near a professional research company, like the Observer twitter poll last month!).

Nevertheless, I’ll keep on rolling the boulder up the hill in other places. I am hoping that not having the weight of expectations of maintaining a blog will mean I feel actually able to write more often, rather than less. I’m going to continue grumbling about polls on twitter (@anthonyjwells, if you don’t follow me already). I’m also planning to put the occasional longer form piece as a (free) newsletter on Substack for when I want to rant about something that’s too long for a Twitter thread. I’ll put some of the pieces I keep referring back to up there as well in due course, so I’ve still something to link to when I want to explain why a Twitter poll of 100,000 people is still worthless, and why agree-disagree statements are almost always a terrible way to ask a question. Subscribe (for free) to that at https://anthonyjwells.substack.com/. I hope to see you there.