YouGov admits ‘priming’ as experts criticise Brexit poll and results

YouGov chief executive Stephan Shakespeare made a remarkable admission on social media concerning the poll his company carried out for Open Britain’s “People’s Vote” campaign.

The admission came in response to a Twitter thread by a former Labour polling head, James Morris, who challenged the polls methodology and accused it of ‘priming’ respondents to lead them toward a particular answer:

‘Priming’ is the principle of feeding people prompts or questions that set them up ready to provide a particular answer or to react in a particular way. It’s how famous illusionist Derren Brown achieves many of the results in his programmes.

Derren Brown (image credit Lereya – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=73872756

Priming in a poll, as Morris observed, would be a way to achieve a pre-determined result.

Morris, who is no Corbynite, organised polling for Labour and knows his stuff. But the issue is not in dispute – because the Shakespeare CEO agreed with him:

But the pollster went further, seeming to indicate that the “People’s Vote” campaign had asked his company to do measure something that can’t be measured:

Morris was not the only person with polling expertise or experience to criticise the poll and its results. Damian Lyons Lowe, head of Survation, by far the most accurate polling company during the 2017 general election, called the assumptions of the poll’s voting intention results ‘bold’ and said his own workings indicated a very different result:

Keiran Pedley, a director of one of the world’s largest polling companies, described the poll and its method “fraught with difficulties” and pointed out the incompleteness of the options offered in a short Twitter thread:

New Statesman political editor Stephen Bush – also no particular friend of the current Labour leadership – agreed with Morris’ take and added:

But it was perhaps a non-pollster, Labour MP Justin Madders, who framed his criticism most succinctly and in layman’s terms:

YouGov was contacted about this article and initially declined to comment, but later sent the following statement:

It was a standard research approach. The survey compared a control scenario of current voting intention with a question that asked people to imagine a different scenario, and asked people how they would vote in those circumstances.

A YouGov spokesperson

The “People’s Vote” campaign was also contacted, but did not respond by the time of publication.

SKWAWKBOX comment:

A poll that primed people to respond in a particular way – on questions that expert pollsters seem to agree there’s no reliable way to measure.

Mr Shakespeare deserves credit for his honesty, though this might become a ‘Ratners’ moment for his company.

However, the eagerness of the PV-campaign and its media friends to spin the results of a poll constructed to reach a pre-determined conclusion as if it was not based on leading questions and a methodology “fraught with difficulties” – with a gaping hole where the most obvious question should be – speaks volumes about them.

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  1. The Peoples vote are happy to peddle their own propaganda, but not to debate the validity of their assumptions.

  2. The polls lack of validity matters only to people like us. Remain supporters will carry-on using the bogus results as statements of fact. They (remain) are awash with cash and intent on buying a second referendum, the past two and a half years propaganda are the ground work to change the result. If leave had acted in this way, they wouldn’t have got away with it…look at the whoha the gross rather than net figure on the bus caused.

  3. Desperation isn’t a good look.

    We all know that the framing of questions influences responses; it’s not a revelation who has done research.

    But the simple fact is that, allowing for this source of error, all evidence points to massive support amongst Labour members for ‘Remain’, and a pretty strong, if more ambivalent support for an up-to-date referendum.

    If Swawkbox wants to claim authenticity in comparison with the MSM, it has to do better than simply deny the evidence and erect an alternative propaganda stream.

    Simply put – the leadership of Labour currently is supported by the majority of members, but is not in line with their long term aspirations.

    That’s the reality. Get over it.

    1. Not really true, our first objective as stated at the conference, 1. Bring down the government. ( not achievable until the Brexit vote occurs) 2. ALL other options on the table including PV.
      The problem with this is that you and your ilk have no patience.

      1. Me and ‘ilk’ have had loads of patience and forbearance in recognising that although, from an early stage, Brexit was revealed as a nonsense with no rationale except for Tory short-sellers, it was necessary for Labour to find its way out of earlier tactical mistakes in giving it credibility – particularly in falling into Tory traps about ‘People’s Will’ and Article 50. But Corbyn was inexperienced in leadership and under pressure (not least from the right), and with few experienced onside consiglieri.

        However, given that pragmatism, and the pragmatic compromise of the Confeernce motion, it is necessary to begin serious preparation for ditching the whole doomed project.

        Bringing down the government is an unlikely probability in the circumstances. The Tories may be great at few things – but self-preservation is one.

        Having said that, if a GE was to be engineered, Labour can’t afford to go into it mumbling cakeism and pretending to embrace Tory policy (Brexit is nothing else by any sane analysis) against the instincts of its members.

        What you see as ‘impatience’ is simply an awareness that it’s getting late in the day, and that it won’t wash with the electorate – or the Party – to fudge the fundamental choice for much longer.

    1. As far as I am aware they both support the Labour Party’s policy that was agreed at conference. Do you have any actual evidence to the contrary or are you just attempting to spread division again.

    2. The two are not in opposition. Personally, I think that a general election is unlikely – the Tories have an instinct for survival, and it’s not in Labour’s gift.

      But even were there to be one, the issue of policy over Brexit then becomes acute, and another referendum is one possible mechanism of turning back the lemming rush. The frantic opposition from True Bleavers validates it more strongly by the day – they are obviously painfully aware of the mickey mouse nature of the last, and terrified of a more informed electorate.

      For Labour to go into an election on a Brexit ticket would mean another electoral failure, and an abandonment of the policy of rebuilding the Party’s base. There is no 19thC industrial working class riding to the rescue on Leave steed.

      Failing a general election, then there is the possibility of building a coalition around a new, informed vote that might put the Party on the right side of history, rather than conceding one of two (possibly both) falures – in electoral and/or policy terms.

      Only one thing is for sure – Brexit is a Tory policy, and following Tory policy just isn’t a good look for a progressive Party. We should have learned that from the Blair years. Brexit could be for Corbyn what neoliberalism was for Blair and Brown – the delusion that right wing ideas can be used to promote progressive policies.

  4. I subscribe to YouGov and have done so for a number of years. May I mention that there has been many a day where I have read the result of a YouGov poll. And have had no idea that such a survey was conducted.
    The reason, from previous responses and blogs, YouGov have a very good idea what a particular persons response will be to any popular question.
    So! Pay for a survey, tell them the required result. Hey Presto – there it is. Simple as that.

  5. If the results of opinion polls are as easy to manipulate as some claim it is surprising that the Brexiteers haven’t commissioned their own polls. Or perhaps they have and they’ve decided not to publish the results because just like all the published poll results they don’t support their cause

  6. YouGuv have just repeated the survey with straight questions. Interesting to see how that turns out.
    And SteveH, opinion polls are designed to influence opinion not record it, which is why you’ll see me slagging thth off even if they show Labour doing well. They should never, ever, be trusted.

      1. What point was that?
        Clearly, you didn’t make it very well, as I missed it.
        How”noteworthy” is that?

      2. 1. Do grow a pair and stop trolling
        2. If you have a point, make it or shut up.
        3. If your whine concerns your question (no question mark, but hey, who’s counting), I thought it was rhetorical – how the fuck could I know what goes on in Brexiteers’ tiny minds?
        4. If you are inviting me to guess (who knows? you might be), I’d suggest it’s likely because they aren’t bothering to try and convince anyone of anything. They – like Trump – play to the already committed and ignore rational debate (much like you). Meanwhile the ‘People’s Vote Folk’ need to gain traction among human beings, as well the MSM.
        5. Noteworthy enough for you?
        6. If I continue to misunderstand your poorly phrased ‘point’ perhaps, as previously requested, you might consider humbling your good self and trying harder to explain it, instead of acting like a teenage troll. But you won’t, of course.
        7. Strange how your inarticulate scribbling was my fault, but hey, I’ve met wankers before.
        8.Now fuck off back under your long suffering rock.

        I thank you.

      3. It’s a novel experience to be accused of being a Brexiteer.

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