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.
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.
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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