• Long-term trend towards rise of government and public sector research
    • Increased emphasis on evidence-based policymaking
      • consultation
      • policy options
      • evaluating results
    • Greater demand for user-focused services
      • scoping needs
      • customer experience
      • tracking satisfaction
      • segmenting customers
    • Greater need for efficiency savings
      • prioritisation
      • understanding “what works”
      • Public service reform/more for less
      • Co-production and behaviour change
    • Rising demands for accountability and transparency
  • Works across all areas of public policy
  • Only 0.16% of work is political polling for the media.
  • Public opinion poll: views of a representative sample of a defined population.
  • Polling measures perceptions rather than truth.
    • Perceptions determine public opinion — not truth.
    • Perceptions are also outcomes in their own right.
      • Our experiences of services determine perceptions of their quality.
    • Fear often has little relationship to risk
      • Fear of crime has gone up, but crime has ultimately gone down.
      • Worries about litter and environmental factors always rate highly; when addressed, overall worries about crime decrease.
  • Polls important, but need to be used appropriately.
    • How they’re reported is also very important.
    • Only 2/3 of people can easily reduce 20% to 1/5 (I.e., percent to a fraction)
  • Four main poll types:
    • Peacetime polls (where we are now)
      • Snapshot indicator of how the public thinks it should vote at a given moment.
      • Polls don’t predict what would happen; ask about a hypothetical election, answers are hypothetical too.
        • Better seen as a barometer — doesn’t predict the weather, measure something that is useful to know in predicting the weather.
      • Regular Ipsos MORI opinion polls
        • Monthly political monitor
      • ICM, Yougov, GfK NOP, Populus, Comres, et al.
    • Campaign polls (during the campaign itself)
      • Measures what the public thinks it is going to do, but not a perfect predictor.
        • 14% of voters in 2010 said they made up their minds on whether/how they’ll vote in the final 24 hours, another 9% in the last week.
      • Interesting angle — key marginal seats. Collaborated with Reuters.
      • The Ipsos MORI “Worm” — how opinion changes during leaders’ speeches.
    • Final poll (eve of election poll — includes adjustments not applied to other polls; not “pure” polling
      • Exclude not registered to vote (5%)
      • Check postal voting (15%)
      • Further turnout adjustments:
        • Definitely decided or might change mind
        • How important is the result
        • How certain if raining
        • Whether sample has been contacted by campaigners
      • Plus: call-backs for late swing and imputed vote of refusers.
      • “Armchair” Labour voters — say they’ll vote Labour but don’t turn out.
      • Was pretty close last election to outcome.
    • Exit poll (Who you voted for instead of how you’ll vote)
      • Sit outside election booths and ask people.
      • Careful selection of polling stations
      • One person watches people leaving with a counter, send the other to select someone every n (10?) people.
      • Selected people are given a ballot, are asked to mark it. Results taken back and interpreted.
      • Tends to be polling stations since last time; look at “swing,” or amount of change. Attempt to extrapolate to entire constituency and see whether enough swing to unseat incumbent.
      • Add up the sum of all swing to see how much change in system.
  • What makes a good poll?
    • Question wording is crucial.
      • Be relevant to respondent
      • Be easily understood
      • Unambiguous in meaning
      • Mean the same to client, researcher and all respondents
      • Relate to the survey objectives
      • Not be overly influenced by the context of the question
    • Having a good sample is crucial
      • Purely ‘random’ sampling no longer used — too difficult, expensive.
      • Well-conducted quota sampling produces weighted samples with a variance similar to random samples of the same size
      • Most people don’t have strong views on a lot of things; you want their voice represented as well.
    • Reading and reporting the polls
      • However static public opinion actually is, the polls provide the media with a basis for giving the impression of flux, change and excitements. The more polls there are … the more true this is.
      • However improbable a poll finding is, the media will publish of broadcast it. The more improbable a poll’s finding is, the more likely the media will give it prominence.
      • Good questions to ask:
        • When were the fieldwork dates?
        • Was the sample representative
        • Is it a panel study, face-to-face, telephone or an online poll?
        • Are the questions unbiased?
        • Are differences statistically significant?
      • Watch the share, not the lead.
        • Shares should be within margin of error; it is this that will lead to variances in lead.
        • Differences will not be statistically significant.
      • Things to watch:
        • Generalising beyond the sample
        • Implying change when no trend has been measured
        • Emphasising the unimportant
        • Highlighting statistically insignificant findings
        • Quoting out of context
    • Curious and spurious: the Sweet FA Prediction Model
      • Weird correlation between the colours of the FA winner and the government taking power that year.
        • Data can be found that fits whatever prediction.
      • Polling isn’t designed to predict the future.