OPEN LETTER TO DANNY FINKELSTEIN
Your open letter to Roger Alton got me thinking about polling and its place within the news agenda.
You have implied that we at ComRes have in some way been at fault or even irresponsible in our recent work. Your suggestion that The Independent needs to hold an inquisition into our voting intention methodology given that our result stood out from other polls conducted over the past few weeks has, happily, been rendered unnecessary by the advent of the British Polling Council which requires us to publish methodology details and full tables on our website.
Media organisations often rely on polls to generate news and their contribution can often stimulate great debate. However this does not mean that, as a polling company, we are either under pressure or inclined to fudge results or let standards drop.
Last week’s poll was interesting and I will not deny that the results surprised me – indeed we scrutinised the figures and methodology, as we always do, to be sure quality control had been maintained. It seems uncontroversial to assume that the Tories suffered at least some of the electorate’s anger in the wake of the expenses scandal.
Interestingly, in the final national voting intention poll before the previous European election in 2004, Populus for The Times had the Tories on 29%. They went on to get 27%. No other pollster put the Tories on less than 30% in each of the preceding 12 months (and a month earlier YouGov had the Tories on 40%).
You suggest two alternative explanations. Either that after the worst sleaze scandal of our lifetimes, Conservative support dipped by 10% and then quickly recovered as the Labour Party almost imploded. Or we produced one of the 1 in 20 polls which, statistically speaking, is bound to be wrong. Either is equally plausible. You acknowledge that rogue polls are as inevitable as tube strikes and happen to everyone, including therefore Populus whom you favour at The Times. Yet you alight on a third possibility which is that we are consistently wrong which is a claim I strongly dispute.
Interestingly there hasn’t been a great wail of complaint about this week’s voting intention figures which show the Conservatives back nearer 40%. Which reinforces the old adage that that a rogue poll is usually just one with which the reader disagrees.
I love spats about polling. I remember going to a post election conference after the 2001 election when there was a massive falling out between three of the country's leading pollsters. I have rarely seen such viciousness and complete loathing between political professionals. Well, maybe I have. Witness Hazel Blears and Gordon Brown.