YouGov has come in for a fair amount of flack online following last night’s instant TV debate poll for The Sun. Some of the criticism has been wrong or misplaced. Yes, one of their senior figures has Labour roots. But then one has Conservative roots and other staff support the Liberal Democrats. They’ve even done polling for the Lib Dems in the past.
But – and it’s an important but – that was not the whole story. In amongst all the chaff were claims that YouGov’s polling started before the debate had actually finished and that it was collecting people’s verdicts on who won the debate whilst Nick Clegg was still making his final statement. Given how well rated that closing statement was by many commentators, that’s no minor technical matter.
YouGov haven’t done themselves any favours by appearing at first to ignore this question, both not responding to messages on Twitter but also side-stepping the question in a post on their site which responded to other issues.
Finally, the truth has come out – and yes, the accusations were right. The polling started whilst Nick Clegg was still speaking as Research Magazine found out:
We put this to YouGov’s Peter Kellner, who admitted that yes, the poll did open up while the party leaders were delivering their closing remarks. This, he said, was to ensure that the weblink would be working correctly as soon as the debate ended.
Kellner said a “handful” of people completed the survey before the debate went off air – though he wouldn’t say exactly how many. “There will be some people who had nothing better to do than click the link until the survey opened up,” he said.
The question is, what effect did these people have on the overall result of YouGov’s poll? Kellner is adamant they didn’t have any effect. He said the agency compared results from the first 1,000 people who took part in the poll within the first few minutes of it going live with results from a second batch of 1,000 people who took part in the minutes that followed (but weren’t part of the published poll) and that no discrepancies were found.
Be that as it may, as one senior polling figure put it to me, “It seems daft that YouGov would risk undermining their results for the sake of being first. In order to be beyond reproach you start fieldwork once the last politician has summed up and sat down, and you finish the fieldwork before there is this storm of media analysis.”
Even with that comment, we still don’t know for sure that the early polling didn’t have an effect because that isn’t quite what Peter Kellner said was compared – and of course without full disclosure of the data it is hard to win back the trust of people who have started to doubt.
What we do know, however, is the overall pattern of polling – and it was a good one for Nick Clegg.