Media & PR

Dreadful opinion poll reporting by the Daily Telegraph

Time for a complaint to the regulator, IPSO (the Independent Press Standards Organisation):

I would like to make a complaint about a story produced by the Telegraph in print and online.

The online version is at https://www.telegraph.co.uk/politics/2019/08/12/boris-johnson-has-publics-support-shut-parliament-get-brexit/  and states, “The ComRes survey for The Telegraph found that 54 per cent of British adults think Parliament should be prorogued to prevent MPs stopping a no-deal Brexit.”

However, the data provided by ComRes itself is different. The data has been published at https://www.comresglobal.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/The-Telegraph_August-2019-Tables.pdf – Table 53.

This data shows two important differences from what the Telegraph reported:

(1) Telegraph: “54% of British adults…”, ComRes data: 44% (a minority rather than a majority, and therefore both an error and more than a trivial error),
(2) Telegraph: “think Parliament should be prorogued”, ComRes wording: “Boris needs to deliver Brexit by any means, including suspending parliament if necessary” – this is a very different wording, including both the framing of the point (making the question about delivering Brexit primarily) and also the use of “if necessary” is not the same as saying something “should” happen

Therefore this story falls foul of the requirement in the Editor’s Code: “The Press must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted information” (1(i), Accuracy). Note in particular that the Code refers both to inaccurate and to misleading information and therefore the point in (2) above about giving a distorted impression of what the poll question really asked is covered by this clause as well as the point in (1) above which is a straight forward case of inaccurate information.

It is worth noting also that the Telegraph pieces, both online and in print, were substantive, lengthy pieces given high prominence (front-page stories in both print and online). They both, therefore, had the space to properly explain the data being cited and also should have been subject to carefully editorial processes. It would not be plausible to argue that either a shortage of time or space or an absence of editorial oversight led to this misleading story being published.

In making your ruling, therefore, I hope you will give serious consideration to the prominence given to the story by the Telegraph and therefore the appropriate level of prominence that should be given to correcting it.

Thank you.

Details on how to make a complaint to IPSO are here.

Or for a more detailed explanation of what’s wrong with the Daily Telegraph stories, see these tweets from Will Jennings.

UPDATE: Reuters has apologised for and corrected its reporting of this poll.

UPDATE 2: The Daily Telegraph later published a correction on page 2:

A 13 Aug article reported that 54 per cent of the public think Parliament may have to be prorogued to deliver Brexit by Oct 31. This was the proportion of respondents in a ComRes poll who agreed that the Prime Minister “needs to deliver Brexit by any means, including suspending Parliament if necessary”. This figure however excluded those who expressed no view. Of all respondents, 44 per cent agreed, 37 per cent disagreed and 19 per cent didn’t know.

Get polling news and analysis by email

Sign up here if you would like to receive the Polling UnPacked occasional email newsletter, highlighting the best in analysis and news about British political opinion polling from a carefully curated range of high-quality sites (no more than one email a day and usually much less frequent):

  • If you submit this form, your data will be used in line with the privacy policy here to update you on the topic(s) selected. This may including using this data to contact you via a variety of digital channels.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

11 responses to “Dreadful opinion poll reporting by the Daily Telegraph”

  1. Thanks Mark, I’m not quite sure quite how disgusted I have been with The Telegraph’s editorials these last 3 years but you can be sure on a scale 0 – 100 it far exceeds 54%( or is it 44% 😉 ). It is highly unusual in this country for a PM, or even a prospective PM, to have their very own newspaper to use as an additional form of propagandabut my God, Johnson has taken this to an obscene level – it’s disgraceful and undemocratic.

  2. and the Telegraph story was trotted out on the paper review just now, though thankfully the colleague said he questioned its validity..

  3. Well done, Mark. The Telegraph looks as though it’s been edited by Dominic Cummings. I hope you’ve shared it with other newspapers.

  4. Highlighted your finding to Reuters when it was their top story earlier. Keep it up – let’s make keep the lights on here (as Churchill might have said)!

  5. Telegraph sales had been going down more steeply than those of other broadsheets before the referendum. I guess pro-Brexit hard line has slowed the decline at the very least. What more could a proprietor want.

  6. Did you get a response? I did…and they are asking me to explain basic mathematics:

    I write further to our recent email. I note that you have said that it was inaccurate for the article to report that “Boris Johnson has the support of more than half of the public to deliver Brexit by any means, including suspending Parliament”. Table 84 of the poll reports on the responses to the question “Boris needs to deliver Brexit by any means, including suspending parliament if necessary, in order to prevent MPs from stopping it”. The base for this table was all respondents excluding don’t knows, and showed that the agreement was 54%. Can you therefore explain in a little more detail why you believe relying on this poll result – and excluding those who did not express a view one way or the other – to support the claim that “Boris Johnson has the support of more than half of the public to deliver Brexit by any means, including suspending Parliament”, was inaccurate?

    The poll is available here: https://www.comresglobal.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/The-Telegraph_August-2019-Tables.pdf

    I look forward to hearing from you, within the next seven days.

    With best wishes,

    Taku

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

All comments and data you submit with them will be handled in line with the privacy and moderation policies.