For many years, from well before he became a pollster himself, Anthony Wells’s UKPollingReport has been a must-read for anyone following British political polling. He’s been particularly good at explaining the technicalities behind polling, and why. for example, questions that ask people to agree or disagree with a possible policy are so problematic.
But he’s now going to be closing his blog:
I started writing UKPollingReport in 2004, back when blogs were the new exciting thing on the internet. It was when I was an amateur observer of polls, rather than someone who actually carried them out. Over time my hobby became what I actually did for a living, which is nice at first (after all, who wouldn’t like to get paid for something they are interested in doing anyway). As the years go by it switched over though, and there comes a point when the last thing you want to do when you log off from work is to write about your work. UKPollingReport had long since become a chore rather than a pleasure, so it’s time to move on.
I hope I achieved something along the way. [Ed: Yes, you have.] Opinion polling has become less opaque since I started writing (though that is largely because of the advent of the British Polling Council, rather than anything I have done), but it still remains something of a mystery to many people…
More realistic is spreading the message to journalists and political observers (and, indeed, to my own industry. Being called out by your peers should always be a good deterrent). What polls can and, more importantly, really can’t do. Why a question like that won’t work, or doesn’t actually tell you what it appears to on the surface. What that question is terribly biased and should be quietly ignored. Why that poll using sampling that is probably skewed and one sided…
Overall, I think the press treat voting intention polls far better than they once did – putting it in the context of other recent polls, not massively over-reacting to small movements. It is very easy to point to places where they have fallen over, but these tend to be polls that have been commissioned and spun by pressure groups, rather than ones where the journalist talks to the pollster (or worse, things masquerading as “polls” which have never been near a professional research company, like the Observer twitter poll last month!).
Nevertheless, I’ll keep on rolling the boulder up the hill in other places. I am hoping that not having the weight of expectations of maintaining a blog will mean I feel actually able to write more often, rather than less. I’m going to continue grumbling about polls on twitter (@anthonyjwells, if you don’t follow me already). I’m also planning to put the occasional longer form piece as a (free) newsletter on Substack for when I want to rant about something that’s too long for a Twitter thread. I’ll put some of the pieces I keep referring back to up there as well in due course, so I’ve still something to link to when I want to explain why a Twitter poll of 100,000 people is still worthless, and why agree-disagree statements are almost always a terrible way to ask a question. Subscribe (for free) to that at https://anthonyjwells.substack.com/
Thanks for all the wisdom you’ve dispensed over many years Anthony, and always being so happy to answer queries.
Now excuse me while I do a panic re-read of the footnotes for my next book to see which ones are going to need updating…
NOW AVAILABLE TO PRE-ORDER: My next book tells you all about how to make sense of political polling – Polling Unpacked: the history, uses and abuses of political opinion polls.