The Sunday Telegraph is running an opinion poll tomorrow about the levels of support for each party, commissioned from the pollster firm BPIX. It is a switch from their usual pollster and only the second time since the 2005 general election that BPIX has been used by a paper other than the Mail on Sunday.
It’s therefore potentially the start of a significant change in the pattern of polling and, regardless of what the figures in this poll say, the publication of the poll is bad news for all parties – and anyone who follows political news.
That’s because uniquely amongst the firms used regularly for national political opinion polling in the UK, BPIX is not a member of the British Polling Council (BPC), the trade body which lays down basic standards of transparency for political polling. This isn’t just a technical matter, because not only is BPIX not a member of the BPC, it also does not get close to meeting the BPC’s standards.
For example, BPC rule 2.2 requires:
Whenever it is practical to do so the following information should also be published:
- Complete wording of questions upon which any data that has entered the public domain are based;
- A web address where full computer tables may be viewed
This is crucial to allow people to scrutinise how a poll has actually been conducted and how reasonable the media coverage of the results really is.
By contrast, BPIX polls are shrouded in mystery. The BPIX website – www.bpix.co.uk – has been “under construction” for years, a particularly poor show as they are an internet pollster, and I’ve never received a reply to any of the emails I have sent them.
A practical example of the problems this brings: party leader ratings vary greatly depending on the exact wording of the question used. The Sunday Telegraph reports party leader ratings, but without telling us the question used you can’t tell how these really compare with other poll findings.
Whatever you think of opinion polls, they have a huge impact on political reporting (and so in turn on political realities, given the power of the media). It’s bad news for everyone if we are moving back to the days of opinion poll details being shrouded in mystery.
Let’s hope BPIX decide to sign up to the basic standards that other polling companies are happy to abide by.