ComRes and We, The People back with another loaded poll

Posted in Bad polling on July 16th, 2018 by Leo – Be the first to comment

ComRes and We, The People, a new secretly-funded right-wing lobby group, are back with another loaded poll – a few weeks after they got the Mail to cover their pro-Brexit poll.

This poll got the Mail’s front page today, with the claim most people think the police have lost control of the streets.

As with the pro-Brexit poll, the design of this survey is likely to have helped the We, The People get the answers they wanted. Here are a few of the problems with the poll:

  • An early question asks whether respondents have seen a police officer on their street in the last year – a ridiculously high bar (how much time do you actually spend looking at your street? A couple of minutes a day?). Not surprisingly, most people said no, preparing them to think policing is insufficient when they come to the next questions.
  • When the idea of political correctness is introduced, respondents are led to see it as something that limits the police’s effectiveness. Respondents are forced to choose between: “The police feel like they’re on my side with my priorities and interests at heart” and “The police increasingly feel as if they have their own politically correct agenda which does not match my interests”. This assumes political correctness is opposed to respondents’ interests: the choice is between being politically correct and acting in respondents’ interests. While it’s normal for these questions (known as polarities) to force respondents to choose between extreme positions, this question conflates two different debates (are the police politically correct? is that good or bad?) and in doing so leads respondents to think negatively about political correctness in policing.
  • In a series of statements, which respondents can agree or disagree with, six of the seven are phrased where agreement gives the answer that We, The People presumably wanted. This is bad polling practice. If you really want to measure public opinion you ask a question that presents both sides of an argument equally, then allow respondents to choose which they are closer to. Or if you really have to ask agree/disagree questions, the questions should be balanced overall so you’re not pushing a particular argument and you can compare skewed questions against each other.

In fairness, the poll is less bad than the previous one: the wording of each individual question is less skewed this time. But the order and overall balance of the questions still add up to a loaded poll.

A good guide of a fair poll is that you shouldn’t be able to guess the view of the organisation commissioning the poll from the questions. This clearly fails that.

It is also arguable the poll fails the Market Research Society’s Code of Conduct, which says (33d) “Members must take reasonable steps to ensure … that participants are not led towards a particular point of view”.

Amusingly, despite the leading questions, the poll still got some results that the Mail choose to ignore, including:

  • 48% agreed “The police need to act with political correctness as it encourages acceptance and decency in society”, with 32% disagreeing (strangely, this was missed off We, The People’s press release).
  • 59% agreed “Hate crime is a blight on our society and the police are right to try to tackle it” compared with 24% saying “The concept of hate crime is well intentioned but threatens Britain’s heritage of free speech and open expression”.


Emergency podcast: Bye bye Boris & what happens next? Polling Matters

Posted in Politics, Polling Matters on July 9th, 2018 by Leo – Be the first to comment

On a special episode of the Polling Matters podcast, Keiran and I discuss a momentous 24 hours in Westminster that has seen both David Davis and Boris Johnson resign. We ask what happens next and look at what polling of Tory members by YouGov tells us about the future direction of the Conservative Party and who might come to lead it.


Pollsters and hedge funds; Heathrow expansion – Polling Matters

Posted in Climate Sock, Politics, Polling Matters on June 27th, 2018 by Leo – Be the first to comment

On this week’s Polling Matters podcast, Keiran Pedley and I look at a recent Bloomberg story investigating links between hedge funds and pollsters on the day of the EU referendum.

We also talk about public opinion on Heathrow and the environment and ask what Blair hopes to achieve with his latest intervention (and why David Cameron seems to be so quiet).

NHS funding, ‘Brexit dividends’ and UK drugs policy – Polling Matters

Posted in Politics, Polling Matters on June 20th, 2018 by Leo – Be the first to comment

On this week’s Polling Matters podcast, Keiran Pedley and I look at public opinion on the NHS as it hits 70 years old in light of the government’s promise to pump in extra cash. Keiran takes us through what the public think of the policy and whether they would accept tax rises to pay for it alongside data on how perceptions of the quality of care provided by the NHS have changed over time.

Later in the show, I look at public opinion on UK drug laws, especially those related to cannabis as the government looks to change the law and discusses how policy might shift in the future. I also raises the important distinction between ‘decimalisation’ and ‘legalisation’ that appears to go over many commentators heads.

Finally, we briefly look at US public opinion on the Trump administration’s policy of separate children of immigrants from their parents at the US border. Spoiler alert: it’s very unpopular.

Trump meets Kim and parliament votes on Brexit – Polling Matters

Posted in Politics, Polling Matters on June 13th, 2018 by Leo – Be the first to comment

On this week’s Polling Matters podcast, Keiran and I discuss Trump’s meeting with Kim Jong Un in Singapore. We debate the significance of the meeting and what happens now while Keiran takes us through the latest polling on Trump that shows what his re-election campaign might look like, why he remains in a tough spot and why these negotiations with North Korea could make or break him.

Later in the show, we discuss this week’s events in parliament. I go through some recent polling by Opinium on what the public think of the single market, freedom of movement and the impact that Brexit will have on their own personal finances. Finally, we discuss what might happen in the Autumn and what successfully navigating Brexit will mean for Theresa May’s legacy.

Pro-Brexit survey is a long list of loaded questions

Posted in Bad polling, Europe on May 23rd, 2018 by Leo – 2 Comments

A poll on the House of Lords and Brexit, doing the rounds today, apparently shows the upper house is seen as out of tune with the public, would be wrong to try to stop Brexit and so on.

A glance at ComRes’s data tables is enough to throw up doubts about the results (the tables were published promptly after the Mail ran the story, so credit on that).

The fundamental problem is that the questions were nearly all one-sided agree/disagree questions, with each one loaded against the Lords and Remainers. A couple of examples:

  • It would be wrong for the House of Lords to try and thwart Brexit [“thwart”!]
  • It is wrong that the House of Lords has already voted against the government on Brexit 14 times
  • There are currently 780 members of the Lords compared to 650 MPs in the Commons. This is too many

If you really want to measure public opinion you ask a question that presents both sides of an argument equally, then allow respondents to choose which they are closer to. Or if you really have to ask agree/disagree questions, the collection of the questions should be balanced so you’re not pushing a particular argument and you can compare the skewed questions against each other.

A good guide of a fair poll is that you shouldn’t be able to guess the view of the organisation commissioning the poll from the questions. This clearly fails that.

The poll was done for a new pro-Brexit campaign called “We, the People”. Their website gives few clues about who they are, other than that the Fitzrovia-based outfit is a “grassroots campaigning group” that wants to “remind the liberal metropolitan elite of the ‘other Britain'”.

After the barrage of anti-Lords and pro-Brexit messages, respondents are given the opportunity to describe the Lords in terms like “out of tune with the will of the British people”  and “an outdated throwback”. They do unsurprisingly well.

The poll hasn’t broken any rules, but surveys with such skewed questions hardly help rebuild trust in the industry.

What drives how we vote? Customs Unions & Northern Ireland – Polling Matters

Posted in Politics, Polling Matters on May 16th, 2018 by Leo – Be the first to comment

On this week’s Polling Matters podcast, Keiran and I look at the demographic and ideological trends shaping UK politics and how they drive voting intention.

We also look at public opinion on customs unions and the impact that polling is having on Theresa May’s calculations when it comes to Northern Ireland.

Climate apathy could mean disaster – but it isn’t inevitable

Posted in Climate Majority, Climate Sock on May 12th, 2018 by Leo – Be the first to comment

This was originally published by The Ecologist.

11 years ago the EU introduced wide-ranging rules regulating the manufacture and supply of chemicals. The rules imposed significant costs on businesses and, it’s hoped, will save many lives. But they were passed with little media coverage and have become a fact of life with few people being aware of their existence.

Given it’s been possible to restrict businesses and address a threat to public health without public debate when it comes to chemicals, could the world do the same with climate change? If that threat can also be tackled with rules that few people hear about, perhaps public opinion doesn’t matter.

Day-to-day life

Sadly for technocrats, this is unlikely. The challenge ahead, to meet the targets of the Paris Agreement and stop warming crossing dangerous thresholds, is enormous. Greenhouse gas emissions have been rising steadily since the Industrial Revolution; the world will need to reverse that rise, cutting emissions at an unprecedented rate until humans stop adding warming gases to the atmosphere within the next few decades.

That means not only cleaning up industrial sectors that are distant from most people’s lives, like electricity, chemicals and shipping (whose obscurity is reflected in the fact its crucial climate conference, happening this week, is getting almost no mainstream media coverage), it also means cutting emissions from most people’s day-to-day lives, like the ways we travel and the food we eat. Without cutting emissions from sectors like agriculture and aviation, the world won’t stop dangerous warming. It’s unlikely to be possible to clean up these sectors without most people noticing and agreeing to the changes.

So public support for tackling climate change will be essential, yet it’s far from assured. The problem isn’t climate denial: few people think the whole thing is a hoax, even in the countries where denial is loudest. A majority of the public accept climate science and believe it’s a threat that needs to be tackled. The problem comes when they’re asked to make sacrifices to deal with it – most are unwilling to do so and are suspicious when they hear about changes that would impose costs on them in the name of cutting emissions. Preventing dangerous warming may depend on public enthusiasm, but at the moment apathy is far more widespread.

This isn’t just a problem for the future – it matters right now. Take the UK: its emissions are falling fast but this progress has come without confronting the emission sources that would be less popular to cut. Plans to build a third runway at Heathrow would make the UK’s climate targets much harder to achieve, yet few politicians are prepared to acknowledge that cutting emissions probably means restricting flying. Similarly, the EU’s backing for TAP, a new pipeline that would bring huge volumes of Caspian Sea natural gas into Europe, suggests the bloc is also taking decisions now that will make it much more difficult to cut emissions in the next few decades.

Distant threat

If most people are worried about climate change, why does this kind of polluting infrastructure keep getting built, and why is there so little pressure for the measures that will be needed to prevent dangerous warming?

Psychologists have identified a host of reasons most people avoid thinking about climate change. Among these are the way the problem seems distant – its impacts are mostly in other places, it will mostly happen in the future – and progresses slowly, and the fact it requires sacrifices now to avert problems later. The barriers the mind puts up to avoid worrying about climate change might make the problem seem hopeless: Nobel Prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman describes himself as “deeply pessimistic” about it.

But we must avoid confusing the inherent nature of climate change with the way it’s widely described and understood. For example, the fact the threat seems distant has more to do with the way its effects are described, notably the emphasis on ecosystems like the Arctic. The consequences for polar bears aren’t enough to motivate most people, and now climate change is hitting the people whose emissions need to fall – with storms like Hurricane Sandy, which devastated New York in 2012 made more likely by climate change – it’s no longer necessary to talk about it as a distant threat.

The same applies to the idea that climate change requires sacrifices for future benefits. It may well do, and, if that’s all that most people hear about it, there’s unlikely to be widespread enthusiasm. But there are plenty of ways in which tackling climate change can bring benefits beyond averting future problems, from cleaner air and new jobs, to better insulated homes and, perhaps, communities that jointly own wind farms and solar panels.

This is a matter of choice. Climate apathy could spell disaster for efforts to prevent dangerous warming but it isn’t inevitable. The fact it is so widespread is a result of various ways climate change has been, and continues to be, described. That can change. It will take a widespread shift in how the issue is talked about, but it’s still possible to turn apathy into action.

My book, The Climate Majority: Apathy and Action in an Age of Nationalism (New Internationalist), is now available.


Rudd’s resignation, immigration and Trump’s visit – Polling Matters

Posted in Polling Matters on May 2nd, 2018 by Leo – Be the first to comment

On this week’s Polling Matters, Keiran and I talked about the latest glut of voting intention polls. We looked at what is behind the differences in voting intention figures between pollsters, how Corbyn’s personal poll ratings compare historically and the importance of the economy iin current polling.

The podcast then turns to Rudd’s resignation this week, with an in-depth look at public opinion on her departure and immigration more generally. Topics covered include whether the public think our immigration system is fair, too strict and specifically what the public think about a ‘hostile environment’ policy.

We also talked about polling on President Trump’s upcoming ‘working visit’ and looked ahead to the local elections this week.


UK worries about climate change are at their highest level since 2010

Posted in Climate Majority, Climate Sock on April 26th, 2018 by Leo – Be the first to comment

Worries about climate change have been slowly increasing in the UK for the last few years. This has continued in 2018, with the latest wave of the BEIS (previously DECC) climate and energy poll, out today, showing concern is at its highest level since the series began with 2012.

I’ve combined this with earlier polls that have asked the same question, going back to 2005, making the longest-running comparable series of data that I’m aware of on UK concern about climate change. (See here for links to the earlier polls.)

27% are now very concerned about climate change and 47% somewhat concerned, making a total of 74%. That’s the highest since 2010, if we look at the proportion who are very concerned, or equals the 2012 level if we look at total concern. On either measure it’s still behind the levels in 2005 and 2008.


This mirrors the trend of rising concern about climate change that we’ve generally seen in the US and Australia.

My book, The Climate Majority: Apathy and Action in an Age of Nationalism (New Internationalist), is now available.