The House of Lords in the United Kingdom appointed a Select Committee on Political Polling and Digital Media last summer “to consider the effects of political polling and digital media on politics, and to make recommendations.” Now, the resulting report has recommended the expanded regulation of the UK research sector.
“The different bodies involved in the oversight of polling need to respond to the challenges involved in the polling of the modern electorate,” said the report, “and to the misreporting and misrepresentation of polls. There are limitations in the current system of self-regulation for polling, and clear areas where the system could be strengthened.”
Per the report, “political opinion polls have become an established aspect of British politics,” but recently, “the polling industry has suffered a number of collective failures” in the 2015 and 2017 UK general elections, as well as the referendum on Brexit. The Select Committee’s opening presumption was that, “if it is becoming less likely that polls can provide accurate estimates of the likely election outcomes, then there is a significant risk that future elections will be affected by misleading information, potentially distorting the democratic process.”
In response, the report recommended, “in order to ensure transparency around voting intention polling in the run-up to elections,” that the UK’s Electoral Commission should do more monitoring of “polling conducted and published during the regulated periods which precede UK elections,” and that the details of published polls should “be declared to the Electoral Commission, regardless of who the poll was commissioned by, what its purpose was, or how much it cost.”
Jane Frost, chief executive of the Market Research Society (MRS), said that MRS welcomed “the spotlight that the Committee has given to these issues,” and John Curtice, president of the British Polling Council, said, “Today’s report is a welcome contribution to a considered, informed discussion of the conduct and reporting of opinion polls in Britain.”
The Select Committee didn’t recommend a ban on election-related opinion polling, but they seemed open to the idea: “We are not convinced of the case for introducing a ban on the undertaking and publication of voting intention polls in the run-up to elections. In the future, if polls continue to be a poor predictor of the eventual outcomes of elections, and if the media reporting of such polls continues to influence public and political discourse in a misleading way, then arguments by supporters of a ban would be strengthened.”
NewsGovernment AffairsHoward Fienberg, CAE