Credit where credit’s (mostly) due: Sunday Telegraph and polling

The internet seems to have got a bit excited about the latest ICM poll, something which The Voice tends not to do, but given my past complaints about the media and polling it seems only fair to point out that the Sunday Telegraph looks to have given up its brief flirtation with a non-British Polling Council firm (a flirtation I criticised at the time).

Moreover, the paper’s report sensibly compares the poll results with the previous ICM poll, even though that was commissioned for (shock! horror!) a different newspaper. The tendency to airbrush out polls carried out for rivals when reporting your own poll is still a weakness of British newspapers, but fair’s fair – that wasn’t done this time.

Only two cheers out of three though because the report does fall foul of the popular exageration of accuracy in claiming that you can turn its figures into a precise numerical majority in the House of Commons based on those levels of support. You can’t. Swing calculations (uniform, proportional, adjusted, unadjusted, computer, envelope, whatever) aren’t that precise. It hinders, rather than helps, understanding of polls when results or implications are reported to suprious levels of accuracy.

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This entry was posted in Polls.


  • It where we get the votes that really matters under our corrupt voting system.

  • Cheltenham Robin 7th Feb '09 - 7:11pm

    What amazes me are the mile long threads on Conservative Home, anytime a poll is published.

    They all try to analize it and look for some reason for the levels of support.

    A collection of opinion polls will show a trend but it’s real votes in ballot boxes that count.

  • I noticed soon after Clegg talks about the gap in education between rich and poor that Cameron is now sending his kids to State School – if he can find one good enough.

  • Another Anonymous 7th Feb '09 - 8:37pm

    Credit also to LDV for not splashing the headlne figures. There was worrying trend growing of not featuring opinion pols unless they were especially good. I understand Populus will be in Tuesdays times and thus on the interweb from about 8pm Monday evening.

  • “Credit also to LDV for not splashing the headlne figures. There was worrying trend growing of not featuring opinion pols unless they were especially good.”

    It got its own article. When was the last time that happened for a regular opinion poll?

  • Martin Land 7th Feb '09 - 9:41pm

    It’s funny how people see a poll which shows the Tories & Labour down 4 each and the Lib Dems up 6 and come up with all sorts of reasons to do with economic and educational policy.

    Sorry, folks, too intellectual. This is just Carol Thatcher reminding ‘liberal’ people why they should treat the Tories with care.

  • Another Anonymous 7th Feb '09 - 9:57pm

    Anon. Perhaps I’m being too kind. This is the third artilce in the last 6 months on a specific poll and all three have been unusually good. I understand the need for morale to be kept up but i the long term it just evalues the site if you then in turn don’t flag up particularly bad ones. the two cogent options are

    1. post ’em all.

    2. Keep to stephen talls generally well balanced monthly round up and average.

  • Alix Mortimer 7th Feb '09 - 10:04pm

    I’m with Martin. The Political Betting thread makes fascinating reading, with people trying to produce rationales and imposing order on an essentially random event. It’s a perfect illustration of how success breeds success. It’s only our getting an outlier number that makes people hark back in their minds to “what the Lib Dems have been doing lately”. So now they’ll talk about it, journos will pick up on it, and people will read about it and have their memories nudged in turn. Fascinating process.

    As for the original number, I’d be surprised if it was even as complex as Carol Thatcher. I have been wondering when a poll would accidentally stumble upon a disproportionate number of people who’d attended one of Clegg’s town hall meetings (which I imagine in the nature of things sell him pretty well). I wonder if I’m right.

  • I think it’s fairly obvious that the reason for the 6-point rise is that the last ICM survey had the Lib Dems unusually low at 16%. In fact, the two most recent ICM polls, less than two weeks apart, have equalled the previous lowest (August 2008) and highest (May 2008) ICM ratings during Nick Clegg’s leadership.

    No doubt the truth lies somewhere in the middle, and to be fair that is an improvement on the situation a few months ago, when nearly all the polling companies had the Lib Dems at or near a low for the previous year. I’d guess this has quite a lot to do with the government’s renewed unpopularity.

    And while I’m being fair, maybe it really was Mark Pack’s interest in the minutiae of the polling industry (BPIX and all that) that caused him to highlight this poll, and not that fact that it gave the Lib Dems an unusually high rating.

  • The Clegg bounce continues. ComRes poll for the Sunday Independent:
    CON 41%(-2)
    LAB 25% (-3)
    LDEM 22% (+6)

    This equals the highest Lib Dem rating ever recorded by ComRes.

  • On the other hand, YouGov for the Sunday Times has:

    CON 44%(+1)
    LAB 32%(nc)
    LDEM 14%(-2)

    With the Lib Dems equalling their lowest (albeit often repeated) lowest rating since the dark days of Ming Campbell…

  • Even taking into account all the caveats regarding seat projections, the difference between the Lib Dem results based on these two polls – released on the same day – really is amazing.

    Based on the ComRes poll, 59 seats; based on the YouGov poll, 19 seats! (Projections from

  • ICM poll for the Guardian:
    CON 42%(+2)
    LAB 30% (+2)
    LDEM 18% (-4)

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