Monday 10 January 2011

Spinning out of control

Under a headline "Polls predict big Labour win in Oldham election" today's Guardian reports that "(a)n ICM poll in the Mail on Sunday put Labour on 44%, Lib Dems on 27% and Conservatives on 18%"

However an Email from Liberal Democrat party president Tim Farron cites the very same poll as predicting a narrow Liberal Democrat lead!

Mr Farron quotes the raw data on which the poll is based as follows:

The raw, unweighted responses were as follows for the 549 calls
Unweighted response
Refused to state intention 256 46.6%
Elwyn Watkins 89 16.2%
Debbie Abrahams 85 15.5%
Undecided 68 12.4%
Kashif Ali 27 4.9%
Another Party 24 4.4%

549 100%

The Mail on Sunday must have done same pretty imaginative "seasonal adjustment" to convert that into a Labour lead of 17 percentage points.

One of the most significant criticisms of the press in Nick Davies's "Flat Earth News" is that the media magnates have so pared down their reporting staffs that there is little time for anyone to check stories. It looks as though the Guardian is not exempt.

One must also question the reliability of conclusions based on such a tiny survey in which over half either refused to answer or hadn't yet decided.

I'm aware of the practical difficulties, but it seems to me that a ban on opinion polls during elections, and particularly by-elections (and also those dubious graphics in Liberal Democrat literature purporting to show that only we can win) would go some way to curb the herd instinct and improve the quality of our democracy.


  1. The detail for the ICM poll is at . I can't seem to reconcile that with Tim Fallon's figures.

    In particular it looks like that weighting actually reduces the Labour support from the unweighted sample.

    Tim Farron seems to be quoting from an entirely different poll (Survation rather than ICM)

    The comment on the UK polling report blog suggests it it is probably less accurate than the Populous and ICM polls.

    Could it be that Tim Farron is the one spinning here?

  2. The figures you've quoted from Tim Farron's link are in fact from the Survation survey - not the ICM survey.

  3. In fairness to Tim he did not even mention ICM in his email. Here's the passage I received:

    "And there is no doubt we can win on Thursday. Click HERE to see the most up to date opinion poll carried out in the constituency.

    It’s so close – it shows the Conservatives out of the race and us and Labour running neck and neck (30%-31%) with a quarter of voters still to decide."

    Where he wrote "HERE" it linked to the Survation survey.

  4. Oops, profound apologies all round.Tim Farron's link does does say "Oldham East & Saddleworth By Election Survey for The Mail On Sunday" and I assumed there was only one.

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