Magazine article Marketing

Opinion Polling Is like Politics - an Inexact Science

Magazine article Marketing

Opinion Polling Is like Politics - an Inexact Science

Article excerpt

I remember, in the 80s, talking to market research company AGB in its pre- Maxwell days, when it used to do a lot of work for The Sun. In shocked tones, they told me the paper had requested a quick poll on an issue of the day - "and this is what the headline will say".

That has to be one of the problems with opinion polls in newspapers. Today, we cast our votes for real, and tomorrow we'll see whether the published forecasts have been right - or embarrassingly wrong, as they were five years ago.

John Major has been saying the newspaper polls don't bear much relationship to the research data he's been getting. You can be sure that when new findings are delivered to politicians, they're accompanied by a full debrief by a qualified researcher on what they really mean.

And you can also bet that isn't the case in the heated atmosphere of the newsroom. Or, if it is, newspapers and TV stations don't have the time or inclination to go into all the boring qualifications, like margins of error and the importance of when the survey was conducted, rather than when it was published.

Pollsters would have you believe they are like economic forecasters. Infallible - as long as you read the small print. They simply present facts as they appear at a particular time. If the situation then changes, it's not their fault.

But they weren't so infallible five years ago, when the majority of exit polls failed to predict a Tory victory. As MORI's Bob Worcester acknowledged in his company's newsletter last month, the five major pollsters got it more wrong, by a wider margin, than ever before. …

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