Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Great Figure-But Can You Trust It? (Polls)

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

Great Figure-But Can You Trust It? (Polls)

Article excerpt

On 15 September, the Sunday Times reported growing support among the British public for an attack on Iraq. Though 57 per cent would oppose Britain contributing troops if the US decided to go it alone, 80 per cent would back UN action if Saddam refused to readmit the inspectors. But should we believe these results? They were gathered from a sample of 2,115 people--more than twice the numbers you would normally expect for a newspaper poll--questioned by YouGov, the increasingly popular internet polling service.

Can a medium that has such a partial distribution--the internet is accessed by fewer than 50 per cent of the adult population, with users heavily skewed towards younger middle-class males--be used to track the opinions of the British people?

The answer lies in the magical word weighting". YouGov asks its respondents about their age, gender, past voting behaviour, newspaper-reading habits, occupation and so on. They then compare this with what is known about the national population as a whole and re-weight the results accordingly. Suppose the percentage of the British population aged 65 and over is 20 per cent, but the over-65s amount to only 5 per cent of the YouGov sample. The pollsters re-weight the answers of that 5 per cent to make them worth 20 per cent in the final results.

Most pollsters use re-weighting to some degree, but the general wisdom is that the less done, the better. For internet polling, you need lots of re-weighting. Worse, your re-weighting is only as good as your data about the general population, and there is no data yet from the most up-to-date source of information about the British population--the 2001 census. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.