There’s been a lot about political polling in the news recently, and while 99.5% of the general public believe that polling companies are honest, trustworthy and staffed by the most handsome and witty people in all the land, it does seem that the jig might be up.
So, as an insider, let me tell you a few secrets about political polling…
The most important thing to realise is that the first consideration is that, obviously, you have to get the result that the client wants, but you have to balance this against what the shadowy cabal that runs the world will allow you to tell people.
Naturally, as a a matter of professional discretion, I can’t say if that shadowy cabal is the government, the Masons, Zionists, neo-cons, the liberal elite, the New World Order or the Illuminati…but let’s just say that’s 7 groups I’ve listed there, and there are 7 days in a week!
Take, for example, the May General Election. By January 2015 the…powers that be…had already decided the final result, a small Tory majority, but the right-wing media (e.g. the BBC) wanted to show a big Labour lead, to encourage right-wingers to get out and vote, while the left-wing media (e.g. the BBC) wanted to show a Tory lead, so that they could bleat on about human rights and the NHS being at risk. Meanwhile, if you just went out and asked people who they were going to vote for then 85-90% of them would say UKIP.
In early February all of the parties came together at the HQ of the UK Poll Fixing Council (inside a small volcanic island about 2 miles East of Douglas) and agreed that we would show the result as being neck-and-neck, with a hung-parliament and another coalition government being the likely outcome. Just to make sure it wasn’t too obviously a fix it was also decided to get the result about right for Scotland, because there’s very little interest in politics there anyway, so who cares?
Once the result has been decided it’s just a case of getting it. In the past 5-10 years the industry has moved away from nonsense such as reading chicken entrails or rolling dice, and simply making up the results wholesale is somehow seen as lazy and dishonest, so instead we use special polling science, called “mathematics”.
Say, for example, we’ve polled 10 people (this is about the norm for a political poll) and 8 of them are planning to vote UKIP and 1 each for Conservatives and Labour. We’d “weight” the non-UKIP voters to, say, 330 people each. We’d also weight the UKIP voters, but only to about 20 people each. This would give us a “sample size” of 820, so we’d round that up to close to 1,000 (not exactly, though, people get suspicious of round numbers, so we’ll probably make it 1,036 or something) and attribute the rest of the votes to ‘Don’t know’ or parties that no-one cares about, like the Greens, BNP or the Lib Dems – it’s not like anyone is ever going to check that shit out – because there are probably some of them out there, so it’s only fair that we mention them.
Once we’ve knocked up some draft data tables we’ll fax them round our “competitors”, to make sure they roughly match their results, and to the media, to make sure they support the story they’ve already written, and then we’re good to go.
And that’s pretty much it. If Lord Foulkes had just kept his nose out of it then we’d have told you something about “shy Tories” or “lazy Labour” and life would have rolled on. Right now, even though we know that 80% of adults still intend to vote for UKIP, and the other 80% strongly support Jeremy Corbyn, we’d be telling you that the Conservatives are more popular than ever, that Labour are unelectable and that Brexit is neck-and-neck, and you’d have no reason to doubt us. Sure, Twitter polls and other easily accessible on-line survey methods may look like they threaten us, but it’s always easy to knock them down as “unscientific”.
This then is the last stop for the gravy train. Thanks to Lord Foulkes’ brilliantly deducing that he can use the law to regulate an industry which has absolutely no vested interest in delivering accurate results or being seen as independent. Really the only question that remains is whether the public will support his plan. I wonder.