Politics

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Many of your questions so far have been about how people are selected for opinion polls and whether they should be banned.

Q: Everything. Who is selected? By phone? By landline only? By people willing to answer an unknown caller? By party? By age? By previous responses? Laura, retired

Polling companies have abandoned phone polling because people no longer pick up the phone to answer questions. Instead they have developed panels of online respondents – yes, people are paid modestly. When a poll is conducted, pollsters take a sample of 1,000 people (deemed enough to get a reasonably accurate result) from the overall panel.

The sample is intended to be statistically representative of the British population, and sometimes, for example, when enough young or old people can’t be found, adjustments are made to ensure the weighting is correct. Selections are made by gender, age, social class and by past voting record. It tries to be an exact science but the question for every polling firm is this: have they recruited the right panel, from which their samples are drawn?

Q: Do you agree with me that public polls should be banned during election campaigns, as they are in other countries? They seem to be so politicised and are deployed by parties and some companies to sway people’s opinions rather than record those opinions. Michael, Midlands

Attractive as it might sound, I can’t agree that public polls should be banned during campaigns. What that would mean is that political parties, lobbyists, businesses, hedge funds even could carry out polling, and keep the results to themselves. The public has a right to know. Much better to keep publishing and for people to take an appropriately sceptical view of the results.

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Some countries do have bans, but they are for a short period – France, I think, bans them for just the day before an election, although I am unsure what purpose that serves. In Britain, they are banned on election day itself, which does make sense, although even then some hedge funds have in the past conducted their own polls, arguably giving them a head start.



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