The Futility Monster

He'll pointlessly derive more enjoyment out of your resources than you

Why Other Polls Don’t Matter

Posted by The Futility Monster on March 29, 2010 @ 10:01

We Love Polling!

While browsing through the newspapers websites this morning looking for some inspiration, one thing rather surprised me:

Since last week’s Budget, polls have suggested that Labour has regained support on its handling the economy.

It turns out that the BBC, no less, commissioned a poll to find out what the people’s verdict is on the respective Treasury teams of the front benches. From the same newspaper, but a different article, we get the numbers:

The poll showed Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling have overturned David Cameron and George Osborne’s lead on economic issues.

Mr Brown and Mr Darling were backed by 33 per cent of voters on the economy; Mr Cameron and Mr Osborne were supported by 27 per cent.

So, the Budget has turned things around for Labour, it seems. Hurrah for Alistair Darling: Saviour of New, New Labour.

Well, a reasonable observer might conclude that that was the case. Only, it isn’t.

There hasn’t really been enough polling since the Budget to draw any definite trends just yet, largely because no one does any polling over the weekend. We’ll know more in a couple of days, but the early trend is the complete opposite.

Both ICM and YouGov, since the Budget, have been showing a delicate change in favour of the Tories. All within the margin of error, naturally, and one swallow doesn’t make a summer, and every other polling cliché in existence, but I’m willing to bet that polls this week continue to show the Tories have notched up just a point or two since last Wednesday, putting them strongly back in solid majority territory.

How can the polls provide such contradictory results? How can one poll tell us Labour are now more trusted, but the others are saying, “Thanks but no thanks”.

It’s all down to the weightings. And the weightings are the reason why no one should bother with non-voting intention questions.

The poll asking people “who do they trust on the economy” is highly likely to include a great deal of people who won’t vote, can’t vote, never will vote, don’t care, and all the other lazy sods out there.

Whereas, because voting intention polls are the Gold Standard by which a pollster is judged, they have developed years of detailed methodologies for seriously reducing the influence of such people on the topline figure. People who didn’t vote last time, for example, get less credence placed on their opinion than those who say they vote at every election.

Non-voting intention questions are all nice and occasionally interesting in the world of politics, but they are invariably used by someone trying to create an alternative narrative. In this case, it’s a bit disappointing that the BBC would dabble in such voodoo polling.

They don’t matter one bit.

The only thing that matters, and the only thing that will always matter, is how people say they are going to vote come Election day.


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