Opinion polls are the heartbeat of day-to-day politics, as they give the politicians an objective look at what their public wants that they can use to map out their policies for government or for their next elections. They are second only to actual voting and elections in terms of indicators of success or failure and are to be taken with interest and seriousness by anyone with an interest in politics. For me, they are a perfect mix of politics and statistics – and are extremely interesting. That’s why I’ve decided to start publishing Polls of Polls to aggregate public opinion polls and provide a general look at what the nation’s current viewpoints are.
My interest in the polls really began during the independence referendum campaign, when the polls were a barometer on the national debate and increasingly began to show that the vote might be far closer than anyone had imagined. Following these polls, particularly in the final few weeks of the campaign, became a particular obsession for myself and undoubtedly many hundreds of others involved in either campaign. Of course, the Sunday Times poll that put Yes ahead and triggered the onslaught of Westminster propaganda was perhaps the real turning point in the campaign away from the slow building support for independence. That one poll of around 1,000 people may have been the warning shot that kept Scotland in the Union. When a survey has that much power, it’s got to take your interest surely?
Interest was combined with necessity this semester at university as part of my Political Analysis course has been studying the methodologies of political polls and how they are put together. This has given me a much more in-depth understanding of the quality of polls, and has shown the statistical methods behind the figures that you see.
Polls are a dime a dozen (although not literally!), and there’s a new one released from the big polling organisations (members of the British Polling Council) almost every day. Each poll alone does not tell you terribly much, but when you consider the changes between polls and the average level of support across various organisations – that’s when you can draw meaningful conclusions. It is on these premises that I have launched a poll centre featuring poll averages for some of the major political issues faced in the UK.
My collection of polls are based around the Wisdom of the Crowds idea; that although each poll has its own level of accuracy by combining them together we will get a more considered result of what people think about the given issue. Each polling organisation will have a different methodology of asking their questions and arriving at their results, which can often mean that they produce results that are slightly skewed away from the real picture. By averaging out across current opinion polls, I’m trying to remove any of that skew and provide the truest reflection of general public opinion.
Another key feature that my polls have is that they weight by sample size and relative recentness. A poll with a larger sample size is more likely to be accurate, so it makes sense to consider them more heavily than polls that aren’t quite as certain. As such, polls will be weighted with a straight correlation between their sample size and their significance in the final average. Public opinion moves quickly, and that’s why I only include the most recent polls from the various organisations as well as weighting them by how recent they are, losing 1% of significance for each day old the poll is. If an organisation publishes two or more polls within a short space of time, I’ll take an average of them and use this to iron out any discrepancies – whilst giving the average sample size a 50% boost. These measures seek to objectively figure out the chance of a poll being right and give them more of a say in calculating the final averages.
The polls I’ll cover for now are:
- GB-wide polling
- Scotland polling
- GB-wide polling
- Scotland polling
I hope you find my poll averages helpful and informative and that they help provide some context to your own political discussions.