LONDON (Reuters) – Britain’s political pollsters have been told by a parliamentary committee to upgrade their methods to avoid the high-profile failures of recent years.
Polls in Britain failed to predict the result of the last two general elections and the 2016 referendum on whether to stay in the European Union.
In a report, the House of Lords committee on political polling and social media said there had been a widespread loss of confidence in polling.
These failings, it said, had prompted concerns over the extent to which inaccurate polls might be shaping the political narrative during election campaigns, and the report called for pollsters to update their methods, saying that traditional demographic weighting based on socio-economic class is no longer valid.
They recommended that pollsters develop new methods “to better understand the impact of newer variables such as voters’ educational level, age and attitudes to policy issues.”
Committee chairman Lord Lipsey said: “The polling industry needs to get its house in order. Otherwise the case for banning polling in the run-up to elections – one we for now reject – will become stronger.”
“During the last three years,” the report noted, “the United Kingdom has faced two General Elections and a referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union. For each of those events, albeit to varying degrees, the polls ‘called it wrong.'”
The Lords also suggested greater cooperation between the British Polling Council – the self-regulatory body of the public polling industry – and organisations such as the Electoral Commission and the Market Research Society.
The aim would be “to ensure that the best methodologies are used, that sources of poll funding are declared, that polls are better reported and that polling performance is openly reviewed after each General Election.”
The committee also looked into the effects of the internet and social media, concluding that while the internet has made polling easier and cheaper it has also brought with it a host of problems that pose “very serious challenges and risks for democracy”.
It recommended that the government conduct further research into the manipulation of political information on social media and suggested that people of all ages receive training in digital literacy in order to recognise fake news.
(Reporting by Tom Ball; editing by Stephen Addison)