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13 November 2013

Should pre-election opinion polls be banned? A third of MPs think so

30 per cent of MPs support a ban on polling for a "defined period" before general elections, with backing for the proposal strongest among Labour.

By George Eaton

Unlike many other countries, including France, India, Italy and Spain, the UK does not ban the publication of opinion polls in the run-up to a general election. But as a new poll from ComRes shows, a significant number of MPs believe it should. The survey of 159 MPs (carried out following the decision of the Indian Election Commission to ban polls in the final 48 hours of campaigning in the five states holding elections this month) found that 30% support a ban on polls for “a defined period” before general elections. 

Backing for the proposal was strongest among Labour MPs, 35% of whom favour a ban, with 32% of Lib Dems and 25% of Tories agreeing. Based on that, I’d say that Labour and the Lib Dems’ justified anger at how right-wing papers often spin polls in the Conservatives’ favour was a factor. Labour MPs may also be scarred by the experience of the 1992 election, when polls pointed to a victory for Neil Kinnock (owing to the ‘shy Tory factor‘), and fear that inaccurate surveys could depress turnout (although it is worth pointing out that polling reliability has improved significantly since then). 

But while there may be some merit to the argument that a ban on polls would help reduce a herd mentality among the electorate, ComRes chairman Andrew Hawkins is certainly right when he says that “the internet, and especially the advance of social and other online media, renders entirely nugatory any attempt to ban the publication of opinion polls in the run-up to elections.” The danger of a ban is that selective and possibly unreliable data would leak out anyway. Far better that polls are published transparently for all to analyse. 

Here’s the full breakdown of the results.

Would you support or oppose a ban on the publication of opinion polls for a defined period prior to General Elections?

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Support
All 30%

Con 25%
Lab 35%
Lib Dems 32%

Oppose
All 45%

Con 49%
Lab 39%
Lib Dems 38%

Don’t know
All 25%

Con 26%
Lab 26%
Lib Dems 30%