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2 January 2019

Are the “People’s Vote” polls loaded? No, says Peter Kellner

A look at the questions reveals otherwise. 

By Peter Kellner

Stephen Bush accuses the People’s Vote campaign of asking “deliberately loaded questions” about Brexit without offering any evidence for his charge. This is not surprising for there is no such evidence.

Bush compares two findings from different YouGov polls of Labour Party members, one funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, the other by the People’s Vote Campaign. (Respondents are not told the identity of the client: all they see are the questions themselves.)

In fact, there are three questions that can be compared: two from the ESRC survey, one from the People’s Vote survey. Bush omits the third question; had he done so, his case would have been undermined.

Here are the three questions, whose wording Bush failed to provide, together with the percentages of Labour Party members giving a pro-referendum response:

ESRC 1 (cited by Bush): Do you think Labour should or should not fully support holding a new referendum on Brexit? (72 per cent yes)

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ESRC 2 (not cited by Bush): Imagine that Parliament eventually votes to reject Mrs May’s proposed Brexit deal… Would you support or oppose holding a referendum on the deal if Parliament voted to reject the proposed Brexit deal? (79 per cent yes)

People’s Vote poll: When the negotiations with the European Union about Brexit are complete, would you support or oppose a public vote on the outcome? (86 per cent yes) 

Had Bush actually provided the wording of all three questions, his readers would have seen:

  1. None of the questions is “loaded”, deliberately or otherwise. This is not surprising: YouGov has its own reputation to defend, and rightly insists on unbiased questions.
  2. The three questions are in fact different: one is about how Labour should act, one about a respondents’ own views on a referendum on the Withdrawal Agreement, and one (posed some weeks earlier) about a public vote when the negotiations are complete. It’s as if one question had been: do you like oranges?; another: do you like apples?; a third, do you like pears?
  3. The striking thing is not how different the responses are, but how similar. In each case, if we exclude don’t knows (as is normal in reporting voting intention polls), pro-referendum responses reach 80 per cent or more, and outnumber anti-referendum responses by at least four-to-one. By any standards, these are conclusive margins.

All this is in the public domain: YouGov, applying transparency rules that I helped to write some years ago, reports the full wording of, and data from, these Brexit surveys. Had Bush been as equally transparent, he would have revealed the weakness of his case. Was his a “deliberately loaded” blog? You may very well think so; I couldn’t possibly comment.

Note: Stephen responded to these criticisms here.

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