When polls get axed

I’ve commissioned quite a few surveys in my time. It is after all one of the main weapons in the PR practitioner’s arsenal.

They’re used to highlight that public opinion either supports or opposes a particular issue of interest to your client, who are, of course, providing the ‘answer.’

But sometimes, the pesky public doesn’t play ball. A perfect example of this was the recent YouGov survey commissioned by the Labour pressure group Compass.

Now Compass totally objects to private investment into Royal Mail and have been running an effective campaign against Peter Mandelson’s proposals.

So YouGov polled 911 Labour Party members to find out their views. The survey, paid for by email appeals from Compass to its supporters, was then published in The Guardian with the topline that the party membership were against ‘part-privatisation’ by three to one.

But the Mail on Sunday has revealed that a few of the questions and answers were left out – notably that Peter Mandelson – the ‘Prince of Darkness’ was more popular than the supposedly left-wing favourite Harriet Harman.

However, there’s an even more interesting question and answer which has not been reported, though if you go to YouGov’s site you can see the results in full.

When you’re constructing a survey for maximum media ‘pick-up,’ you look to pose a question with a striking comparison – for example Daleks are more familiar to children than real animals.

Compass tried to do this by asking party members how where they would place three politicians on a left-right political barometer. The three people were Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Peter Mandelson.

It appears they were looking for a classic ‘shock’ result to show that party members thought Mandelson was more right wing than the Tory leader and therefore his actions as Business Secretary were being perceived as that of a right wing Conservative.

Accept it didn’t work out that way. Here’s the full result:

In politics, people sometimes talk about parties and politicians as being on the left
or right. Using the scale below, where would you place each of the following on that

Where would you place yourself on this scale?
Very left-wing 11
Fairly left-wing 35
Slightly left-of-centre 32
Centre 14
Slightly right-of-centre 3
Fairly right-wing 1
Very right-wing 1
Don’t know 5

And where would you place Gordon Brown the Prime Minister?
Very left-wing 2
Fairly left-wing 14
Slightly left-of-centre 43
Centre 20
Slightly right-of-centre 9
Fairly right-wing 4
Very right-wing 1
Don’t know 5

Where would you place David Cameron, the Conservative leader?
Very left-wing 1
Fairly left-wing 1
Slightly left-of-centre 4
Centre 7
Slightly right-of-centre 19
Fairly right-wing 36
Very right-wing 26
Don’t know 8

Where would you place Lord (Peter) Mandelson, the Business Secretary?
Very left-wing 1
Fairly left-wing 6
Slightly left-of-centre 25
Centre 29
Slightly right-of-centre 19
Fairly right-wing 8
Very right-wing 3
Don’t know 10

The problem is, when you choose to be selective in the the survey results you publish, you’re then open to accusations of censorship.

My advice would have been that Compass should have made all the results public, even if they were buried away in the Notes to Editors section of a press release or on their website.

That’s the problem with the public – they have an annoying habit of thinking for themselves!


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