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Last Updated: Monday, 31 May, 2004, 11:04 GMT 12:04 UK
Inquiry into opinion polls urged
Labour MP Barry Sheerman
Mr Sheerman worries new pollsters have no background in the industry
The government is being urged to hold a full inquiry into opinion polls and to introduce new laws to control them if necessary.

Thirty-eight MPs have signed a Commons motion querying the "integrity, honesty and professionalism" of the industry.

The MPs say there is a lack of regulation and transparency in the methodology used.

They say polling techniques may be designed to get the results favoured by those who commission the polls.

The group of MPs is led by Barry Sheerman, Labour chairman of the Commons Education Committee.

He told Radio 4's Today programme he was concerned some pollsters lacked experience.

"A number of the large players in the opinion polling business say that people can just set up to be opinion pollsters without any background at all and that is quite worrying."

Mr Sheerman said many small players offer cheap online polls but will not reveal their methodologies.

I want the inquiry to look not only at fly-by-night new internet pollsters... but also at the rather lamentable record of the traditional pollsters
Peter Kellner

"So, you can't assess how accurate and reliable those polls are, and some of the polls may be polls producing the results that the people who pay for the polls want," he said.

The chairman of internet pollster YouGov, Peter Kellner, agreed online pollsters generally needed to be more transparent and that the industry was open to abuse.

"Because internet polling is a lot less expensive, and has far fewer costs than conventional polling, any Tom, Dick or Harry can set up and clearly, we at YouGov are concerned to protect our integrity," he told Today.

'No self-regulation'

But Mr Kellner also criticised the record of conventional pollsters, claiming almost all their predictions over the last 15 years had been wrong and that they "consistently overstated Labour's share and understated the Conservatives' share".

"I want the inquiry to look not only at fly-by-night new internet pollsters, that are competing with us, but also at the rather lamentable record of the traditional pollsters."

He said he was in favour of self-regulation within the polling industry, and urged all pollsters to abide by the Market Research Society codes of conduct.

Public opinion research agency Mori, which uses traditional polling methods as well as newer techniques, said an inquiry would "probably be a very good thing" .

"All public opinion polling should be transparent," chairman Robert Worcester told BBC News Online.

Polls do not predict. We measure a snapshot in time
Robert Worcester

Professor Worcester said there were one British and two global industry bodies, but of the four or five polling organisations in the UK only Mori and NOP were regulated by all three organisations.

He said there was no "self-regulation" and that the Market Research Society's code of conduct was badly managed.

In response to Peter Kellner's claim that traditional pollsters' predictions were often wrong, Professor Worcester said: "Polls do not predict. We measure a snapshot in time. "

He said: "Polls can never be precise.

"Anyone who wants to know exactly how we do it only needs to ask."

Barry Sheerman
22 Oct 02  |  Politics

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