critique of UKIP statistics in the media

(This post is from 2012)

Ukip benefiting from disillusionment with main political parties, poll finds is an online article written for the Guardian online by Tom Clark, who is a political writer for the newspaper. Clicking through to his profile revealed that the majority, if not all, of his articles feature quantitative analysis and are heavily based on statistics.

The online feature has as its sources the Guardian/ICM poll of 1001 people surveyed by telephone. ICM is listed as a research organisation that, “is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.” A paragraph at the end of the feature explains this. The survey was commissioned by the Guardian online, but the piece was written around the results of the survey. The research is credited as being part of  a 28-year series of surveys on political trends within the United Kingdom carried out by the Guardian/ICM. The full history of these surveys is both mentioned and linked to within the piece and is available for download from the click-through link found at the address found in the ‘works cited’ section of this exercise.

The article itself states that the survey was commissioned in the wake of the police commissioner ballots which saw record lows in turnout and Ukip outpolling the Liberal Democrats which were released the second week of November. However, upon reading the attached history of surveying, I realised that these surveys took place between two and four times per month in those twenty-eight years. It was the apparent shift in response owing to the release of the above ballots that spurned the writing of a separate article for the findings in this particular case. What the data of the past surveys show clearly that cannot be seen in the graph and statistics of the article, is the rise in the other category of voters from 1% in 1985 to a high of 15% in June 2009(where it stands again currently).The article states, “The ICM/Guardian survey showed that Labour’s solid eight-point lead held firm over the previous month, but a growing proportion of voters were looking for an alternative home, particularly at Ukip. The combined total of the assorted minor parties rose three points to 15%, a score that has never been bettered in the 28-year history of the Guardian/ICM series.” This reveals the obvious need for the further division of the survey’s options.

The obvious objective of the survey is to reveal changing attitudes towards political parties within the United Kingdom. Those polled were asked their voting intentions and given the options of the three main political parties as well as a fourth option, “other”. It is this fourth option that is the focus of the article, as it is at it’s highest since the telephone survey’s beginning.

Using Gerry Rose’s model, there seems to be a level of ambiguity within the structure of the survey by limiting the number of voting options available to four. Understandably, what are deemed ‘minor’ political parties and technical groups etc. may not always necessarily be popular enough to warrant a separate option within the survey. However, as the focus of this article points out, one such smaller party (namely the right-wing Ukip) had gained enough prominence within the United Kingdom to vastly alter the results of the survey and render ‘other’ as the choice of a significant proportion of those polled (15%). Therefore, this individual poll was obviously altered to identity the political leanings of those who selected that option. The original poll format includes four options, namely; Labour, Liberal Democrats, Conservatives and Other. In it’s present form, as found in the article, the poll has been divided further. It now gives the following options; Labour, Liberal Democrats, Conservatives, Other and Ukip. The newest poll, the focus of the article, has been amended to include Ukip, which takes up 7% of overall votes and accounts for nearly half of the ‘other’ category. Ukip’s omission from previous poll’s is still notable however, as the ‘other’ category had consistently higher popularity that the Liberal Democrats for more than eighteen months, all of which were polled by Guardian/ICM. Similarly, there is no category for those polled who will not vote or are undecided on party allegiance, their opinions are omitted from those surveyed. This ignores a possibly large amount of those who are in the eligible category for survey (whose only specification is for the surveyed to be 18+ or of voting age in the United Kingdom)

Following Rose’s model once more, we can examine how the operationalisation and field-work of the survey can affect its findings on changing political attitudes. It is important to note that this poll is continuously done by phone to landlines. This, whilst probably the most effective method of surveying the general population at the survey’s inception in 1985, is rather problematic today. Many people no longer have or use a landline phone with the advent of mobile technology. Many of those that do will screen callers for identification and not answer to unknown numbers. Many other people of voting eligibility will not have listed phone numbers available for market research. Many young people do not use landlines, whilst they are still a popular means of communication for many older citizens. Because of this, a consistent poll of 1001 people contacted through telephone will not necessarily represent accurately the entirety of the changing views of the voting public of any given nation.

With relevance to the ‘metaphysical pathos’ of the survey, only one question is structured in order to prompt a positive or negative response. Those surveyed are asked about where their faith lies with each political party’s leader, with the three main leaders mentioned, as well as option for ‘none’ and ‘don’t know’. This question seems to be exhaustive in nature, as it explores what appear to be the most popular choices as well as giving a negative and uncertain option for response simultaneously. The overall tone of the article is overarchingly neutral. The author has used the facts and figures and only expanded upon them to present the argument that Ukip has gained in popularity, which is clear to be read from the statistics, without giving any separate opinion or weighed interpretation of the figures received through the survey..

 

 

 

Word count; 1126

 

 

Clarke, Tom. Ukip benefiting from disillusionment with main political parties, poll finds, http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2012/nov/19/ukip-benefiting-disillusionment-politics-poll.

 

 

Rose, Gerry (1982) Deciphering Sociological Research, London, Macmillan

From Chapter 2, Framework p14

 

Guardian/ICM polls: every one since 1984. No author. http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/2009/oct/21/icm-poll-data-labour-conservatives. Accessed 24/11/2012

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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