By: Richard Thornton

Politics remains high on the agenda as election fever continues to gather pace. The recent budget has contributed further focus and interest on the subject and rarely a day goes by without results from yet another public opinion poll appearing in the media.

This election looks set to be anything but clear cut or simple, and polls are playing a huge part in steering and shaping public opinion. The role of polls by political parties has evolved significantly over the years – of course, methodology has transformed from face-to-face or phone polling to online, increasing the opportunities, access and ease of polling.

Political parties are quick to capitalise on such ease and benefit from it; Ukip’s success in gathering pace in the 2014 election was arguably in part down to public polls showing support for the party, helping to steer more support from those in indecision. The Green Party has been using polls to great success this year; optimising favourable results and using them within their own campaign. They are tipped to be a significant part of the television debates for this year’s election and some have gone as far to state that the Greens could be the party that decides the election.

Polls are instrumental in helping political parties adapt their approach to address the changing priorities of the electorate, on an on-going basis throughout the election campaign, providing a valuable barometer of public opinion.

But what about when the polls don’t accurately reflect public opinion? Who can forget the Scottish referendum for independence, where the polls were showing a 2 per cent lead for “yes”, when the reality in the poll was an 11 per cent lead for “no”.  There could of course be a variety of reasons behind this and other polls that are wildly off, but it often points back to the research and sampling methodology and quality.

This illustrates the need for reliable sample, robust sampling set-up and frameworks, and representative sampling. Without this, when inaccuracy occurs, it will reflect badly on the entire MR industry and thus affect the major opportunities that surround such high profile events. Our own experience with the United Minds opinion poll on the Swedish elections last year was extremely positive; it gave the closest results to the actual election outcome, beating all other polls carried out using both online and offline methods. This was testament to the above considerations being key to the project and taken onboard by United Minds and our sampling model in the platform.

High profile events such as elections present huge opportunities for the market research industry to create value and revenues, and as technology improves this is set to rise, presenting further opportunities to capitalise – as long as quality underpins it.

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