BBC stands over its reliance on Irish unity stats from online opinion pollsters LucidTalk after Nolan raises questions over firm’s methods

The BBC has defended its use of polling firm LucidTalk, after its boss faced an intensive grilling on the corporation’s own airwaves about his polling methods this week.

Wednesday, 1st September 2021, 10:45 am
Updated Wednesday, 1st September 2021, 11:18 am
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Bill White was quizzed for about an hour by Stephen Nolan on Monday morning about the way he conducts his opinion polls, with Mr White acknowledging some people in his polls “vote twice”.

The News Letter has been reporting for years on the methods used by LucidTalk. The firm generally polls a pool of volunteers over the internet (rather than by calling at random addresses, for example).

As one of very few firms which do commercial polling in Northern Ireland, the firm is highly influential and is perhaps best known for its polls on a united Ireland.

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In January, LucidTalk put backing for Irish unity at 42.3% – well above some other pollsters’ estimates.

And in a poll for BBC current affairs show ‘Spotlight’ in April, the company asked “if a Northern Ireland border poll was held today, how would you vote?” Its results were:

> Reunification: 43%

> Stay in the UK: 49%

> Don’t know/no opinion/not sure: 8%

Then on Monday ‘The Nolan Show’ turned into a lengthy, painstaking examination of LucidTalk’s methods.

Some of the exchanges were somewhat tense, as Mr Nolan put it to Mr White that there was no surefire way of checking who many of his polling respondents are.

At one point, Mr White said whilst it might be possible to tamper with the poll on a big scale to skew the results, this “would take an enormous amount of organisation” so “nobody would be bothered”.

He also said “there’s a small number of people in our polls who vote twice, but we try to minimise it as much as possible” – but that even real life election ballots are susceptible to some degree of tampering.

Read the whole detailed account at this link

Mr White strongly stands by his methods, and says they are “globally recognised, and used by all major market research and polling companies worldwide, including in the UK by members of the British Polling Council of which LucidTalk is a member”.

The BBC was asked by the News Letter about its reliance on LucidTalk for its border poll stats.

It replied: “LucidTalk is a member of both the British Polling Council (BPC) and the UK Market Research Society (UK MRS).

“Our research showed that the company has been accurate in measuring party political support in Northern Ireland over a number of years and has previously partnered with other market research firms such as YouGov.

“The BBC’s editorial guidelines allow for face-to-face, telephone or online polling.

“The survey was done during the Covid-19 pandemic. It is our understanding that no polling companies were offering face-to-face interviewing at that time.

“And in this context, it’s perhaps worth noting that the most recent Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey was based largely on online questionnaires.

“Our understanding is that LucidTalk’s sampling is to industry standards, and that the company follows the same processes as other market research companies.

“The BBC’s position on opinion polling is publicly available and forms part of our Editorial Guidelines.

“Such surveys can be a ‘useful and fruitful’ way of understanding people’s views on particular issues, but we do not make extravagant claims for their benefits. “As Bill White said on the Nolan programme of 30/08/21, polls are ‘like the weather forecast’, providing ‘a broad view of what’s happening’ and that ‘they shouldn’t be taken prescriptively’.

“The Spotlight team regularly caveated the polling results across our output (including the margin of error), and the methodology was made explicit in our online reporting and discussed at length in the live stream which followed the transmission of the programme on BBC One.

“We used the polling data to inform discussion, explaining its context and caveating it as appropriate.

“The survey was commissioned to form part of a documentary reflecting on the centenary of partition.

“Spotlight decided the film should include an examination of the past and an exploration of what the future might hold.

“It selected LucidTalk – a member of the British Polling Council – to conduct the survey.

“It was commissioned in accordance with the BBC’s editorial guidelines and referred through the normal BBC processes.”

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