QUB professor defends use of LucidTalk for public poll on Protocol

A prominent academic has defended Queen’s University Belfast’s use of the firm LucidTalk, as part of a major study the university is carrying out.

Thursday, 28th October 2021, 12:00 am
Updated Thursday, 28th October 2021, 3:26 pm
Dr Katy Hayward

Dr Katy Hayward, a sociology professor, was speaking as Queen’s today unveils the latest instalment of a regular survey into what the public thinks of the NI Protocol.

The survey work itself was carried out by LucidTalk, whose methods have come under the spotlight in recent years.

The survey took place from October 8–11, and involved 2,682 responses.

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>>> It shows 52% of respondents agreed with this statement that “the Protocol is on balance a good thing for NI” .

>>> This compares with 43% when it asked the same question in June, and 43% when it had been asked in March.

>>> The October poll found that 75% of respondents agreed they had “a good understanding” of the Protocol (compared with 71% in June, and 70% in March).

>>> It also found that 33% of respondents agreed that “Brexit is on balance a good thing for the UK (compared 37% in June and 36% in March).

‘NO METHOD IS WITHOUT LIMITATIONS’:

Both the News Letter and the Nolan Show have previously delved into the details of how LucidTalk does its polling.

The firm was set up in 2012 and has a single director, Bill White (who is also its sole employee, according to the most recent accounts).

Basically, it gets people to fill in questionnaires over the internet.

Its survey respondents are drawn from a pool of volunteers, many of whom put themselves forward after seeing invitations on social media.

In a recent Nolan interview, Mr White said his firm gets an average of about 1.6 to 1.7 responses per IP address (IP addresses being the online identifying codes which each computer or phone has).

He also acknowledged that “there’s a small number of people in our polls who vote twice, but we try to minimise it as much as possible”.

The only way to significantly skew his polling results would be to “do it in a very organised way from a whole lot of different areas over Northern Ireland”, he said.

But this is something which “would take an enormous amount of organisation, and which nobody would be bothered doing”.

Dr Hayward was asked if they had any misgivings about the use of LucidTalk – and about why Queen’s did not rely on its own in-house polling project, the Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey, which does face-to-face polling of randomly-selected addresses.

Dr Hayward told the News Letter: “The purpose of this polling is ‘temperature testing’ – this is something an opinion panel poll such as the one LucidTalk provides is ideally suited for.

“The questions can be set, answered by over two and half thousand individual respondents, and analysed within the space of a fortnight. This is necessary when you are dealing with a ‘live’ topic such as opinions/experience of the Protocol.

“The NI Life and Times Survey – which members of our team also contribute to and use – is a very different type of survey and it takes many months to undergo the same process, mainly because of the different method of sampling, recruitment and questioning.

“No method is without limitations. Good social science recognises these and does what is necessary (such as weighting of the sample) prior to analysis to get the most reliable results. And results are presented with a margin of error and confidence rate.

“LucidTalk is a member of professional polling and market research organisations, including the British Polling Council, and has a very strong track record in terms of accurately predicting referendum and election results in NI based on this polling methodology.”

LUCIDTALK HAS SERIOUS CLOUT – AND COULD EVEN INFLUENCE NI’S FUTURE:

As one of very few companies which does commercial political polling in Northern Ireland, LucidTalk is highly influential.

It is perhaps best known for its polls on a united Ireland – and on this subject, the company could end up influencing nothing less than the Province’s entire constitutional future.

It all hinges on a clause in the 1998 Belfast Agreement.

The clause states that a referendum on Irish re-unification should be called by the Northern Ireland Secretary of the day, if “at any time it appears likely to him that a majority of those voting would express a wish that Northern Ireland should cease to be part of the United Kingdom”.

Therefore the perception of how strong nationalist feeling is will have a direct bearing on whether such a referendum will ever get off the ground.

LucidTalk’s results on Irish unity have tended to show notably higher nationalist sentiments than some other surveys.

For example, 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%

However, this is out-of-kilter with the results in something called the Life and Times Survey, which was set up in 1998 by Queen’s and Ulster University jointly.

It relies on face-to-face interviews with randomly-drawn addresses, not an online pool of volunteers.

The 2019 Life and Times asked: “Suppose there was a referendum tomorrow... would you vote ‘yes’ to unify with the Republic or ‘no’?”

The results were:

>>> Yes: 25%

>>> No: 51%

>>> Wouldn’t vote/ineligible: 9%

>>> Don’t know: 14%.

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