“Comfort polling”, Lord Ashcroft? Okay, here’s a simple challenge then

by Stephen Tall on April 2, 2015

ashcroftRight at the top, I want to say I’m a fan of Lord Ashcroft’s seat-specific polling.

It would’ve been easy for him as a Conservative peer to calibrate his constituency surveys deliberately to undermine the Lib Dems — already written off by chunks of the media — by ignoring the local incumbency factor which plays well to the party’s Stakhanovite MPs. The fact that he prompts the electorate to think specifically about how they’ll vote in their local contest is to his very real credit.

However…(!)

However, in his ConservativeHome write up of his latest polling, which returned to eight key Lib Dem battlegrounds, Lord Ashcroft said something a bit silly:

I have not gone so far as to name individual candidates, as the Lib Dems do in their own private polling. Doing so usually boosts the Lib Dem vote share (especially when, as in the Lib Dems’ research, the voting intention question is preceded by a warm-up question asking whether the respondent has a favourable opinion of the incumbent, of whose name they are reminded). Whether this produces a more accurate assessment of real voting intentions is a different question. Indeed I have coined the term “comfort polling” to describe the practice of parties conducting research in such a way as to maximise their own apparent vote share.

His taunt of “comfort polling” is (intentionally) loaded. But it’s an accusation that badly mis-fires.

I don’t think there has ever been an election campaign when the Lib Dems have been quite so ruthless in their targeting strategy, calculating on which seats to focus their finite resources. The party’s private polling (along with hard data on local campaigning activity) is a key factor in making the decision about where to direct resources. Indeed, the party has never before spent this much (£350,000) on its polling operation. So Lord Ashcroft’s notion that it’s all being done simply to make people feel better is as wide of the mark as it’s possible to be.

There is of course a legitimate debate about whether Lord Ashcroft’s methodology or the Lib Dems’ is most likely to be accurate, fairly captured by Anthony Wells at UK Polling Report:

The Lib Dems criticised the poll for not including candidate names, saying this would have boosted Clegg. Lord Ashcroft pre-empted the criticism by saying that he already asked the constituency specific question and feared putting candidate names in the question would give too much prominence to that as a factor and would risk showing too much of a candidate effect. Both are perfectly justifiable arguments – the reality is we don’t know. Constituency polls have been very rare in the past, so we don’t have lots of constituency polls with and without candidate prompting from previous elections that we can compare to results to make a judgement. There is simply no evidence that would allow us to judge whether candidate prompting in constituency polling is less or more accurate.

Anthony’s right: there is no evidence.

So if only — if only — there were a pollster out there with considerable private resources willing to ask questions simply out of curiosity. If there were such a figure, s/he could undertake a split test in a handful of constituencies, using both Lord Ashcroft’s seat-specific question as well as the Lib Dems’ named-candidate question. We could then find out what the difference is, and see (come May 7th) which appears to be the better predictor.

Over to you, Lord Ashcroft…

 

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4 comments

[…] No actual evidence presented for his viewpoint yet followed by “I continue to think…”? Ashcroft’s right to criticise comfort polling but this is comfort punditry, not evidence-based punditry (on which point see Stephen Tall’s excellent post). […]

by Updated Lib Dem constituency polling scorecard: and the flaw in Ashcroft's evidence on April 3, 2015 at 10:40 am. Reply #

[…] No actual evidence presented for his viewpoint yet followed by “I continue to think…”? Ashcroft’s right to criticise comfort polling but this is comfort punditry, not evidence-based punditry (on which point see Stephen Tall’s excellent post). […]

by Liberal Democrat Newswire #62 is out: 5 things you may have missed in the manifesto on April 21, 2015 at 8:57 am. Reply #

[…] No actual evidence presented for his viewpoint yet followed by “I continue to think…”? Ashcroft’s right to criticise comfort polling but this is comfort punditry, not evidence-based punditry (on which point see Stephen Tall’s excellent post). […]

by ICM provides least surprising polling result of election (least surprising to discerning readers, that is) on May 4, 2015 at 9:49 pm. Reply #

[…] No actual evidence presented for his viewpoint yet followed by “I continue to think…”? Ashcroft’s right to criticise comfort polling but this is comfort punditry, not evidence-based punditry (on which point see Stephen Tall’s excellent post). […]

by 5 things you may have missed about the Lib Dem manifesto on August 22, 2015 at 11:24 am. Reply #

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