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Thursday, January 21, 2021

The pollsters’ blatant dishonesty on Brexit is ruining the public trust

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I am the first to admit that political polls must be taken with a pinch of salt. Their main purpose is to provide a snapshot of public opinion. They often do this perfectly adequately, but only the most complacent political party would ever rely on them wholeheartedly.

With that said, history was made at the weekend. For the first time, the Brexit Party topped a national opinion poll. The survey, carried out by polling company Opinium on behalf of The Observer, asked people how they would vote in the next general election.

The party I lead was reported to be on 26 per cent – that is four points ahead of the Labour Party and nine points ahead of the Conservative Party.

Quite apart from that fact that the Brexit Party was only launched on April 12, the significance of this poll is that it suggests that the European elections that we won last month were not a high watermark.

Interest in our approach to politics is sustained. And with most of Westminster likely to spend the next two months obsessing about the Tory leadership contest, I expect our poll numbers to grow.

That the Brexit Party is now being considered by the electorate as a potential party of government should come as no surprise. We are the only party that can stop Jeremy Corbyn from inflicting a Marxist government on the British people and we are the only party that can also deliver a clean Brexit. For better or worse, the public is moving away from identifying as Left or Right. Instead, many people now believe that the labels “Leaver” or “Remainer” better reflect who they are and what they stand for.

On that note, it is important to mention another recent poll. It was published last week in The Times and was conducted by YouGov. It also asked people how they would vote in a general election and it placed the Brexit Party in second position on 22 per cent, behind the Liberal Democrats on 24 per cent.

Parts of the media heralded this survey as proof of a Remain insurgency, suggesting that the prospect of a second referendum is on the cards. But if you looked at the small print you would have learnt an interesting truth: incredibly, YouGov omitted the Brexit Party from its list of options.

The only way those who took part in the poll could signal their support for the Brexit Party was to say they intended to vote for some “other” party. This was not only absurd, but it also underlines why so many people no longer trust what they are told.

It is vital that the public is made aware of this sort of trick. I believe it is a deliberate tactic to hold the Brexit Party back. Just as the BBC tried to ignore us during the European elections, so elements of the polling industry appear to be perfectly happy to pretend that we do not exist. I don’t know how many times I have to make this clear: the political class and all who feed off it had better get used to the idea that the Brexit Party is here to stay.

It is thanks to examples like this one that I think pollsters have become part of the closed shop that is British politics. Everything seems designed to ensure as little real change at elections as possible, as both the SDP and Ukip found in their respective heydays.

Indeed, polls can even be used to suppress change. On the day of the EU referendum in 2016, one mid-morning poll was released claiming that Remain were 10 points ahead of Leave. I have always thought that this particular poll was published in order to demotivate Leave voters. The boss of the company behind it now sits in the House of Lords, incidentally.

As Rob Ford, professor of politics at Manchester University, has said, polls can serve a psychological, as opposed to a political, function. If poll results suggest that new players like the Brexit Party have no hope, people will continue to support Labour or the Tories even though they may not actively want to do so.

Polling companies have a duty to be honest about their work. They must recognise that winning a national election is a sufficient reason to be explicitly included in a list of voting intentions.

Until they do so, I will consider their results to be fake.

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