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The Science of Opinion Polling October 2010

Agenda  1. Some questions answered about polling 2. The RED C Approach to getting polls right  3. Why do different polls give different results? 4. Current party support 5. What the future holds

Who did the poll?  Reputable polling firm?   Reputation is important  to a quality firm  Association  membership  …..check who paid for  the poll!

Why you should use a reputable opinion poll company!

How many people here today have been surveyed for an opinion poll?

How come I am never called for a poll?

 Only about 15  national polls are  published each year  Approx. 60,000  people contacted and  15,000 people  interviewed  Less than 1% of the  population.

Over 4 Million people!

How can 1000 people represent the whole population?

“If you don't believe in random sampling…. …next time you go for a blood test ask them to take it all!”

What is the possible error of opinion polls? AIMRO guidelines =  minimum sample of 1000  interviews for a national poll. Sample error of just + or  -3% Local or regional polls = 500  interviews. This does increase the  possible error to + or – 4.5% 

Does it matter when a poll was done? Even bad publicity can give parties a boost!

Events can have a dramatic impact on  poll results. 

Do people not just lie to pollsters? 1. Why bother? Easier to tell  the truth 2. If people did often lie,  opinion polls would never  get their predictions correct.  3. Code of conduct by proper  industry players means  results are collected on an  unattributable basis, so  there should be no reason  to lie.

How were the interviews conducted?  The key here is that the poll is  conducted outbound by the  company – not a phone-in poll.  These types of polls are  normally conducted face to face  or by phone.  Online polls should still be  treated with caution in Ireland –  over 55’s not represented.

Problems for Face to Face Interviewers Apartments

Country Houses

RED C Method for Getting Polls Right  RED C conducts polls by phone,  because we believe they are  more accurate.    Telephone interviewer has no  control over who they interview.   This makes respondent selection  truly random as the interviewer  doesn’t know if the person is in   an apartment or country house!  Provides a base sample that is  more representative.  

How do we make sure the sample is accurate? 1. Random Digit Dialling Initial random sample of directories nationwide  – then +1 or +3 added to number – ensures  ex-directory households included 2. Mobile sample 25% of the Irish Population now mobile only Half sample with landlines and half with  mobiles – reach is 98% of the population 3. Quotas Quotas set based on census data for gender,  age, region and social class to ensure the  sample is representative.

How important are the questions that are asked?

Question  wording and order of  questions are vital  RED C always ask voting  intention first, as other questions  such as party leader ratings may  bias results. On the phone it is also important  to prompt for ALL parties.

RED C techniques employed to maximise accuracy Likelihood to Vote Turnout GE 2007


 Not everyone votes –  turnout 67% at the last  election…. …this needs to be taken  account of in the analysis  Only look at results by  those likely to vote (on a ten  point scale exclude those  who say they are 1-3)

RED C techniques employed to maximise accuracy Weighting by past vote  Demographics do not necessarily  give us a 100% accurate sample   Sometimes recall of how people  voted last time is different to the  result.  Part faulty recall ….BUT part  suggesting a biased sample  RED C compares the declared past  votes to the actual result of the last  general election and weights to the  mid-point of the two.

The benefits of Regular Tracking  Statistical theories prove that, in a random poll of 1,000, 19  times out of 20 a poll will be accurate to within 3 per cent.   But this does leave the one in 20 chance of the result being  outside this margin of error – a Rogue Poll  It is sensible to weigh up the results of several different polls  when calculating the most likely outcome.

How accurate are opinion polls then?  RED C had four of the five most  accurate pre-election polls in  2007.    Final GE 2007 poll had an  average sample error of just  1.4%.  2009 local elections saw an  average error of just 2.1% - as  accurate as the exit poll.  The Lisbon Treaty result was  predicted with 100% accuracy.

Lisbon Treaty Sep 2009 Last RED C Poll %

Yes – in favour

No - against

Final Result %





Why are do polls from different companies show different results?

Normally they  don’t! 1.Last general election all  were within average 1-2%  error of the final result 2.Biggest gap for any party  across all the pollsters was  just 2%

BUT POSSIBLY…..  Volatile nature of electorate  Events that happen during or  before polls.  Different method – phone vs.  face to face  Different question wording &  order.  Analysis techniques – likely  voters & past vote weighting  A Rogue Poll!

Current trends in 1st preference vote intention (Base: All adults likely to vote 18+)

TD’s Pay  Increase + Tribunal

Cowen FF Leader

Banking Crisis Starts

Economy Worsens

Local Lisbon  Budget  Elections Treaty 2 2009

FG Heave

Fianna Fáil

31% Fine Gael

24% 23%

Labour Independent

10% 9%

Green Party


Sinn Féin


What can we expect in the run up to the election? 1. The electorate are volatile – 50% of those still undecided voted  Fianna Fail at the last election 2. The ability to handle the economy is the most important aspect for  voters in the run up to next election, BUT… … no major party currently has that support – only 30% of the  electorate believe Fine Gael/Labour coalition can handle the  economy despite joint 1st preference of 56%! 3. Current support for Fine Gael and Labour may not be built on very  strong foundations – however the desire to punish Fianna Fail  remains. 4. 1 in 5 voters only made up their mind in the last week of the election  campaign in 2007.

…plenty of room for more changes before an election is held

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Richard Colwell  

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Richard Colwell  

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