Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The Ipsos-Mori mystery

There was a rumour doing the rounds on Twitter last night that the No campaign recently commissioned a poll from Ipsos-Mori, and have kept the results to themselves.  I've no idea where the rumour is coming from, but it did remind me of knowing comments that Channel 4's Gary Gibbon kept making about the internal polling for McDougall Central -

"You sense some exasperation at the top of the 'no' campaign and a bit of bafflement that the average of published polls is narrowing quite a bit more than their own private polling with bigger surveys."

You 'sense' here that Gary is 'sensing' exactly what he was supposed to 'sense', so I would take the reference to bafflement with a heavy dose of salt. However, if the No campaign are at least partly conducting this large-scale private polling via Ipsos-Mori, that would tally up with the rumour and the rest of what we know. I must say I've been very surprised by how easy it's been to find people who have been asked the referendum question by Ipsos-Mori. If the published polls were the only ones to have taken place, only a miniscule percentage of the electorate ought to have been contacted so far. But if Better Together have been commissioning telephone polls with a much bigger sample size, then there could be tens of thousands of interviewees out there.

By the way, don't be fooled into thinking that the private polling must be much more accurate due to the higher sample sizes. The standard margin of error for a published Ipsos-Mori telephone poll is 3%, and even if the internal polls had sample sizes of 10,000, the margin of error would still be 1%. So the difference is not huge. In any case, margin of error is a theoretical concept that assumes the methodology is absolutely correct, which to put it mildly is always open to question in this campaign.

There was a separate rumour a few weeks ago that an anti-independence trade union commissioned an Ipsos-Mori poll and withheld the results after it showed a Yes lead. I would give absolutely zero credence to the latter detail UNLESS it was an online poll rather than a telephone poll. It's perfectly conceivable that Ipsos-Mori's online panel would produce completely different results, but as a telephone pollster the firm is by some distance the most extreme No-friendly outlier, and without an overhaul of their methodology it's highly unlikely that they would be showing anything even close to a Yes lead.


  1. The thing that struck me James, was how BT would suddenly re-launch their campaign, at a time when their did not seem to be any (known) polling evidence to show this was necessary.
    I kept asking why a winning side would change the winning tactics, but no one had an answer, except the suspicion that BT were getting internal polling evidence that was showing a trend to Yes.
    Had this internal polling shown the 'No significant change' that the MSM/BT keep telling us, then surely they would have continued with the winning strategy?
    Every Change of strategy, is indication that another internal poll is showing that the trend is still with Yes, so Alistair Carmichaels announcement that the BT campaign will be more 'emotional' (haha) is a sure sign that Yes is still going in the right direction.

    This BT campaign will be the subject of many a uni/college 'politics course' showing what will come to be known worldwide, as the most inept campaign ever launched a dozen times.

  2. You can be sure of one thing. If Better Together had a poll they could talk up in any way, they would be out there shouting it from the rooftops.

    To me, the deafening silence is very telling.

  3. Yes, but the silence could also suggest a middling sort of result as well. Suppose for example they got a No lead of 18% with Ipsos-Mori - that might look good for them at first glance, but it would in fact be a drop of 7% on the last comparable poll, so it would be difficult for them to publish it.

  4. I suppose that might help explain your Labour man's comment about "phone banks don't lie"..... still, it's one of those things you can't do anything about. Ipsos are not going to show anything near a Yes vote... ever! So either they are right and the polls are essentially imovable and there is not much you can do about that, or they are wrong and their methodology is crap.

  5. I suppose that might help explain your Labour man's comment about "phone banks don't lie"

    Yes, maybe, although from reading his blog I got the impression that comment was based on anecdotes from anti-independence activists who had done phone canvassing, rather than hard numbers from a private poll.

    Ipsos-Mori haven't been completely immovable - they've shown No leads as high as 28 points and as low as 11. Barring a landslide it's unlikely that they'll ever show a Yes lead, but they'd probably have to be showing a No lead of 15 points or less by polling day for us to feel that we have a decent chance.