Sunday 7 January 2018

Is the BBC Nostradamus?

I was reminded today about a high-profile BBC programme from 2005 called How Euro Are You?

With the aid of pollsters the BBC 'found' that 57% of the British public wanted to "integrate fully" with the EU and that a mere 10% of the British public wanted to leave the EU. That, of course, was no more representative of the actual public mood back then than it is now.

That in turn reminded me of that notorious Newsnight panel, also aided by pollsters, which produced shows of hands that went overwhelmingly against sovereignty mattering when it came to what mattered in the EU referendum and which contained as many people who said they felt 'European' first as felt 'British' first (a point of view that has always been a tiny minority view).

And then there was the Walsall North panel on Newsnight  during the 2017 general election, chosen (of course) with the help of pollsters, which left viewers with the strong feeling that the sitting Labour MP was about to be re-elected in an absolute landslide. Not one of the chosen members of the public said they would be voting Conservative. In a huge stroke of irony for Newsnight that Labour MP was actually one of the very few Labour MPs to lose his seat in 2017 to the Conservatives (with a 6.1% swing).

And I've just remembered this today...Back in February 2016 I moaned about a Mark Easton report for the main BBC One news bulletins and the BBC News Channel in a piece I called Mark Easton wins it for the EU?. Mark's  voter panel from Lichfield, selected by pollsters, produced a majority for Remain. The actual result from Lichfield, on June 23rd (on a massive 80% turnout), was 59% for Leave, 42% for Remain. 

Why does the BBC keep producing 'voter panel/public opinion' results that are completely at variance with reality - and, even worse, invariably completely at variance with reality in very particular directions?

Does anyone know of any counter-examples? 


  1. I've had some experience of being the client to survey companies and in my experience they are happy to go out of their way to deliver the result you want to hear and have various devious ways of achieving that. At the least, they want to know what you want, so as to avoid a situation where they deliver you the wrong result. It's all done in a very British way - no one says "Let's fiddle this survey!" The pollsters gently probe what you are looking to get out of the survey and that's enough for them to know what they need to do...there would be no doubt what Easton was looking for.

    Looking back I see a comment that might have been mine about Ed Stourton on WATO in Feb 2016 talking about the outcome of the Referendum as though it were already known to be Remain. There was a lot of that going on at the time...a steady drumbeat from the BBC trying to convince the public that "resistance is useless", that the result was a foregone conclusion and - oh yes - it was all very boring and yawn inducing.

  2. When the bbc errs, it seems to err fairly consistently one way.

    Impartial or trustworthy it is not, but maybe it actually serves a purpose, like those chaps in Downfall stuttering over the Steiner intel?

    1. To err is human, to err so consistently one way not at all divine.

    2. "Bear left" becomes "err left".

  3. In line with Monkey Brains' point, the key question in the How Euro are You? survey suggested that those opting for 'out' belonged to a grouping designated as 'Little Englanders'. In much the same vein, more than a decade later, Evan Davis chose in a Newsnight referendum special as his visual model of what 'Leave' might look like a decrepit, rusting World War II defence platform in the North Sea. Their referendum panel of 'representative' voters, with wearying predictability, opted 9-1 for Remain. Such has been the BBC approach and mindset all along. The 'polls' it has undertaken have thus been self-satisfying exercises in confirmation bias.

    1. Quite right, Robin. And the infamous referendum panel of 'representative' voters was on the very same 'Newsnight' edition as that decrepit Sealand 'jape' of Evan Davis's.


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