A Lords select committee today called for ‘tighter oversight’ of opinion polling and digital media in the run up to elections due to the threat they pose to the electoral process.
The Select Committee on Political Polling and Digital Media said the polling industry needed to ‘get its house in order’ after polling failures in the 2015 and 2017 general elections and the 2016 EU referendum.
The committee’s report warned polls influence the narratives around elections and can distort public opinion.
‘The polling industry needs to get its house in order. Otherwise the case for banning polling in the run-up to elections – one we for now reject – will become stronger,’ said chairman of the committee, Lord Lipsey.
‘We heard compelling evidence that polls influence the narrative around elections and thus go to the root of our democratic debate. This makes it vital they are conducted properly and held to the highest standards of accuracy.’
Lord Lipsey called on the British Polling Council (BPC) to take a more ‘proactive role’ in how it regulates polling and influences the reporting of polls.
‘Too often minor changes in the main parties' standing, often within the margin of error, are reported by a breathless media as indicating a real change in the real world, and even as indicating which party might end up forming the Government,’ he said.
‘The BPC needs to step up to the plate. It should do more and raise concerns with IPSO, IMPRESS or Ofcom where there is significant misreporting of poll results.’
The public had a right to know who paid for polls, the committee said. The Electoral Commission should monitor all voting intention polls during an election campaign and publish information on who funded them.
The select committee’s report also emphasised the importance of tackling ‘fake news’.
While their evidence was collected before the Cambridge Analytica and Facebook scandal, the committee said it was crucial to fight ‘baseless propaganda’ online.
One step the report suggested was to make it a legal requirement that all online campaign communications carry an imprint to say who published them.
‘Taken together, a lack of transparency and sometimes inaccurate polls, and the murky world of online political communications, pose an insidious threat to our political system,’ said Lord Lipsey.
‘While we may be one of the oldest democracies in the world we must face up to these very contemporary dangers. Government, parliament and the polling industry must act now, before the damage goes deeper.’