Irish Polling Report

A place to discuss Irish opinion polls

Making adjustments

with 7 comments

School’s back, people have returned from their holidays, and soon we might even see the odd politician on the telly. Tomorrow sees the start of September, and the silly season (and dearth of real opinion polls) is coming to an end. Last year, MRBI published a poll in the first week of September, and it will be interesting to see whether they do this again this weekend.

This will be the first foray from MRBI since they announced that they’d be changing how they adjust their base figures. All companies do this to account for the differences in turnout of different party supporters, and, more importantly, the fact that “Don’t Knows” never split in the same proportion as those voters who, er, “Do Know”.

The MRBI method has been remarkably accurate over the years, and wouldn’t be amended now, if it weren’t for two things. Firstly, since Labour has taken off into the stratosphere (and FF sunk to a lower, darker, and hotter place), the degree to which this has happened has been greater in MRBI than in RedC, the other company with a reputation to maintain in this field. Given even the lesser swings have been dramatic enough, party hacks and loyalists antagonistic to this have derided the more spectacular change recorded in MRBI – interestingly in greater numbers among the FG supporters, on at any rate. If Labour did get to within a couple of percentage points of FG on polling day, greater transfers from SF and OTHs would, most likely, see them eclipse FG as the first party win more seats than FF in a GE (well, since the 1920s).

When, at the turn of the year, Labour were at 24-25% in MRBI, there was a storm of people saying that the figures were nonsense, and RedC were the only one to believe, giving Gilmore’s crew 17%. By June of this year, there was a brief period where it looked like they had converged, with RedC moving LP up to the mid-20s, but then MRBI jumped up to 32% (29% before adjusted). RedC still trails this level of LP support, but at 27%, it still is well up on the MRBI figures previously cited as unreliable.

The other reason, and it at least depends on more than an exasperated cry of “that can’t be right!”, is that the adjustment ,while appropriate when FF were on 40% and LP on 10%, is no longer useful when LP are ahead by up to 10% on the raw figures (this argument at least doesn’t suggest that the pollsters are just asking the wrong people). Evidence cited for this is Labour’s (relatively) poor performance in the 2007 Local/Euro elections, polling 14-15%, compared to 23% in MRBI, and 18% in RedC.

Of course, non-Dail elections always return quite different results to opinion polls, as people see it as quite a different question. In the locals, many of the FF-to-LP swing voters stuck with the local man, or went for the Indo. In the Euros, LP got as many votes as it needed to elect it’s 3 serious candidates, with many other LP supporters switching to other candidates, particularly in Dublin, where De Rossa was safe, but they wanted to see FF lose their only seat. Certainly, I was tempted. There were others who voted for Joe Higgins, SF, or even Patricia McKenna in protest at Labour’s support for Lisbon – a big issue in the Euro-campaign, and something up to 40% of LP voters still had misgivings about. In a General Election, you don’t really have that luxury. You’re electing a Government, and in the current climate, it seems unlikely to me that many will be wasting their vote in an election as important as the next one, particularly if a handful of seats could be the difference between Kenny and Gilmore being Taoiseach. This point in particular is a narrative that FG strategists are not keen to see take wings.

The truth is that we’ll not know if LP can translate their opinion polling into reality until a GE is actually held. But it will be interesting to see what difference, if anything, the new MRBI adjustment will make to the differential with RedC. My own view is that it’s been a red herring, and the two companies results are closer than people suggest. Red C polls this year have averaged FF at 25%, FG at 33%, LP at 21%, SF at 8.5% and GP at 4.7%. MRBI in contrast have shown FF at 20%, FG at 31%, LP at 27%, SF 8.3% and GP on 3%. For all the hype, there’s not such a big difference, and if in reality FF were at 22-3%, FG 32%, LP 24%, SF on 8-9% and GP on 3-4%, the variances remain within the margin of error. The big issue is that, if LP are even marginally ahead of FG in one set of polls, the choice being between Kenny and Gilmore for Taoiseach will become a more accepted one, and that’s likely to move more voters into the labour column than FG.

We’ll not know the effect of the new adjustment until we have a post-summer poll from both organisations – a dip in support for LP in the MRBI could be based on the adjustment, but could also be based on them dipping from a previous high (quite likely during a Dail recess, given how much of their rise is apparently due to Gilmore’s performances), and a rise in FF could be a result of no politics as usual during the Summer months and disaffected voters drifting back home. My own view is that the change in that methodology won’t make a big difference, the big changes will come from the general drift – if LP were 29% on the raw figures last time, there’s little reason to believe that their likely performance among undecideds wouldn’t have pushed them over the 30% barrier, whatever the method used. Setting myself up for a fall, I think the next MRBI will show FF at around 21%, FG at 32%, and Labour on 25%. RedC may see FF about 25% and Labour around 23%, with FG no different to MRBI.

Still, we’ll see eh?

Written by Dotski

August 31, 2010 at 8:55 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

7 Responses

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  1. […] as I said are due a poll on Friday, or so I’ve heard, and this will be the first using their new methodology, and the first real poll since the FF Drink-in. So that’ll be something worth poring […]

  2. […] be the first MRBI using the new methodology, and given the closeness of the the times they are being taken, it will be very interesting to see […]

  3. […] […]

  4. […] RedC could of course be out of kilter, as they’ve been disagreeing with MRBI also regarding the level LP are at, although this argument may be resolved in the coming days […]

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  6. […] a comment » As I outlined here, there has been much debate as to the MRBI adjustments, and a good deal of bandwidth devoted to […]

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