I’ve had a lot of comments, for and against, about our Perception Panel – a new format we use around Prime Minister’s Questions on The Daily Politics every Wednesday. Jane wrote to us and said, “I no longer shout at my TV as I can now tell the politicians exactly what I think".
- “What I would love for Jamie Donald to do is to come onto this blog and justify why the BBC continue to spend money on the Perception Panel and how much it exactly costs?”
The Perception Panel is the world’s largest focus group. It can tell you straight away how people in Britain may be feeling about an issue or a politician. We run it every Wednesday, and to take part you must tune in just before Prime Minister’s Questions at noon, and ring the freephone number on the screen. You are asked some questions and then by pressing buttons on your phone you can register your positive and negative feelings about what you’re seeing and hearing on your TV. All those touches up and down the country are transformed – by a clever computer - into a continuous wave of approval and disapproval. After PMQs we show some of the highlights, with the moving graphic of the viewers’ reaction on top. You can see the results of last week on our website.
It costs about £1,000 each time we play. At the moment we pick up the full cost of the calls, and we’ve set the limit on the number of people who can get through at 600 (and we get literally thousands trying to ring in, so it’s a case of first come first served). It’s not perfect. For example it’s sometimes difficult to distinguish between man and ball, sometimes the graphs are a little unclear (we’re working on it) and there’s a hint of the blunt Roman 'thumbs up thumbs down' about it.
But it is robust. That’s because we weight it. If you are a young Lib Dem voter in Liverpool (of whom we have not that many on the Daily Politics), our computer ensures your touch may be worth a little more than an older Tory man from the Home Counties, depending on the numbers of types of people who get through. It’s what the pollsters do all the time with their samples of public opinion, especially those who operate online rather than face to face. So while you may think it’s just a random sample of viewers to the programme (and so what value does it have beyond instant gratification and the pursuit of everything interactive) we see it as a fairly good snapshot of how Britain is reacting.
From it we’ve already picked up the strength of feeling about the NHS, the shift in women’s votes towards David Cameron, and how Labour in the North has turned on Tony Blair. It also spotted David Cameron as the next Tory leader a year ago, but Frank Luntz got there on Newsnight a day before us.
I’d like to know what you think, whether you’ve played the Perception Panel, seen it, or are reading about it for the first time.