Opinion Polls, Surveys, Questionnaires, Votes and Straw Polls


In this article

  1. Editorial Guidelines Issues
  2. Summary of Main Points

Last updated: October 2010


Editorial Guidelines Issues

This guidance note should be considered in conjunction with the following Editorial Guidelines:

  • Politics, Public Policy and Polls

See Editorial Guidelines Section 10: Politics, Public Policy and Polls: Opinion Polls, Surveys and Votes


Summary of Main Points

  • The BBC rarely commissions voting intention polls.

  • Commissioning an opinion poll on politics or any matter of public policy must be referred in advance to Chief Adviser, Politics. Consultation with the Head of Political Research is advised in most cases.

  • Before proposing the commissioning of an opinion poll, programme-makers should weigh up several factors, including whether it would tell us anything new, what they would do if the results contradict a preconceived "narrative", whether it is possible to track a trend, what other factors might skew the results and whether there might be any reputational damage from the BBC doing a poll on a given subject.

  • The BBC does not, generally, commission online polls.

  • A large sample does not make up for inadequate methodology.

  • The BBC never commissions voting intention polls during election campaigns.

  • Any proposal to commission a survey on a controversial subject must be referred in advance to Chief Adviser, Politics. Its credibility will depend on having spoken to a significant and agreed proportion of the whole measurable group with an approved methodology.

  • When a survey has been commissioned by an outside party with an interest in the issue, the audience should be told and we should exercise real scepticism in how we treat it.

  • Focus Groups and Panels can provide qualitative but not, generally, quantitative data. They should not usually be treated as representative.

  • Any proposal to use either focus group research or a panel on party political issues must be discussed with Chief Adviser, Politics "at an early stage"- before it is commissioned.

  • "Straw Polls" have no statistical or numeric value. They should only be used with an explicit reference to the audience about its limitations. They should never feature in news bulletins or used to "gather serious information on party political support".

  • Anyone proposing to carry out a telephony vote must submit the relevant referral form and should also read the logistical guidance on phone or SMS voting.

  • Vox pops are a tool of illustration, not a tool of research.

  • Any proposal to conduct an online vote on an issue which is political, concerns public policy or is in any way controversial must be referred to the Chief Adviser, Politics.

  • Anyone proposing to carry out an online vote must submit the relevant referral form and should also read the logistical guidance for online voting.

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