A Conservative MP tried to exert influence over a major polling firm during the 2017 general election, resulting in a poll being scrapped for being “too positive about Labour,” it has been claimed.
Chris Curtis, a former pollster at YouGov, revealed that pressure had been brought to bear by “high-ups” in the company after Nadhim Zahawi complained about a poll which predicted a ‘hung parliament’.
What did Chris Curtis say about polling in the 2017 election?
The 2017 general election, which was held five years ago today, saw Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour make-up a 20-point gap over the course of the campaign to deny Theresa May a majority.
In a Twitter thread posted today looking back on the election, a polling expert revealed how Conservative MP Nadhim Zahawi threatened to call for the CEO of YouGov to be sacked if a poll predicting a hung parliament turned out to be wrong.
The Conservatives had gone into the election as the clear favourite, but, as Mr Curtis wrote, “each day the [polling] gap just kept getting smaller and smaller”.
Throughout the campaign, YouGov’s polling had generally shown Labour doing better than a number of other polling firms.
After the firm published an MRP poll effectively predicted that the Conservative Party would not get enough seats to form a majority government, many commentators believed the poll to be wildly inaccurate.
Describing the backlash to this poll being published, Mr Curtis wrote: “Nadhim Zahawi called up the CEO [of YouGov] and said he would call for his resignation if he was wrong. It became pretty clear we would all be out of a job if we were wrong now”.
Mr Curtis was actually quoting reporting by The Times, in which Mr Zahawi was quoted as saying “they’ll be queuing up to close you down if you’re wrong on this…I’m going to call for your resignation when you’re wrong on this”.
The Times also reported after the election that, in response to YouGov’s polls showing Labour’s relatively strong performance, Conservative elections chief Lynton Crosby said he was going to “put YouGov out of business”.
YouGov denies holding back poll that was ‘too positive about Labour’
Mr Curtis said the impact of this pressure being placed on senior figures at YouGov was that the polling firm’s “polling and coverage was a lot worse for the rest of the campaign”.
He wrote: “We did a fantastic debate poll in the hours following the debate that Corbyn took part in. The results were stark - Corbyn won by a country mile, and one in four Tory voters thought he was best.
“But despite having written the story and designed the charts, we were banned from releasing the story because it was too positive about Labour.”
In a statement, YouGov played down the specific allegations that a poll was held back, but declined to mention the claim that pressure was applied externally to the firm by Nadhim Zahawi during the election.
Writing on Twitter, YouGov said: “Chris Curtis’ allegation that we suppressed a poll because the results were “too positive about Labour” is incorrect.
“There was a poll run by Chris following the debate in Cambridge on 31 May 2017. When reviewed by others in the YouGov political team, it was clear that the sample of people who watched the debate significantly over-represented Labour voters from the previous election.
“We take our responsibilities as a research organisation seriously and we could not have published a poll from a skewed sample that favoured any party. No serious polling organisation would have published this.
“The idea that YouGov would suppress a poll that was “too positive about “Labour” is plainly wrong - as evidenced by the fact that in the 2017 election YouGov published an MRP model showing Labour doing significantly better compared to most other polling organisations.”
Responding to YouGov’s statement, Mr Curtis shared a link to a poll which was published following a Conservative leadership election some time later.
He wrote:“On the methodology of the poll, it was done using the standard YouGov methodology that they use all the time.
“I am almost certain it is exactly the same way as we ran this other debate poll, which nobody had any problem with us publishing.
“The overall sample we went out to would have been weighted to be representative of the population, including by past vote. So we would have had enough Lab / Con voters etc.
“I don’t remember this being the case, nor do I recall it being mentioned, but it may have been true that Labour voters were more likely to have watched the debate than Conservative voters and therefore taken part in the questions about the debate.
“Either way, the most important finding of the poll, the one I wanted to focus on and thought was most important, was that a good chunk of Tory voters thought Corbyn had won. This is rare in a debate poll where results normally fall down party lines.
He added: “BES open end data in the following days shows the debate was one of the big reasons why people shifted their voting preference. This is a big story that I feel went untold, and which is why I mentioned it in my thread.”