Rant: Politicians and YouGov polls

Louise Mensch is the Conservative MP for Corby.  Today she tweeted this:

RT @RicHolden: #YouGov polling numbers for female voters: #Conservatives 43%; #Labour 41%; LD 9%; Oth 7%. #feminism #VoteConservative

There is not a lot of difference between 41% and 43%.  The polling companies can’t feasibly ask every woman in the UK.  If you only ask a subset then small differences might just be because you happened to ask an unrepresentative sample.

Here is the actual poll data:

http://cdn.yougov.com/cumulus_uploads/document/rgjtpnh1ug/YG-Archives-Pol-Sun-results-090112.pdf

which says that they asked 1727 people.  That’s a reasonable number of people.  If you are statistically minded, you could work out if 1727 people are enough to make any conclusions about a 2% difference.

If you’re not statistically minded (or are, but are lazy), you can instead look at the same survey done just 3 days earlier:

http://cdn.yougov.com/cumulus_uploads/document/d51j2t3jzl/YG-Archives-Pol-ST-results-06-080112.pdf

and discover that three days ago, it was Lab 42%, Con 37%!

I can think of two reasons for this:

1: Women have suddenly (IN THE LAST 3 DAYS) started a mass Labour exodus (Ed Milliband has been pretty useless).

2: Polling a small number of people isn’t very reliable and making a big deal about it when it favours your particular cause makes you look a bit silly.

I’m inclined to go for the latter, although it would be nice to think that female support for UKIP is a fifth of what it was 3 days ago.  And that the 1% of males who would have voted for the BNP on the 6th Jan have since been culled/educated.

Two interesting features do stand out from the data:

1. Women are consistently more likely to give the answer ‘don’t know’ than men.  I don’t believe that women really ‘don’t know’ more (or that men ‘know’ more) so did a quick search to see if this is something that has been studied.  Could only find this (didn’t look for long), which looks at it for the quite specific question “do you snore” (!!): Correlates of the “don’t know” response to questions about snoring.

2. Older people become much less likely to say ‘don’t know’ as they get older.  Actually, I know some old people and this isn’t surprising.

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