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Independent's suspect use of LabourHome Poll

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Grassroots turn against Brown” The Independent splashes on its front page. According to an exclusive poll by the paper, Andrew Grice writes, “The Labour Party’s grassroots have turned decisively against Gordon Brown and a majority want him to stand down”.

The article goes on to cite the poll’s finding that “54 percent would prefer someone else to lead the party into the next general election”, and that David Miliband is Brown’s favoured successor.

Given that the Labour conference is about to start this poll might appear, at first glance, to be significant – possibly even significant enough to strengthen the cause of a leadership challenge.

But wait, take a closer look both at the poll itself and at the way it is reported in the paper and its significance begins to crumble.

The Independent commissioned the poll from LabourHome.org, a “A pro-Labour, group-blogging effort, that gives the like-minded the chance to have their say” according to the site. LabourHome used its mailing list to invite its community of users to take part in a ‘Labour Grassroots Survey’. 788 did (or the 788 ‘Labour members’ that were used in the eventual results – unclear how these were distinguished).

There are at least three reasons why this poll cannot be considered a representative sample of Labour grassroots. First, it’s too small. Second, it’s self-selecting and therefore – without considerable distillation – inevitably unrepresentative. Third, it overwhelmingly favours new media savvy younger, active Labour supporters.

Alex Hilton, the editor of LabourHome and previously an exec researcher at NOP (according to his comments on the site), recognises the limitations of the survey. He would much prefer, he says, that the Labour Party did its own grassroots research with its 100,000 email database. But, he writes, “most of you have seen the drivel we get as emails from the party”.

If only The Independent had similarly recognised – and highlighted – the limitations (by putting it a few pages back in the paper for a start), as opposed to making it appear as though this represents a clear message from the Labour rank and file.

Indeed even if it was a representative poll of Labour grassroots the Independent’s coverage is still misleading. Based on the figures it could as easily have written ”Grassroots say stick with Brown for next election’, given that 55% of those who responded to the poll do not believe that changing their leader will improve their chances. On top of which, as Hilton points out, 46% supported Brown which, in a leadership contest, would almost certainly give him enough to win.

Written by Martin Moore

September 19th, 2008 at 10:31 am

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