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Liberal Democrats accused of misusing polling for ‘own political advantage’

The projection, distributed on election leaflets, purported to show the Lib Dems are polling ahead of other parties in certain constituencies.

Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson speaking at the launch the Liberal Democrat General Election campaign at the Institute of Civil Engineers in London. PA Photo. Picture date: Tuesday November 5, 2019. (Steve Parsons/PA)
Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson speaking at the launch the Liberal Democrat General Election campaign at the Institute of Civil Engineers in London. PA Photo. Picture date: Tuesday November 5, 2019. (Steve Parsons/PA)

By Megan Baynes, PA

The Liberal Democrats have been accused of using misleading data on election leaflets to suggest they are polling ahead of other parties in certain constituencies.

Election material released by the party’s local offices cited data from independent polling company Flavible but the literature has been criticised for conflating national polling with constituency projections.

The row emerged over leaflets distributed in Putney which claimed a Flavible projection of a “Yougov” poll showed the Lib Dems neck-and-neck with the Conservative Party, with both polling at 31%.

The Labour Party is shown as polling at 18%, with the leaflets telling residents Labour “can’t win here”, even though the Lib Dem candidate came a distant third in the 2017 general election.

Flavible’s founder said the Lib Dems had “mislabelled” the data while a senior YouGov director said the poll “shouldn’t be represented as YouGov’s”.

Flavible, which is not a member of the British Polling Council association of pollsters, takes YouGov’s national results and uses it alongside population data to project how a given seat may vote — something that some experts say cannot be reliably done.

George Rushton, Flavible’s founder, said the party has “themselves misinterpreted the data or intentionally mislabelled the data for political advantage”.

Mr Rushton, a software developer, urged parties not to use the data on hard copy campaign literature as the demographic data changes, and so do the projections.

He said: “I expect a recall or deletion of any and all uses that can be thought of this way along with a correction from those involved.

“I do not think a single projection of a single seat based on a single poll is acceptable as campaign literature and thus I would completely advise against its use in this way.”

He said he has contacted individuals, local representatives and organisations in private and, while some have amended or removed the data, some “have not replied at all”.

Responding to users on Twitter, YouGov’s director of political research, Anthony Wells, confirmed the constituency projection cited by the Lib Dems had not been done by his company.

He said: “We haven’t done a constituency poll of Putney.

“It’s a projection from a website called Flavible, based on one of our GB polls.

“The projection is Flavible’s, it shouldn’t be represented as YouGov’s.”

According to its website, Flavible offers publicly available “in-depth seat projections” based on polls released by the top polling companies, and Mr Rushton said his firm “does not supply any data to any political party or individual”.

The UK’s independent fact-checking charity, Full Fact, said: “Flavible’s stated methodology is a ‘weighted swing’, whereby changes in support for the parties at the national level are applied to each constituency, with the numbers weighted by things like which way the seat voted in the Brexit referendum and whether it changed hands in either of the last two elections.

“The evidence suggests that this does not always yield reliable results.”

A Liberal Democrat spokesman said: “Flavible projections are not and will not be used on national campaigns.”

Posted by Rob Cowlin on Monday, November 4, 2019

The Lib Dems have also been accused of quoting incorrect statistics in Chelmsford and distorting the scale of their graphs in Durham.

Election literature distributed in Bath and Somerset shows the Liberal Democrats polling at 32%, just behind the Conservatives’ 38% and far ahead of Labour’s 8%.

However, the small print on the data shows that only 405 people were surveyed and asked the question: “Imagine that the result in your constituency was expected to be very close between the Conservative and Liberal Democrat candidate, and none of the other parties were competitive.

“In this scenario, which party would you vote for?'”

This data was called “misleading and sleight of hand” by SNP MSP James Dornan.

PA

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