NEWS

BBC Election Debate 2017: ComRes Hits Back At Audience Bias Claims

Stringent process of checks to weed out bias, polling firm says.

01/06/2017 14:49 | Updated 01 June 2017

The polling company tasked with ensuring the audience of Wednesday’s BBC Election debate was balanced and fair has responded to claims of left-wing bias.

ComRes detailed its method for ensuring those attending the live leaders’ debate in Cambridge were representative of the UK as a whole amid fierce criticism across newspapers and social media.

The Daily Mail described the debate’s observers as being “as balanced as a gorilla on a unicycle,” while George Eaton, political editor of the Labour-supporting New Statesman, said the assembled audience “felt like the most left-wing of any TV debate.”

And although Eaton later clarified his comment, the Mail went with:

Yet now ComRes has said that a stringent process of checks conducted over several weeks meant it was certain the audience was as representative as possible.

It said a two-stage process involving phone and online assessments involved a detailed questionnaire designed to identify political leanings and affiliations.

“The recruitment questionnaire was designed by ComRes and approved by the BBC,” ComRes’ Andrew Hawkins wrote on HuffPost. “And included a series of questions to identify demographics and political attitudes.”

Specifically, it said, the process was designed to ensure a spread of the voting public, including:

- Demographic questions were designed to ensure a balance on age, gender, ethnicity, socio-economic status and working status.
- Adults who had campaigned politically at any election from 2014 onwards were automatically filtered out and not recruited, so as to avoid recruiting ‘activists’.
- Respondents were asked questions on their awareness of the forthcoming General Election and their likelihood to vote, to ensure they were politically engaged.

HuffPost UK has asked ComRes to provide an example of the questions it used.

The firm said it used 2015 General Election results to guide its criteria.

“The audience also included undecided voters, including people who voted Conservative, Labour or for other parties at the last Election but who are now considering changing their vote,” it wrote.

Stringent checks took place closer to the event to spot any changes to respondents’ attitudes. 

The BBC said on Wednesday: “The BBC commissioned polling company ComRes to recruit an audience that is representative of the country demographically and politically.

“They have lots of experience doing this.

“This covered age; gender; ethnicity; socio-economic; party politics; how they voted in EU referendum; and some undecided.”

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