The British Polling Council (BPC) has received two complaints, one from the Conservative Party and one from an individual member of that party, concerning the recruitment of the audience for the BBC programme, BBC Election Debate Live with Mishal Hussein, which was broadcast on 31 May 2017. The audience for this programme was recruited by ComRes for the BBC with a view to ensuring that it was ‘representative’.
Both complainants had sought further information from ComRes about how they had recruited the audience. In doing so the Conservative Party in particular cited section 2 of the BPC’s rules on disclosure. In pursuance of BPC’s aim of ensuring transparency in the conduct of opinion polls, these rules specify details that BPC members should routinely make available in respect of published polls. The complainants argued that these rules applied to an audience recruitment exercise such as that conducted by ComRes, and that thus ComRes were duty bound to supply the information they sought.
It has never previously been suggested that audience recruitment exercises do fall within BPC’s remit and that thus its rules on disclosure should apply to them. However, in view of the submissions it has received, the officers of the BPC have carefully considered whether audience recruitment exercises do fall within the Council’s remit as specified in its current Objects and Rules. They have determined that they do not. This is because such exercises do not generate published quantitative data (as defined in those Objects and Rules) that summarise the collective views of a representative sample of voters (or other sub-group), and it is to such data that the Council’s Rules on Disclosure are intended to apply.
We are grateful to the two complaints for bringing this issue to the Council’s attention and we hope that this statement helps clarify matters for those considering any complaint to the Council in future about a member’s alleged failure to follow its rules on transparency.