Following a request from ICM, the Officers of the British Polling Council have considered how its rules of disclosure should apply in the case of a private poll of four Liberal Democrat held constituencies, some details of which were published in The Guardian this morning.
Rule 2.6 of the council states that, ‘Organisations conducting privately commissioned surveys have the right to maintain the confidentiality of survey findings’ However, it goes on to state that, ‘in the event the results of a privately commissioned poll are made public by the organisation [its employees or agents] that commissioned the survey, such results will be deemed to have entered the public domain’ and that consequently the council’s rules of disclosure apply. Those rules require, inter alia, that details of the survey including computer tabulations of the results, methodology and the client commissioning the survey be published on the company’s website.
BPC’s officers welcome the fact that, following the leak of the results, ICM have immediately published details of the survey including computer tabulations of the results, and in so doing have also indicated that the client was a ‘member of the Liberal Democrats’. The publication of this information should allow anyone who wishes to do so to undertake a critical scrutiny of the research, which is the purpose of rules to which all BPC members aim to adhere. The rules are intended to enable any reader of poll to reach a reasonable judgment on the likely quality or reliability of a poll. The name of the client is included in the rules for disclosure because it may be considered germane by readers of the poll if the poll was commissioned by an organization that campaigns on one side of an issue.
It should, however, be noted that the requirement upon BPC members to publish the details of results of private polls, including of the commissioning client, only applies when those results have been published by the client or by someone acting on their behalf. To the best of our knowledge the source of the leak to The Guardian is not known, including to ICM itself, and thus it has not been established that the source was either the commissioner or someone acting on their behalf. Unless these circumstances change, the officers take the view that ICM are not obliged by BPC’s rules to disclose any further information about the poll.