Opinion Polls

  • Dick Leonard
  • Roger Mortimore


Apart from television, the most important new factor which has influenced elections in the post-war period has been the public opinion polls. No politician worth his salt is now ignorant of the latest state of the parties, as revealed by any one of half a dozen polls; and at closely fought by-elections the predictions of the pollsters receive incomparably more attention than the pronouncements of the candidates. At first the polls were used purely by the media, for publication in their reporting. But the political parties quickly caught on to their potential and started to commission private polls for their own use to plan their strategy and test their ideas (with the results kept confidential unless there is any benefit in releasing them). The private polls have been a feature of British elections for around 50 years, but suddenly came to greater public notice in 1997 when Labour’s campaign appeared to be more poll-driven than hitherto.


Opinion Poll Election Campaign Labour Party Political Parti Public Opinion Poll 
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Notes and References

  1. 6.
    See Philip Gould, The Unfinished Revolution (London: Little, Brown, 1998).Google Scholar
  2. 7.
    Figures from David Butler and Dennis Kavanagh, The British General Election of 1987 (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1987), pp. 140, 144.Google Scholar
  3. 8.
    See David Butler and Dennis Kavanagh, The British General Election of 1992 (London: Macmillan, 1992), p. 151.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 10.
    See Robert Worcester (ed.), Political Opinion Polling: An International Review (London: Macmillan, 1983) pp. 109–10 for the full text of the 1974 Code of Practice. Details of the BPC’s rules and membership can be found at its website, Scholar
  5. 13.
    Dick Leonard, ‘Belgian Leaders should read “Areopagitica”’, Wall Street Journal (Europe), 18 October 1985.Google Scholar
  6. 13.
    See also Dick Leonard, ‘Opinion Polls can’t be Banned’, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 6 December 1985. Polling bans in France have been circumvented by publication of poll results in foreign media and, more recently, in Canada and Hungary by publication on the Internet. Donsbach (Who’s Afraid of Opinion Polls?, see Note 11 above) also marshals the arguments in principle against banning polls in the light of recent experience.Google Scholar
  7. 14.
    Frits Spangenberg, The Freedom to Publish Opinion Poll Results: Report on a Worldwide Update (Amsterdam: Foundation for Information, 2003) reviews the state of the law on the publication of polls in 66 countries worldwide.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Dick Leonard and Roger Mortimore 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Dick Leonard
  • Roger Mortimore

There are no affiliations available

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