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.
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Notes and References
- 6.See Philip Gould, The Unfinished Revolution (London: Little, Brown, 1998).Google Scholar
- 7.Figures from David Butler and Dennis Kavanagh, The British General Election of 1987 (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1987), pp. 140, 144.Google Scholar
- 13.Dick Leonard, ‘Belgian Leaders should read “Areopagitica”’, Wall Street Journal (Europe), 18 October 1985.Google Scholar
- 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
- 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