Polling inquiry announces terms of reference and panel members

The Association of Market and Social Research Organisations (AMSRO) has announced the draft terms of reference for its Inquiry into the Performance of the Opinion Polls at the 2019 Australian Federal Election (dubbed the AMSRO Polling Inquiry).

It also named its board – which includes former ABC current affairs star Kerry O’Brien – and the inquiry panel, to be headed by Darren Penney, founder of the Social Research Centre.

Darren Pennay

“Significant uncertainty and disquiet has emerged about the performance of the major opinion polls in the lead up to the 2019 federal election,” said Craig Young, AMSRO’s president.

“An impartial and comprehensive industry-wide inquiry process is required to examine the performance of the polls and restore public confidence in the credibility of polling. While each of the polling companies is likely undertaking internal analysis of their own polling practices and performance, we anticipate they will agree to share all relevant data and practices with the Inquiry panel, once they see the robust process established.”

Young did, however, note that some polling companies have proactively volunteered to share their processes, methods, and data since the announcement of the Inquiry.

The draft terms of reference include: assessing the polls’ accuracy at the federal election, evaluating any previous pattern of inaccuracy, consulting and seeking evidence from polling companies, and submitting a preliminary report to AMSRO.

Kerry O’Brien

Along with journalist Kerry O’Brien, the board consists of Dr Dennis Trewin, the former head of the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), Ian McAllister, an international expert on opinion polling and professor of political science at the Australian National University, and Travyn Rhall, a former consultant at the ABS and director of Newspoll.

The board will support the panel, offer expertise for the panel to draw upon, and review and comment on the draft terms of reference and the ultimate report.

AMSRO president Craig Young

Young thanked Pennay for chairing the Inquiry, and noted: “He is not a pollster but has a lifetime of experience in all of the methods employed in public opinion research and will be able to draw upon the wider resources of the Social Research Centre and the Australian National University in conducting the review.”

Pennay will be joined on the panel by Professor Murray Goot, Dr Phil Hughes, John Stirton, Dr Paul Lavrakas, Dr Jill Sheppard, Dr Dina Neiger, Patrick Moynihan, Professor Patrick Sturgis, and Associate Professor Kristen Olson. Pennay added, however, that other experts may be brought on board as the Inquiry unfolds.

He also noted that the role of the media in communicating polls will be examined.

“The approach needs to be broad and comprehensive, without any a prior assumptions about what, if anything, went wrong. We need to adopt a purely evidence-based approach. We also need to examine the role of the pollsters and the media in communicating polling findings to the public,” Pennay said.

“It’s important to note that the Inquiry will not be focused on assessing the relative performance of individual polling companies, but rather on practices and processes in use across the industry. We will aim to mask or de-identify the polling companies’ data, and panel members will sign non-disclosure agreements.

“The Inquiry aims to deliver an evidence-based approach to find ways to improve the conditions for polling and the processes and methods used, so all companies can operate with a full appreciation of contemporary best practice.”

The Inquiry will be conducted separate to AMSRO, however the research body will establish the final terms of reference, resource the panel, respond to media enquiries, and promote and help to implement the Inquiry findings.

“It is vital that the Inquiry panel operates in an independent and objective way. The Inquiry panel, not AMSRO, will be responsible for what ends up in the Inquiry’s report,” said Young.

“We hope that all the polling companies will work with the Inquiry to achieve better outcomes for the entire polling industry. No currently active polling organisations are, or will be, represented on the Inquiry panel – polling can be quite competitive, so it’s essential that there is complete objectivity in the approach and no scope for competitive concerns to arise. We want everyone to have confidence in the process and outcomes.”


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