The Cathie Marsh lecture 2015: What does the failure of the polls tell us about the future of survey research?

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Social Statistics Section

Wednesday 18 November 2015, 05:00pm - 07:00pm

Location Royal Statistical Society, 12 Errol Street, London, EC1Y 8LX

Download slides (PDF)  Slides are also available from the Annual General Meeting of the Social Statistics Section that preceded the Cathie Marsh lecture:

Download slides (PDF)

In 2015 the pre-election polls showed their worst performance since 1992. In this year’s lecture Professor Patrick Sturgis of the University of Southampton, who is leading the BPC/MRS Inquiry into the failure of the polls, takes stock of the wider implications of the polling miss for survey research. Roger Jowell used to say that pre-election polls are the only survey estimates to be regularly and rather brutally measured against reality and many researchers are likely to have felt a degree of sympathy for the pollsters on May 8th. As the most visible and high-profile part of the survey research industry, the failure of the polls is likely to adversely affect public confidence in social and market research more generally. Following the failure of the polls in 1992, several commentators advocated a shift from quota to random probability designs. However, because even the best-designed and executed probability surveys now routinely achieve low (and declining) response rates, others question whether random surveys are worth the considerable financial outlay required to implement them. Have we reached a critical stage, or even a crisis, for traditional survey methods? Is it the time to consider radical alternatives? Or is the focus on headline response rates an essentially superstitious activity, distracting us from a real understanding of bias in relation to survey findings?

Speaker:  Patrick Sturgis

Chair and Discussant:  Jil Matheson

Patrick Sturgis is professor of research methodology and director of the ESRC National Centre for Research Methods. He has a BA in psychology from the University of Liverpool and a Master of Science and PhD in social psychology from the London School of Economics. He is president of the European Survey Research Association and chairs the Methodological Advisory Committee of Understanding Society. His research interests are in the areas of survey methodology, statistical modelling, public opinion and political behaviour, public understanding of science and technology, social capital, and social mobility.

Jil Matheson served as national statistician, head of the Government Statistical Service and chief executive of the UK Statistics Authority from 2009 until her retirement in 2014. She is currently a member of the Stiglitz Group on Measuring the Progress of Societies, and is chairing a review of the BBC’s use and reporting of statistics. Jil began her career as a survey researcher followed by a number of posts at ONS, developing a particular interest in the public role of statistics. Until retirement she was chair of the OECD's Committee on Statistics and Statistical Policy and of the UN Statistical Commission. Jil is a fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences and the RSS.

About Cathie Marsh:  Although only 41 when she died in 1993, Cathie Marsh had already become a leading quantitative sociologist in the UK and had just begun to obtain international recognition for her work.  Her name and work is honoured by the Cathie Marsh Institute for Social Research in Manchester, by this annual lecture series, and in the memory of the many researchers she inspired.

The lecture will be followed by a reception kindly sponsored by the Sheffield Methods Institute.

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Attendance is free but pre-registration is required

Organiser Name Graham Farrant

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Organising Group(s) Social Research Association and the RSS Social Statistics Section





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