YouGov Public Opinion research is conducted according to Market Research Society guidelines, providing national studies for commercial clients and the media.
YouGov conducts its public opinion surveys online using something called Active Sampling for the overwhelming majority of its commercial work, including all nationally and regionally representative research. The emphasis is always on the quality of the sample, rather than the quantity of respondents.
When using Active Sampling, restrictions are put in place to ensure that only the people contacted are allowed to participate. This means that all the respondents who complete YouGov surveys will have been selected by YouGov, from our panel of registered users, and only those who are selected from this panel are allowed to take part in the survey.
Over the last ten years, YouGov has carefully recruited a panel of over 360,000 British adults to take part in our surveys. Panel members are recruited from a host of different sources, including via standard advertising, and strategic partnerships with a broad range of websites.
When a new panel member is recruited, a host of socio-demographic information is recorded. For nationally representative samples, YouGov draws a sub-sample of the panel that is representative of British adults in terms of age, gender, social class and type of newspaper (upmarket, mid-market, red-top, no newspaper), and invites this sub-sample to complete a survey.
To reiterate, with Active Sampling only this sub-sample has access to the questionnaire via their username and password, and respondents can only ever answer each survey once.
Respondents are sent an email inviting them to take part in a survey. The email message includes a link taking them to the YouGov website where the survey is hosted using our proprietary survey software. Everyone taking part receives a modest cash incentive for doing so. This ensures that the sample is not only made up of respondents particularly interested in the issue or with an 'axe to grind'.
Once the survey is complete, the final data are then statistically weighted to the national profile of all adults aged 18+ (including people without internet access). All reputable research agencies weight data as a fine-tuning measure and at YouGov we weight by age, gender, social class, region, party identity and the readership of individual newspapers. Targets for the weighted data are derived from three sources:
i) whether they generally thought of themselves as Labour, Conservative, Lib Dem etc (party identity); and
ii) which party they would support, or had supported, in the 2010 General Election. Data are weighted to 2010 party identity wherever this information is available. The weights used for party identity are consistent with the outcome of the 2010 General Election.
Active Sampling ensures that the right people are invited in the right proportions. In combination with our statistical weighting, this ensures that our results are representative of the country as a whole. Not just those with internet access, but everyone. While it is true that not everyone does have access to the internet, independent academic research shows that its widespread uptake means the views of those with access to the internet and now mostly indistinguishable from those without.
Obtaining good-quality samples is a challenge for all methodologies. Response rates for telephone polls for example, have been declining in recent years - to typically around 20% - and often much lower in inner city areas. The ability to extrapolate from the 20% of telephone respondents that pollsters can get hold of, to the 80% that they cannot, is clearly a challenge - leading to concerns over the quality of achieved samples, whether telephone or face-to-face. There are, of course, some areas where an online approach is inappropriate, and we would always alert our clients to this. However, it would be unfair to say that online is ‘biased’ in a way that offline is not. The fact is, there are different biases for which all approaches have to account.
When we ask voting intention for Westminster elections we prompt people with the names of the three traditional main parties (the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats), the SNP and Plaid Cymru or "some other party". People selecting some other party are then shown a second screen offering the choice of other smaller political parties or "other".
The selection of which parties we prompt for is based purely upon what past research and comparison with election results has produced the most accurate results; there is no formal criteria or level of support at which a party is prompted for. Past experience has shown us that prompting for smaller parties in the main question overestimates their level of support when compared to actual elections, while our method has consistently accurately measured levels of support for minor parties (even in cases, like European elections, when they have broken through to win widespread support).
In designing our methodology, for Westminster, regional and European elections, our priority is always what our experience and research leads us to believe will produce the most accurate results.
YouGov has a strong history of accurately predicting actual outcomes across a wide range of different subjects, including national and regional elections, political party leadership contests and even the results of ITV talent show The X Factor.
YouGov abides by the Market Research Society’s strict guidelines on confidentiality. We never divulge anything that might identify the views of individual respondents. YouGov is also a founder member of the British Polling Council and we abide by its rules.
The approach YouGov takes for its public opinion surveys is very different from the methods used for YouGovLabs.