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Change polling rules to protect integrity of UK financial markets

28 September 2018

Rt Hon. Nicky Morgan MP, Chair of the Treasury Committee, has written to Professor Sir John Curtice, President of the British Polling Council (BPC) on the use of private polling data, particularly during election and referendum campaigns, and the risks to the integrity of UK financial markets.

In June, Bloomberg published an article about the use of private polling data collected in the run-up to the EU referendum. The two practices of polling companies of particular concern are:

  • Cross-subsidising of market-sensitive public polls, including exit polls, with revenues from polls for private clients
  • Making market-sensitive polling data, including exit polling data, available to private clients before it is made, or legally can be made, publicly available.

Chair's comments

Mrs Morgan has asked Professor Curtice to consider incorporating certain requirements—outlined in her letter—on polling companies into the BPC's rules to help improve public confidence in polls.

Commenting on the correspondence, Mrs Morgan said:

"The integrity of UK financial markets is a key concern of the Treasury Committee, and the Bloomberg report raises concerns in this regard.

During election and referendum campaigns, polling companies present themselves as neutral observers of public opinion. Yet behind the scenes, they are selling private polling data to hedge funds to make profitable trades.

It's understandable why polling firms are attracted to this more lucrative private work. But there is a perverse commercial incentive to provide misleading information to the public, whilst providing more accurate—and lucrative—analysis to private clients.

The failure to manage this conflict of interest raises doubts over the integrity of the polling industry's business model, and risks damaging the reputation of UK financial markets.

I am also concerned that the legal restrictions on public disclosure of exit polls are being used by polling companies to give private clients profitable, and arguably unfair, trading opportunities.

If the BPC Rules are not brought up to scratch, the Committee may consider the case for regulatory oversight of market-sensitive polling."

Further information

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