MEDIA RELEASE: Market Research Industry releases interim discussion paper from political polling inquiry [May 20, 2020]

May 20 2020

Disclosure standards found to be inadequate and new standards recommended to ensure transparency, accuracy and confidence.

The Association of Market and Social Research Organisations (AMSRO) today announced that the Inquiry into the Performance of the Opinion Polls at the 2019 Australian Federal Election (AMSRO Polling Inquiry) has released an Interim Discussion Paper recommending the implementation of a comprehensive regime of disclosure standards for election polling.

The report follows AMSRO’s decision, along with the Statistical Society of Australia, to conduct a review of election polling in Australia to determine why all the published polls incorrectly called the outcome at last May’s Federal election and how methods can be improved in the future.

The AMSRO Polling Inquiry Panel, Chaired by Darren Pennay, the founder and immediate past-CEO of one of Australia’s leading social research organisations, the Social Research Centre (SRC), was established and terms of reference were agreed last June. AMSRO invited pollsters, media organisations and others who commission election and political polling to contribute to the inquiry.

“There has been no consensus among the polling companies or anyone else regarding ‘what went wrong’ at the last Federal election and the reputation of opinion polling with the Australian public appears to be at a low ebb,” Pennay said.

“Election and political polling have an important place in Australian society, and it is imperative that the broader polling industry takes this opportunity to improve the accuracy and reporting of the polls because it underpins a modern, well-functioning democracy.  It’s also important for the credibility of the polling companies, as well as the wider market and social research industry, that the public has confidence in the results of the major polls.

“We have chosen to release this Discussion Paper now, ahead of the Inquiry’s main report scheduled for October, in order to maximise the time available for AMSRO, the polling industry and other stakeholders to consider and take action on these initial recommendations before the next federal election polling cycle. The focus of this report is the transparency and disclosure standards as they apply to publicly released election and other political polls in Australia.”

The key recommendation from the report is that a new and comprehensive minimum set of disclosure standards be adopted. The report lists 23 proposed standards, including some based on existing International Standard Organisation (ISO) and Australian Press Council (APC) standards and guidelines, as well as new recommendations.

“It’s our view that the current disclosure standards as they apply to publicly released election and other political polls in Australia are inadequate. Australian pollsters have less rigorous disclosure obligations than pollsters in the US, UK, Canada and New Zealand,” Pennay said.

“The majority of polling companies in Australia remain unregulated and there are no mandated standards set by government or others. It is the view of the Inquiry Panel that this needs to be rectified to ensure the most transparent and accurate polling practices are adopted and to restore public faith in election and political polling. We now look forward to active participation and responses from the polling companies and other stakeholders.”

The Inquiry Panel also recommends that any entity established to mandate and regulate election polling standards should include a committee with industry, media and academic representatives (for example, political scientists), in addition to the polling companies themselves. The chair of any such committee should be someone who is independent from current polling organisations.

AMSRO Board member, Craig Young, said: “AMSRO welcomes this Discussion Paper from the Inquiry Panel and looks forward to the full report being released in October.  We believe greater transparency and disclosure regarding how the published polls are conducted is critical to re-establishing public confidence in polling. 

“As the research industry association, AMSRO is also supportive of extending these disclosure standards to all published market research, not just polling.  We look forward to working with the polling companies and other important stakeholders to discuss the creation and oversight of appropriate standards to bring about these much needed changes.”   

The Discussion Paper examines:

  • The existing codes of conduct/guidelines that apply to election and other political polling in Australia;
  • International guidelines for election and other political polling, as well as examples of disclosure standards in the USA, UK, Canada and New Zealand;
  • Implications for the development of more comprehensive standards for election and other political polling in Australia, and;
  • Initial recommendations and issues for consideration by AMSRO.

The Discussion Paper is released today for consultation with interested parties and the public, and submissions close on 12 June 2020.

The Discussion Paper and further information on the AMSRO Polling Inquiry can be found at:

The Inquiry Panel’s Final Report is scheduled for release in October.

Notes for editors:

The Inquiry Panel is:

  • Darren Pennay (Chair)  – Founder and past CEO of the Social Research Centre, Campus Visitor at the ANU Centre for Social Research and Methods and Adjunct Professor at the Institute for Social Science Research, University of Queensland.
  • Professor Murray Goot – Emeritus Professor of Politics at Macquarie University, a leading expert in public opinion polling, voter behaviour and politics.
  • Dr Phil Hughes – Asia-Pacific Head of Statistical Consulting at Engine and one of Australia’s most experienced and respected applied statisticians.
  • Dr Dina Neiger – Chief Statistician, the Social Research Centre and Accredited Statistician, Statistical Society of Australia.
  • Dr Jill Sheppard – lecturer in the School of Politics and International Relations, ANU, with special research expertise in political behaviour (voting, participation, and attitudes).
  • Mr John Stirton – independent and widely respected polling expert, who ran the Fairfax Poll between 1997 and 2014.

The Advisory Board comprises:

  • Dennis Trewin (Chair) AO – Dr Trewin was Australian Statistician (Head of the Australian Bureau of Statistics) from 2000 to 2007 and is a survey statistician of international renown.
  • Dr John Henstridge – one of Australia’s most eminent Statisticians, previous president of the Statistical Society of Australia.
  • Ian McAllister – Distinguished Professor of Political Science, Australian National University (ANU).  Professor McAllister is recognised as an international expert on opinion polling.
  • Kerry O’Brien – Journalist and author. Foundation editor and host of the ABC’s national 7.30 Report, foundation host of Lateline, host of Four Corners and anchor of the ABC’s federal and state election night coverage for more than 20 years.
  • Travyn Rhall – After training as a statistician, Mr Rhall spent a decade in statistical consulting at the Australian Bureau of Statistics, before embarking on a career in applied (commercial) market research. He was a Director of Newspoll for several years. His last full-time executive role was Global Chief Executive of Kantar Insights, which operated in 70+ countries with revenues of over A$3.5 billion.

International Advisers:

  • Dr Paul Lavrakas – internationally renowned expert in survey methodology and survey error, specifically in relation to public opinion research and election polling.
  • Patrick Moynihan – Associate Director of international research methods at Pew Research Center and previously senior polling analyst for ABC News.
  •  – Associate Professor and Vice Chair of the Department of Sociology at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. She is a Fellow at the American Association for Public Opinion Research (AAPOR) and worked on the 2016 US Polling Inquiry.
  • TheLondon School of Economics, who headed a polling inquiry after the 2015 UK General Election.