Thursday, 23 July 2009

Lies, damned lies and immigration polls

Here we go again.

Migrationwatch has done a poll. It has produced a press release based on the results. It has emailed them to the newspapers. The Mail and Express have published them without raising a question. Deja vu, all over again.

The results of the poll are not very surprising. It finds that most people want a cap on immigration, and are worried about the population hitting 70 million. Given that just a few days ago Migrationwatch was issuing completely false claims about a million illegal immigrants swamping the NHS, it's hardly surprising that people who read and believe such crap then become anti-immigrant in their views.

On top of that, in the last few days the tabloids have told us they are going to be manning the swine flu helpline eventhough they can't speak English, they're stealing council houses (even when they aren't), they're cutting off their fingerprints, they're holding up British tourists at knifepoint, they're killers, fraudsters and ruining's been an endless cycle of nasty coverage.

And then they wonder why people might want to cap immigration.

But Migrationwatch can never play fair. Its last poll included some semantic trickery which rendered the whole exercise worthless. And when the Mail quotes a Home Office spokesman saying the poll is 'based on leading questions' it needs a closer look. The first question asked was:

According to official statistics, the population of the UK will rise from 61 million today to around 70 million in 2028. How would you feel about a population of this size?
But the problem with this question is with the multiple choice answers which were:

  • Delighted
  • Wouldn't mind
  • Slightly worried
  • Very worried
  • Don't know

Does anyone else detect a bias towards the negative there? Surely there should have been a choice along the lines of 'not worried' - the distance between 'wouldn't mind' and 'delighted' seems rather larger than between 'slightly worried' and 'very worried'. This is, of course, partly the responsibility of YouGov, which should know better as a reputable polling firm.

It should perhaps be added that YouGov was founded by Stephan Shakespeare, who is also the largest shareholder in the firm. He also owns ConservativeHome, was a former Conservative Parliamentary candidate and a spokesman for Jeffrey Archer during his London Mayor campaign...

It's the second question of the poll that raises the biggest question. Here it is, in full:

According to official figures, around 70 per cent of that estimated increase – about 7 million people – is likely to be as a result of immigration. Some argue that this will put great strain on resources in the UK, while others argue that the economic benefits justify this level of immigration.

To stop the population rising to 70 million, net immigration needs to be cut from around 250,000 per year to around 50,000.

In your opinion which of the following is the right level of NET immigration for Britain (i.e. the number of people who enter minus the number of people who leave)?
The first sentence - a 'likely' percentage of an 'estimated' increase is very woolly. The second makes the negative far more attractive than the positive angle - especially since Migrationwatch endlessly (and erroneously) tell us there is no economic benefit. The third sentence is unbelievably leading and also total bollocks - if net immigration is rising, then it is almost certain that 70 million will be reached at some point. It is simply not credible to say net immigration of 50,000 a year would 'stop the population rising to 70 million.' (Indeed, forecasts say it would hit that figure after 2081)

Guess what? 22% of respondents did plump for net immigration of 50,000. There were more (32%) who went for 'one in, one out', while 22% said no immigration at all.

Of course, the consequences of no immigration are not explained in the same, leading detail as the answer Migrationwatch wants - its policy is for a cut to around 60,000 a year. Amazing how these things work out, huh?

The third question reheated Home Secretary Alan Johnson's statement that he did not 'lie awake at night' worrying about the population hitting 70 million. 78% then said he was 'out of touch with people like me'. Do 78% of the people in this country really 'lie awake at night' worrying about that? Almost certainly not, so why is he out of touch?

In order to back up their case, the papers have added in a second poll which was done by Ipsos for the UK Border Agency in March. From the 26 page results document, it picks out one fact that suits them - that 81% said they favoured a cap on immigration. Of course, that doesn't mean that these 81% wanted the same cap the Migrationwatch poll suggested, but the mixing of the two polls implies as much (after all you might want a cap at 500,000 net, it's still a cap).

In fact, some of the other results show opinions on immigration issues are softening. The papers don't bother reporting any of these. Asked 'what is the most important issues facing Britain' the number of people saying 'immigration' has reduced from 24% in December 2006 to 7% in March 2009.

29% said immigration was not much of a problem or no problem, up from 22%. When asked about whether it was a problem in 'your local area' 78% said it was not much of a problem or no problem.

When asked if they agreed with the statement 'Immigration is good for Britain' 40% agreed (tend to agree, strongly agree), up from 32% in 2006. Those who disagreed went down, from 48% to 36%.

Even when respondents agreed on statements such as 'too many immigrants in Britain' and 'Britain should accept fewer asylum seekers', the numbers were still down on 2006.

Why would the tabloids regard these figures as not worth reporting? And when will they show some backbone and not take Migrationwatch at face value for everything?

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