Can we believe the Guardian’s hustings poll?

Can we believe the Guardian’s hustings poll?

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    Is Huhne really 20% ahead?

In the absence of any proper polling of Lib Dem party members anybody wanting to have a punt on the leadership election has almost no hard evidence on which to make their choice. The Guardian, however, reports on a survey it carried out on Wednesday night amongst 200 members it questioned at a hustings meeting in Cambridge.

The outcome was certainly encouraging for the former Guardian journalist and now party environment spokesman, Chris Huhne. This found 40% saying Huhne, 20% saying Clegg, and the balance being undecided or preferring not to say.

    But Guardian hustings polls have a record of getting it terribly terribly wrong as we saw during the 2006 race.

About a week before the ballot closed in February last year the paper, as was reported on the site, the paper spoke to 422 people at a London hustings , and found Huhne had 152 first preferences (36%). Ming 124 (29%) and Hughes 87 (21%). A total of 14% were still undecided.

But also carrying out the same exercise at the same meeting was the other paper that Chris Huhne used to work for – the Independent. It spoke to 100 people and its survey overwhelmingly pointed to a victory for Ming Campbell. The acting leader had 51 giving him their first preference with 31 to Simon Hughes and just 18 to Chris Huhne.

In no way could any of these surveys be described as a proper poll. The samples cannot be said to be representative and those prepared to turn out at a meeting on a cold November evening are more likely to be activists.

Being fair the Guardian is aware of the dangers and does note “Up to 300 members attended the event and of those who spoke to the Guardian, 85 backed Huhne, 42 backed Clegg and 83 did not express a preference. The figures need to be treated with caution: the east of England is a strong area for Huhne and some believe he boasts more support among activists – the sort of people who attend such debates – than armchair members, who form the majority of the 65,000-strong electorate.”

It’s understood that a proper members poll is being carried out by YouGov. We do not know whether this is a public poll or, indeed, if we will ever see the results.

On Betfair Clegg is at 0.39/1 with Huhne at 9/4.

Mike Smithson

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