The ConservativeHome Members’ Panel is increasingly being quoted in the media as the best guide to opinion within the Conservative Party. On Wednesday night – at the party leadership’s request – I gave a short presentation on recent Panel findings at the Built To Last roadshow event.
Earlier this week a few visitors to this website (on this thread and on Guido’s blog) questioned the representative nature of the Panel. Many of the attacks focused on the fact that many comments on this blog are hostile to aspects of the Cameron project. I make no claims for the representative nature of the comments on this site. I do believe, however, that the opinions of the Panel can be trusted and offer reassurance on three levels:
Track record. Last December 69% of the first 848 first members of the Panel said that they would like David Cameron to be the next Tory leader and 31% said that they hoped David Davis would become Tory leader. The actual result was 68% to 32%. This group of 848 people continue to be the bedrock of the Panel. Nearly all continue to participate on a monthly basis and I believe that they are a good guide to Tory opinion.
Weighting. We compare the first question of the poll (which is always the same) in the previous and current surveys and take as our reading the actual change within that group (the matched group is about 95% of all respondents). We also match current respondents to the original 848 respondents as a control. Having weighted the first question, we then weight all subsequent questions to that first question. So far, weighting has never required more than a 1% adjustment, as the panel is in fact very stable, with new respondents closely resembling the profile of the earlier respondents. (Supporters of neither candidate in last year’s leadership race are proving to be disproportionately slack or enthusiastic at participating.)
Recruitment. My reason for believing that the Panel members represent the membership is the routes via which we have been recruiting members. The Cameron and Davis campaigns both emailed their supporters in order to alert them to the existence of the survey, and party organisations like the Conservative Christian Fellowship, Conservative Way Forward, Conservative Friends of Israel, Tory Reform Group and Women2Win were invited to alert their supporters to the surveys. Since then I have emailed Tory Associations and leafleted Conservative events. As I leafleted the Spring Forum in Manchester it was striking how many of the people I invited to join the Panel said that they were already signed-up. One possible criticism which I do accept is that the Panel represents activists rather than the full range of the non-activist membership. However, there is no evidence that non-activist (or non-participatory) members are essentially different in their views from activists. Any evidence about this is virtually impossible to obtain. It would therefore be wrong, and indeed meaningless, to attempt to draw any conclusions about the views of non-participatory members.
I do not pretend that the online survey of the kind being run by ConservativeHome is perfect. There are probably some people who vote in the surveys who are not paid-up Tory members and there may be some infiltrators from other parties. But the three reassurances above will, I hope, offer readers of the survey a sense of the Panel’s overall reliability. Over time I hope to add one or two more security measures.
While we are on the subject of the Panel it might also be helpful
for me to restate why ConservativeHome runs it at all. The survey
results don’t always make comfortable reading for the Tory leadership
or for individual shadow cabinet members. Some of the visitors to this
site who are most loyal to the current party leadership believe that
the survey provides ammunition to the party’s opponents and I am not
insensitive to their concerns. I, for example, delayed publication of the April dip in satisfaction with David Cameron because I did not want to encourage other parties’ council candidates on the eve of May 4th’s local elections.
The reason why ConservativeHome will continue to survey the Tory grassroots/ webroots, however, is our fundamental belief that the party is not owned by the current leadership or any leadership. Gone
are the days when CCO can purport to speak on behalf of members to the
press without fear of contradiction. ConservativeHome believes that
the leadership deserves loyalty and respect from the grassroots but
loyalty and respect is a two-way thing. The party must listen to the
grassroots. We are the people who raise the party’s funds and deliver
the leaflets. ConservativeHome’s first campaign was the successful championing of the membership’s right to a vote in the leadership election and, much more recently, the membership’s right to be able to inspect the candidates’ A-list
from which the next generation of Tory MPs will be drawn.
ConservativeHome’s mission involves helping to build a more open,
democratic and participative Conservative Party. The voice that the
Members’ Panel gives to the grassroots is a fundamental part of that
Recent Panel findings: David Davis tops satisfaction league table, state funding of political parties rejected by 81% of Conservative members and 54% of Tory members say the war in Iraq was a mistake.