LAST year an article in TCW exposed the gross misinterpretation and misrepresentation of polls conducted on behalf of RenewableUK, the voice of the wind and solar power industry, and the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS), purporting to show overwhelming support for more onshore wind turbines in the UK and Scotland.
It examined a May 2021 YouGov poll which claimed 70 per cent support for onshore windfarms, but the questions did not define either how many turbines comprise a windfarm or even how high the turbines would be. At the time of the poll there were roughly 10,961 onshore wind turbines in the UK with 8,366 or 76 per cent of them in Scotland. Yet of the 1,700 respondents to the poll, only 7 per cent (119) were from Scotland. That is 0.002 per cent of the Scottish population. Of those 119, only 38 (32 per cent) replied that they lived within five miles of a windfarm. That is 0.0007 per cent of the Scottish population. In contrast, there were 192 respondents from London. Why ask Londoners their opinion of living within five miles of an onshore turbine when there is none anywhere near?
BEIS had admitted to me that their poll was statistically flawed and despite published results, they could not draw conclusions of support for onshore wind in Scotland.
Another poll commissioned by RenewableUK was carried out by Survation in October 2021. The results have since been picked up byThe Insider (a commercial publication), with a headline reading: RenewableUK research shows Scots ‘overwhelmingly support’ political parties which support renewable power generation, and repeated in the Express.
I tried to look into the background of the statistics in the Survation poll to examine the evidence which underpinned that newer poll.
I contacted Survation, who were initially very prompt and helpful in providing the actual poll data on February 23. This is available on the Survation website.
However when I looked at it, it wasn’t apparent how they’d selected their respondents. This is obviously critical – they might all be employees of windfarm companies and their contractors for all I know. I also couldn’t find the questions asking for ‘rank order’ of issues of importance to respondents e.g. Q5 was about the environmental effects of onshore windfarms.
After the initial silence, by contacting Survation on four occasions I finally got the standard information available on their website, but I’m still no wiser about how they selected their paid respondents from their panel and from other companies. I contacted The Insider – again no response, although I have a read receipt. I also asked the Express if they could find this information, as they had published results of this poll. I was promised that this would be looked into – and that’s the last I’ve heard.
On Saturday April 9 the Times published the results of another YouGov poll it had commissioned, Three quarters of Britons would back a local wind farm announcing that three quarters of the British public support expansion of on shore windfarms. This is the ‘full’ poll as sent to me on request by YouGov.
The chairman of Scotland Against Spin, Graham Lang, wrote to the Times and other newspapers which published the results of this widely quoted poll.
In part he said:
‘The public, in general, do not have much confidence in polls as they understand that meaningful unbiased results are dependent on how respondents are selected for the survey and what questions are asked. A small number of selected and paid panellists (as confirmed by YouGov) with a vested interest in the results will produce skewed and unreliable answers. But such polls, often paid for by industry, wanting to evidence their desired “public opinion” are used to shape Government policy. This is not representative of public opinion or balanced press reporting.
‘The latest poll conducted by YouGov for the Times claiming “Three Quarters of Britons would back a local wind farm” does not tell us how these paid respondents were selected.
‘There is no information as to where these respondents live in relation to any wind farm. Are respondents recruited from urban areas benefiting from electricity generated out of sight? Are such pollsters ever likely to experience any adverse effect from either onshore windfarms or nuclear installations? The 157 total number of Scottish respondents compare with 219 respondents from London where there are no onshore wind farms and never likely to be and a further 614 respondents from the ‘south of England’, where there are very few onshore wind farms, all of them tiny in comparison with Scotland.
‘It is easy to say you support wind farms in your neighbourhood if you know there is virtually no chance of you ever having one.’
It is not widely known that survey firms select their respondents from a panel and even use outside respondents from other companies. Those respondents are paid. The selection criteria are not published and my attempts to find out what these are have resulted in silence. There is simply weighting applied to factors such as age, gender, socioeconomic status and UK regions, although even that is odd, with Wales being lumped in with the Midlands. I have had written correspondence with several Scottish people on Survation and YouGov panels who confirm both payment and the fact they’ve never been asked about wind farms. Also that questions are loaded and you cannot progress in a questionnaire without answering all questions. You are ‘forced’ to answer all questions if you want payment. So it would appear to be a ‘home industry’ for some.
YouGov says that it makes sure that those without internet are also polled, to be representative, but I can’t see how that happens in an online survey. Lack of good internet is a real problem for rural communities throughout the UK, but particularly in Scotland. It is many of these communities who are actually hosting and suffering effects of industrialisation by these windfarms on their environment, particularly those within 3km of industrial windfarms with turbines higher than 100 metres. These people are not NIMBYs. These are the people whose opinion should be sought to determine whether there really is support for further expansion of onshore wind.
It really is about time that the wider press investigated the sham conclusions presented by these polls and report poll data accurately. Otherwise we are in danger of becoming a propaganda state like Putin’s Russia where money and power dictates public opinion and ultimately, government policy.