Survey doesn’t show voters ditching Conservatives over bike lanes

17 December 2020
What was claimed

27% of Conservative voters say they will ditch Boris Johnson over bike lanes.

Our verdict

There are too many problems with this survey to draw this conclusion.

“We will ditch Boris Johnson over bike lanes, say 27 percent of Tory voters.”

The Mail on Sunday has reported the results of a survey which claimed that 27% of people who voted Conservative at the last general election would not vote for them at the next election because of anger about cycle lanes. The story—which was published in the newspaper and online—was based on the results of a survey by campaign group Fair Fuel UK. However, there are a number of problems with this finding. 

The (now deleted) survey asked respondents several questions about cycle lanes and fuel duty. Two questions ask respondents who they voted for in the 2019 general election, and whether they would consider voting for the Conservative Party at the next election. 

This latter question has seven possible answers. 

  • Yes, only if they are still the best choice
  • Yes, if they start supporting drivers
  • No
  • No, never have done never will
  • Not sure
  • Won’t vote
  • None of your business.

Although there is space to add comments, none of these questions ask if the reason for not voting Conservative is related to cycle lanes, so there isn’t enough information to draw that conclusion from it as the Mail on Sunday did. 

Results from the survey published on the Fair Fuel UK blog show that, of the 11,947 respondents who took part in the survey between 8 and 9 December (and whose answers were shared with The Mail), 6,981 said they voted Conservative in the 2019 general election. Asked if they would vote for Conservative again, the blog says 27% said ‘no’, while 28% selected ‘yes, only if they are still the best choice’ and 23% selected ‘yes, if they start supporting drivers’. It adds the full survey results will be published by the end of December.

Leading questions

Another question says: “From recent media reports, unelected special advisors in No.10 are influencing the roll out of cycle lanes. What do you think about this?”, with the options “no problem”, “it’s wrong” or “don’t know”. The Mail on Sunday reported that 76% of cyclists said they had “no problem” with this. It said more than 2,000 cyclists had responded to the survey. From the results published by Fair Fuel UK we can see that only 15% of those who drove cars had the same answer, with even lower proportions of drivers of other vehicles.

Other questions in the survey, but not reported on by The Mail on Sunday, also used language that could be described as leading. A question on fuel duty warns that the Treasury will “hit drivers hard” in the next budget. It also includes a quote from the Centre for Economics and Business Research, warning that taxing fuel “hits the poor hardest”, before asking respondents if they think fuel duty should be increased. Another on whether haulage and logistics services should be subject to lower levels of fuel duty begins by telling respondents that lower fuel duty “would help lower inflation and the cost of products we buy”. 

Anthony Wells, director of Political Research at YouGov, told Full Fact: “When writing questions, you need to avoid giving leading information. You need to avoid charged language or language that is skewed one way or the other.”

The British Polling Council publishes advice for journalists on reporting on polls and surveys. It says good polls usually avoid leading questions. It says: “Anyone using or reporting the results of a poll should look carefully at the questions that were asked—and decide for themselves whether they think they were worded clearly and fairly or not.”

The survey was only available via the Fair Fuel UK website, and Mr Wells also raised concern that the sample of people polled—which was reported as almost 11,000 by The Mail on Sunday, but Fair Fuel UK now says has reached 20,000—would largely be those who are subscribed to the organisation’s mailing list or frequently use its website. 

“Obviously, if you’ve joined the mailing list of a pro-motoring organisation that campaigns for lower fuel prices, chances are you’re a pro-motoring person who wants lower fuel prices,” he added. 

“If media sources report things that are not representative and don’t point that out, then that undermines confidence in proper attempts to do representative polling.”

Howard Cox, the founder of Fair Fuel UK, told Full Fact the survey was “made available to anyone via our supporter base, social media.”

“Every single question allowed for opposing views to be given together with ‘don’t know’. In addition there are seven “add comments” opportunities in the survey with the final question [on voting intention] allowing comments on the whole survey.”

He added that as thousands more people had completed the survey since it was reported on in the Mail on Sunday, Fair Fuel UK would be undertaking further analysis of the responses and publishing more information, including analysis of the responses from people who identified themselves as cyclists.

Correction 18 December 2020

This piece was corrected to include results of the survey which was published on the Fair Fuel UK blog.

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