This post by Federica Cocco first appeared on Full Fact on March 4th 2013.
In today’s politics roundup, the Sun reports that three quarters of the British public are concerned about one big national issue. If you think it’s the economy or crime, think again. It’s fuel prices.
The source is a poll conducted by an organisation which campaigns to – you guessed it – cut fuel costs. Ahead of the March 20th Budget, Fair Fuel UK ran an internet survey on their website in a move to “send a clear message to the Chancellor” that fuel duty should be cut “for the sake of the UK economy”.
Fuel duty has increased by around 25% since 1997, most recently when it was raised by three pence at the beginning of the year. Indeed - as we discovered the last time we reported on this topic - Britain charges one of the highest fuel duties in Europe.
But despite this, is it fair to say it is the biggest issue facing Britain today? First, let’s take a look at how Fair Fuel reached their conclusion.
Readers of the site are asked to select ”two of the current news items from the seven listed that you feel are the most relevant to your daily life”.
Here are the options presented in the poll:
- European Union membership
- Horse meat in food chain
- Gay marriage
- Price of petrol/diesel
- Scottish devolution
- Financial care of the elderly
- Tax avoidance help from banks
Very few of these are issues that would realistically affect an average reader on a daily basis. For example, unless you’re campaigning for Scottish independence, it’s unlikely that you’ll see Scottish devolution as an issue that affects your daily life. The same goes for gay marriage and European Union membership. By a process of elimination, readers are almost compelled to select the price of petrol as their foremost concern.
Visitors to Fair Fuel UK’s website are significantly more likely than the average population to take a direct interest in fuel prices, so it’s perhaps surprising that only 70% of Fair Fuel’s visitors think the cost of fuel is the foremost concern on their daily lives.
In a press release publicising their findings, Fair Fuel explained that their poll “shows that 70% of the population feel that high fuel costs are now their most pressing financial concern.” This doesn’t chime with way their question was framed, as an issue that is relevant to your daily life is not necessarily a financial issue. Furthermore, gay marriage is not a financial issue.
We can compare this poll to one conducted annually by the polling organisation Ipsos MORI. Its survey of Issues facing Britain shows that as of February 2013 over half of the British public – 52% – was concerned about the state of the economy. One could of course argue that the cost of fuel is an economic issue, and therefore its ranking in first place in Fair Fuel’s poll was not misplaced. However, it’s worth noting that Ipsos MORI’s issues index does include the price of petrol, but this was not registered as one of the most pressing issues facing the nation today.
More importantly, the poll raises questions because of its self-selection bias. Its sample is not in any way reprentative of the general population as the participants, by dint of being readers of a campaign website, are likely to be predisposed to select an answer which reflects the campaign’s interest.