HKU will run Legco exit polls despite fears of abuse

Pollster says his programme will boost measures to prevent data leaks to political parties and rebuild public confidence in the system

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 30 August, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 30 August, 2012, 5:36am

Pollster Dr Robert Chung Ting-yiu will run exit polls during next month's Legislative Council election despite concern about polling agencies sharing data with parties for voting purposes.

Chung, who had hinted that he might scrap the exit polls run by the University of Hong Kong's public opinion programme for Legco and district council elections since 1991, said its pollsters would step up measures to prevent data leaks and rebuild public confidence in the credibility of the polls.

These include allocating at least two staff to each of the 105 polling stations where interviews will take place, guaranteeing the privacy of those interviewed and offering them the option of only allowing their date to be processed after polls close at 10.30pm on September 9. The programme will deploy about 200 staff and conduct interviews at one-fifth of polling stations.

Exit polls became controversial at the 2008 Legco election when some polling organisations were accused of handing data to political parties that then directed voters to candidate slates in danger of losing. That led to calls from pan-democrats to boycott exit polls and concerns that some respondents had lied to pollsters.

Chung said voters who lied would ruin the integrity of the exercise.

"We decided to continue because we want to safeguard academic integrity and give the public a message that we will not be affected by political disputes," he said. "I urge the voters not to give false answers, otherwise we will not rule out stopping such exercises in future."

Exit polls have long been regarded as vital to understanding why certain parts of society vote as they do and for analysing views on social and political issues.

"If the professional exit poll exercises disappear, that would be bad for Hong Kong," Chung said.

He said Taiwan's prohibition on the release of opinion poll results 10 days before the presidential election showed the importance of maintaining professional polls generally.

Such a ban could lead voters to make decisions based on speculation and rumour.

Chung said in April that his agency would be "hesitant" about running exit polls if the Electoral Affairs Commission failed to tighten rules. The electoral rules prohibit polling agencies and the media from announcing exit poll results before voting ends, but does not stop agencies passing data to candidates.

The commission has amended the regulation and will not approve organisations that publicly express support for any candidate in the constituency concerned to run exit polls. Chung said this was positive but its effectiveness in preventing data leaks remained to be seen.

He said the exit poll's initial prediction might be less accurate because the new measures would see some data processed after polls closed. A more accurate prediction would come later.