Business Methods

Sortition makes systematic use of random selection as a principal means of ensuring organisational impartiality and integrity in the fields of market research, opinion polling and staff recruitment in areas where sensitivity to such requirements is of important commercial or legal significance.

There are two discernible weaknesses in present polling practices which Sortition policy and business methods are aimed to address. The first is bias in the conduct of opinion poll surveys. For example it is a widely acknowledged fact that UK polls on a general basis tend to overestimate support for the Left. This tendency is so established that 'dampeners' are deliberately applied to estimates for Labour support in the period before an election so that polls appear more closely in line with the election results themselves. Even with the dampeners in place however, polls have still overestimated Labour support in six of the last eight elections. After elections, the dampeners are removed and estimates for Labour are again routinely polled at still higher levels.

This tendency to exaggerate Left support can be detected in regard to poll estimates for both the Labour party itself and also for individual Labour policies. A prominent example of this was the ICM August 2004 poll in regard to support for the North East Regional Assembly which Labour attempted to establish in England using an all postal ballot referendum. ICM estimated 78% support for a regional assembly: the referendum taken a few weeks later recorded almost exactly the opposite figure.

The second discernible weakness in present polling practices which Sortition policy is aimed to address concerns the degree and orientation of research advice which can be offered to customers regarding polling practice. A number of cases can be cited which demonstrate that polling organisations tend to err on the side of 'Left' perspectives not only in their survey results but also in the design and direction of opinion research to such a degree as to jeopardise their standing as necessarily impartial institutions. There are two important examples which demonstrate this tendency: first, the refusal in March 2000 of the Electoral Reform Society to conduct a privately financed referendum on legislation prohibiting the promotion of homosexuality in Scotland's schools; second, the attempt of ICM in March 2004 to deprioritise Europe as a subject for Conservative Party polling requirements, which led to termination of their contract.

There are two policies which Sortition will pursue and uphold to help address these weaknesses in polling practices. First, Sortition will employ where appropriate the systematic use of random selection as a principal means to enhance the impartiality and integrity of internal Sortition staff recruitment practices, survey respondent selection, and focus group participant selection. In particular, Sortition is the first international polling agency to employ random selection practices which are organised according to autonomously directed, transparently predictive and retrospectively verifiable operating schedules. These schedules can also be made available for external recruitment work for other agencies. One particular merit of an autonomously directed program of random selection is that subjective preferences of pollsters can be completely eliminated in regard to certain specific operational aspects of polling practice.

Second, Sortition staff will operate in accordance with standards of impartiality which derive from policy guidelines informed by a theoretically advanced mission statement which grants full recognition to the dependent relation between common sense and non partisan forms of democratic practice. Against this background where, for example, question prompting is necessary to the success of polling operations (and frequently this is practically unavoidable) it will be conducted within defined parameters of non-partisanship at the interface between political and commercial affairs. These policy guidelines are published on this website, the full mission statement is available on request.