AP stylebook creates new guidance warning journalists not to write stories based solely on poll results

The Associated Press has added a new chapter to its stylebook, urging journalists not to write stories based solely around polling results.

The US-based news agency’s new section on polls and surveys says: “Poll results that seek to preview the outcome of an election must never be the lead, headline or single subject of any story”.

The guidance aims to encourage more responsible reporting after poll-based predictions were wrong in several high-profile votes

Polls predicted Hillary Clinton would win the 2016 US presidential election, that Britain would vote to stay in the European Union in June 2016, and that the Conservatives would keep their majority in last year’s general election.

Pollsters also got it wrong on the Scottish independence referendum in 2014 and the 2015 general election.

David Scott, who oversees AP’s polling unit as deputy managing editor for operations, said: “A good pre-election poll can provide solid insight into what voters are thinking.

“In the heat of a campaign, that’s why they are so often intoxicating for journalists, for campaign staffers and, yes, for candidates, too.

“But the 2016 [US] election was a reminder that polls aren’t perfect. They’re unquestionably a piece of the story, but never the whole story. The stylebook update aims to serve as a steady reminder of that fact.”

Journalists are still encouraged to use probability-based surveys to assess the public’s opinion, AP said.

Some new methodologies which incorporate opt-in online surveys may be suitable for publication “after thorough review”, it added.

The new chapter is available now to AP stylebook online subscribers and will feature in the 2018 edition when it is published on 30 May.

Picture: Reuters

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