For-profit

YouGov

Website:

today.yougov.com/

Location:

London, United Kingdom

Type:

Polling Company

Formation:

2000

CEO:

Stephan Shakespeare

YouGov is a British polling company founded in 2000 by Stephan Shakespeare and Nadhim Zahawi. YouGov has 20 million members worldwide whom it surveys, along with 1,600 employees across 39 offices. [1]

YouGov claims to be non-partisan. It is often accused of displaying bias toward the U.K. Conservative Party due to its founders’ associations with the party, but the company has had high-level figures who have supported the British Labour Party, [2] and the firm worked with the left-of-center Voters’ Right To Know coalition. [3]

Business and Polling Model

YouGov creates and conducts polls for its clients around the world. YouGov attracts poll takers by distributing “points” which can be redeemed for cash and gift cards. Select poll takers can join YouGov Pulse as “panelists” for additional points. [4]

While most polling companies survey random individuals to avoid selection bias, YouGov’s polling model is based on tracking the shifting of preferences of the same individuals over time. YouGov’s panelists are used repeatedly for polls, and polling data is correlated with a large amount of political and non-political information surveyed from these panelists. [5]

History

YouGov was founded in 2000 by Stephan Shakespeare and Nadhim Zahawi, who met while operating in British politics. YouGov was one of the first online polling companies and claims to have had the most accurate predictions of any polling company in the 2001 UK General Election. [6]

In 2003, YouGov became a founding member of the British Polling Council. [7]

In 2005, YouGov went public and began trading on the London Stock Exchange. The following year, YouGov opened a branch in Dubai. In 2007, YouGov acquired Polimetrix and expanded into the United States. By this point, the company had 1.5 million panelists. [8]

In 2009, YouGov expanded to the east coast of the United States and became the most-cited polling company in the United Kingdom. [9]

In 2013, YouGov CEO Stephen Shakespeare chaired the UK Government’s Data Strategy Board and lead a review of Public Sector Information colloquially known as “Shakespeare Review.” [10]

By 2016, YouGov had 5 million panelists across 38 countries; as of 2022, it claimed 20 million panel members. [11]

In 2017, YouGov polling correctly projected that then-U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May would lose her Parliamentary majority. No other major polling firm made the same projection. [12]

Accuracy

FiveThirtyEight gives YouGov a B+ rating based on its historical results. [13]

According to Mark Pack, the president of the U.K.’s Liberal Democrats party, YouGov’s polls tend to show a slight bias for Conservatives over Labour compared to the rest of the industry, though this is likely a result of being more accurate on average. [14]

In 2022, ex-YouGov employee Chris Curtis claimed that YouGov had retracted a 2017 poll showing that then-Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn won a debate in the general election because it was “too positive about Labour.” YouGov asserted the poll had been retracted due to methodological concerns, and YouGov co-founder Nadhim Zahawi, a Conservative Member of Parliament who then served as Education Secretary, publicly denied that he had put pressure on YouGov. Curtis later retracted the claim and apologized. [15]

Voters’ Right To Know

YouGov has been listed as a partner of the left-of-center Voters’ Right To Know coalition, [16] which proposed a constitutional amendment for a slate of campaign finance reforms, including doubling campaign finance violation fines and requiring political ads costing more than $50,000 to display their top three donors. The bill ultimately failed to qualify for the ballot. [17]

Other coalition partners included the Analyst Institute, California Forward, the California Clean Money Campaign, Common Cause, the Campaign Legal Center, End Citizens United, MapLight, and RepresentUs. The coalition’s website reads, “YouGov develops and fields VRTK research instruments.” [18]

Associations with U.K. Political Parties

Critics accuse YouGov of bias in favor of British Conservative candidates, largely due to its co-founders Stephen Shakespeare and Nadhim Zahawi both having run for the U.K. Parliament as Conservative candidates. Zahawi has served as a Conservative Member of Parliament since 2010 and served in various roles in the governments of Conservative Prime Ministers Theresa May, Boris Johnson, Liz Truss, and Rishi Sunak. [19]

YouGov has also had prominent executives aligned with the Labour Party and broader British center-left, including former YouGov chair and president Peter Kellner, a well-known journalist and pundit. [20]

Leadership

Stephen Shakespeare

YouGov was co-founded and is currently led by German-born Stephan Shakespeare, who also founded online television channels PoliticsHome and 18 Doughty Street, as well as the Conservative Party-aligned blog ConservativeHome. Shakespeare started his career as a teacher in California but returned to the United Kingdom to work as a Conservative Party operative. In 1997, he ran for Parliament for Colchester and was defeated. Since 2000, he has remained CEO of YouGov. [21]

Nadhim Zahawi

YouGov was co-founded by Kurdish Iraq-born Nadhim Zahawi, who worked for British polling companies when he met Shakespeare. The two founded YouGov and Zahawi worked as co-CEO from 2000 to 2010. [22]

In 2010, Zahawi was elected Member of Parliament for Stratford-on-Avon as a Conservative. Zahawi also worked in finance and landed a lucrative job as chief strategy officer at Gulf Keystone Petroleum in 2015. [23] At some point, he founded Zahawi and Zahawi Limited, an investment and consulting firm which he would eventually co-own with his wife. [24]

Zahawi’s business interests have made him the wealthiest member of Parliament in the United Kingdom, a status which attracted controversy as he was forced to reveal and divest from some of his business interests when he was named a Cabinet minister. [25] He has served in numerous roles in the governments of Theresa May, Boris Johnson, Liz Truss, and Rishi Sunak. [26] In October 2022, Prime Minister Sunak appointed Zahawi Chairman of the Conservative Party and a minister without portfolio in his government. [27]

References

  1. “Timeline.” YouGov. Accessed October 8, 2022. https://corporate.yougov.com/about/timeline/. ^
  2. Pack, Mark. “YouGov: is it biased to the Conservatives.” MarkPack.com. January 6, 2022. Accessed October 9, 2022. https://www.markpack.org.uk/168573/yougov-is-it-biased-to-the-conservatives/. ^
  3. “About Us.” Voters’ Right To Know. Accessed October 8, 2022. https://votersrighttoknow.org/about-voters-right-to-know/about-us/. ^
  4. “Frequently Asked Questions.” FAQs. Accessed October 8, 2022. https://today.yougov.com/about/faqs/. ^
  5. Stokel-Walker, Chris. “How YouGov became the UK’s best but most controversial pollster.” Wired. November 20, 2019. Accessed October 9, 2022. https://www.wired.co.uk/article/yougov-general-election-poll-mrp. ^
  6. “Timeline.” YouGov. Accessed October 8, 2022. https://corporate.yougov.com/about/timeline/. ^
  7. “Timeline.” YouGov. Accessed October 8, 2022. https://corporate.yougov.com/about/timeline/. ^
  8. “Timeline.” YouGov. Accessed October 8, 2022. https://corporate.yougov.com/about/timeline/. ^
  9. “Timeline.” YouGov. Accessed October 8, 2022. https://corporate.yougov.com/about/timeline/. ^
  10. “Timeline.” YouGov. Accessed October 8, 2022. https://corporate.yougov.com/about/timeline/. ^
  11. “Timeline.” YouGov. Accessed October 8, 2022. https://corporate.yougov.com/about/timeline/. ^
  12.  Stokel-Walker, Chris. “How YouGov became the UK’s best but most controversial pollster.” Wired. November 20, 2019. Accessed October 9, 2022. https://www.wired.co.uk/article/yougov-general-election-poll-mrp. ^
  13.  “FiveThirtyEight’s Pollster Ratings.” FiveThirtyEight. Accessed October 9, 2022. https://projects.fivethirtyeight.com/pollster-ratings/yougov/. ^
  14. Pack, Mark. “YouGov: is it biased to the Conservatives.” MarkPack.com. January 6, 2022. Accessed October 9, 2022. https://www.markpack.org.uk/168573/yougov-is-it-biased-to-the-conservatives/. ^
  15. “Ex-YouGov worker retracts claim it suppressed pro-Corbyn poll.” The Guardian. June 10, 2022. Accessed October 9, 2022. https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/yougov-polling-blog/2022/jun/10/ex-worker-retracts-claim-yougov-suppressed-positive-jeremy-corbyn-poll. ^
  16.  “About Us.” Voters’ Right To Know. Accessed October 8, 2022. https://votersrighttoknow.org/about-voters-right-to-know/about-us/. ^
  17. “Ballot Measures.” Ballotpedia. Accessed October 8, 2022. https://ballotpedia.org/California_Voters%27_Right_to_Know_Act_(2016). ^
  18. “About Us.” Voters’ Right To Know. Accessed October 8, 2022. https://votersrighttoknow.org/about-voters-right-to-know/about-us/. ^
  19. “The Rt Hon Nadhim Zahawi MP.” GOV.UK. Accessed October 27, 2022. https://www.gov.uk/government/people/nadhim-zahawi. ^
  20. Pack, Mark. “YouGov: is it biased to the Conservatives.” MarkPack.com. January 6, 2022. Accessed October 9, 2022. https://www.markpack.org.uk/168573/yougov-is-it-biased-to-the-conservatives/. ^
  21. “Stephan Shakespeare.” Specialist Speakers. Accessed October 8, 2022. https://www.specialistspeakers.com/?p=1906. ^
  22. “About Nadhim.” Zahawi. Accessed October 8, 2022. https://web.archive.org/web/20100426105917/http://www.zahawi.com/page.php?page=about. ^
  23. [1] Rankin, Jennifer. “Tory MP Nadhim Zahawi lands job with oil firm Gulf Keystone.” The Guardian. August 24, 2015. Accessed October 8, 2022. https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/aug/24/tory-mp-nadhim-zahawi-lands-job-with-oil-firm-gulf-keystone. ^
  24. Pettifor, Tom; Sommerland, Nick. “Vaccine minister’s £100m property empire revealed including £20m London townhouse.” Daily Record. July 18, 2021. Accessed October 8, 2022. https://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/uk-world-news/vaccine-ministers-100m-property-empire-24562439 ^
  25. Pettifor, Tom; Sommerland, Nick. “Vaccine minister’s £100m property empire revealed including £20m London townhouse.” Daily Record. July 18, 2021. Accessed October 8, 2022. https://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/uk-world-news/vaccine-ministers-100m-property-empire-24562439. ^
  26. “The Rt Hon Nadhim Zahawi MP.” GOV.UK. Accessed October 27, 2022. https://www.gov.uk/government/people/nadhim-zahawi. ^
  27. [1] Zahawi, Nadhim. Twitter Post. Twitter. Twitter, October 25, 2022. https://twitter.com/nadhimzahawi/status/1584962932064260096. ^
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