X Factor 2013 Review Part 3: Interview with YouGov’s Joe Twyman

It’s become a habit of our X Factor review articles to include an interview with YouGov’s Joe Twyman. He heads up a team professionally polling viewers throughout the series, and hits the headlines when their last week findings are published by The Sun on the day of the final.

As someone who assesses the opinions of many X Factor viewers throughout the series, Joe’s thoughts are always an interesting take on the show. In 2012, despite polling that proved very close to the actual result, Joe had warned that lower ratings and voting figures was making his work a trickier affair.

That was even more the case in 2013, when the final poll of 56/24/11 for Sam/Luke/Nick was a long way removed from the ultimate Saturday figures rounded to the nearest percentages of 38/30/32. Here is Joe’s explanation:

“We run through the same process every year: building up a panel of people watching throughout the series. This year, not only were the audience numbers down, the number of people voting was down too. That means it is becoming more and more difficult to find a sample. What we also think is happening is that the audience is evolving into a hardcore of people who watch the show, and this smaller group have a tendency to vote more.”

Not only that, but other aspects of the 2013 series proved problematic for the polling organisation. Joe doesn’t go so far as to call it a “perfect storm”, but it clearly wasn’t far off:

“We didn’t poll voting intention every single week, but when we did, Sam Bailey was a heavy favourite by varying degrees. The context of having a clear leader made it difficult to call the rest. Having a second favourite [Nicholas] boosted by a regional vote likewise. All of this made the modelling very difficult. The margin of error alone meant it was impossible to order the also-rans, although the numbers for Rough Copy were low enough for me to be confident that they would be bottom of the voting in the semi-final.”

Still, the poll numbers for Nicholas on that final Saturday were surprisingly low, as Joe acknowledged at the time. And they were not born out by the eventual voting percentages. “Common sense dictated that Nicholas would be boosted by the Scottish. We do our best to take this into account, but every model we ran had Luke coming out in second, and ultimately we couldn’t just make the numbers up. Perhaps young Scots [the YouGov poll only questions those over 18 years old] multiple voting conceivably may have helped him, but it’s impossible to know for sure.”

Eagle-eyed commenters also noted that the wording used in The Sun differed from previous years. The poll asked, “who do you want to win?” rather than, “who do you intend to vote for?” Was this because of the difficulties in finding voters? “In this case, it was specifically requested by the client,” Joe explains. “We’d been running parallel testing on similar questions with the same results, so we don’t believe this made a significant difference.”

“In functional terms, we went about our polling exactly the same way that we had in 2012.”

Last year, Joe hinted that polling a show with a regular audience under 10 million was not at all ideal. This year proved that. What does it mean for the future? “We’ll carry on doing it if requested by a client. If we’re in a similar situation with a very dominant favourite and low voting numbers, we’ll have to consider whether to publish. Like last year, this time we did only because we’ve been approached by a national newspaper. For them, it is other aspects of the polling that has become of greater interest, such as viewers thoughts on the judges, present and future, and whether they’ve enjoyed the series as a whole compared to previous ones.”

The return of Simon Cowell was highly anticipated in those findings, and it’s to be hoped his apparent return in 2014 will boost declining ratings for the decade-old show. It would make life easier for pollers and punters.

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6 comments to X Factor 2013 Review Part 3: Interview with YouGov’s Joe Twyman

  • tpfkar

    Thanks Joe. It does seem we have a franchise issue. I’m on the yougov panel and political franchising is easier as only over 18s can vote once or not at all, but on the X Factor anyone can vote as many times as they choose. It’s plausible that Nick has a disproportionate number of U-18 or multi-voters, making the polling difficult.

  • David Cook

    I’ve just read this – spending too much time on Big Brother. Not polling under 18’s has got to be a huge problem here. The acts they favor are obviously going to be different to the over 18 demographic. I’m assuming that under 18’s and perhaps younger teenagers in particular could be important in this.
    The news regarding free voting was also interesting and I was going to comment on this. Trying to keep it brief (i know I failed), I think the principal of free voting has got to be a good idea. The practice of implementing it and controlling it so that it is fair could be more problematic.
    But there could be another issue. As I understand it the premise of X-factor (as Daniel explains it) is basically as follows:
    The programme is essentially a Saturday night entertainment programme, hoping to gain as large a proportion of the viewing market as possible. The programme needs acts which keep this market happy. If possible the winner needs to meet this market and the order in which acts depart broadly needs to be seen as fair. In order for the programme to remain relevant it helps if the record buying public continue to buy thier records beyond the customary Christmas number 1.
    All of this is currently controlled by the relatively small, and unrepresentative, section of the viewers who actually bother to vote. The voters are manipulated by TPTB to try to ensure that the broader aims of the programme are met.
    I think that it’s a very clever trick and I am amazed that they manage to achieve anywhere near this.
    There is a point to this – honestly. Free voting will change this enormously – and how it changes it remains to be seen. The idea of free voting was to enfranchise people, and gain a younger audience. But if you have more 1D’s and less Sam Baileys’s do you risk loosing than more viewers as you gain. What I’m getting at is that the record buying public don’t watch X-factor. They hate it. And changing the voting format won’t get them to watch it either. Because they’re just not sitting in watching television on a Saturday evening.
    It’s just a thought.

  • David Cook

    Yes I know – I’m getting my principles mixed up with my principals. Spellings not a strong point – I just wish I was A star plus like Dappy.

  • Nissl

    Always worth keeping an eye on how acts are faring immediately post-show with Syco to help anticipate how favors might be distributed for similar acts next season.

    Sam B is having an album of covers rushed out; seems Syco has little faith in her being the next SuBo. Nick’s been signed and his album is coming out on Mother’s Day, which made me laugh as I remember several commenters suggesting it during the season. Luke is unsigned but insists, contrary to “sources”, that he’s still talking to Syco/Sony and they’re just trying to figure out which part of the company he’s going to link up with. Rough Copy were signed and are in the studio. Tamera was signed to a development contract. Hannah signed to RCA and is pumping out an album in a couple of months. Sam Callahan stripped for a gay magazine. Abi’s on the tour and is playing a few local gigs beforehand. Kingsland road are trying to promote a decent-sized event 6 weeks from now. Miss Dynamix split up, to nobody’s great surprise.

    Not intending to comment much on Eurovision since I have little understanding of the regional voting dynamics as an outsider to the continent, but I plan to stick around and watch!

  • Henry VIII

    I would have thought the audience of approaching 10 mill is more than enough for a decent poll.

    The problem may be the nature of the subject. From the poll to the vote a political party won’t change but a singer’s performance could.

    Matt Cardle, Rebecca and 1D were all quite different from each other and they were all consistent (consistently bad in 1D’s case). Good for accurate polling.

    2013 XF was all over the place, mainly because of poor quality contestants and producer meddling. Bad for accurate polling.

  • Dean

    Sam Bailey now pregnant hmm

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