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.