Ipsos Mori questioned a sample of MPs on our behalf, and they turned out surprisingly upbeat about their own capacity to deal with stats and numbers. Nearly four out of ten professed themselves confident.
Yet the MPs were dubious about their colleagues. They were not convinced ‘politicians’ get it right when they talk figures. Fewer than three out of ten said politicians used stats accurately when talking about their policies. Even fewer, one in six, credited journalists with getting it right.
To get at what they themselves know we posed a basic question. If you tossed a coin twice, what’s the probability of getting heads in successive throws? Less than half got the answer right. It’s 25 per cent. Three out of five MPs either didn’t know or gave the wrong answer. The most common response was 50 per cent.
Ipsos MORI found some difference between the parties with Labour MPs less likely to get the calculation right than Tories.
However, a higher proportion of MPs got the question right than the general public. In 2010 (15-18 October 2010) Ipsos MORI interviewed 1,028 members of the British Public (16-64 year olds) online. That survey showed that just 30% of the general public gave the correct answer to this same question – 10 percentage points lower than MPs. Just as with MPs, the most common answer was 50%.
The RSS-getstats campaign has been running seminars for MPs and their staff – supported by the House of Commons Library and the All Party Parliamentary Group on Statistics – since Spring 2011. In late 2012 training will commence in the use of data and statistics for staff working in parliament.
Hetan Shah, chief executive of the Royal Statistical Society, said ‘We’ve held some well attended events in parliament, so MPs and peers are keen to get a better grip on statistics. MPs have excellent support from the House of Commons Library but so much policy and legislation now requires understanding of data and numbers. The survey is a reminder that there’s a stats knowledge gap we need to fill.’
Ipsos MORI interviewed a representative sample of 97 MPs face-to-face, the data were then weighted to reflect the balance of parties in the House of Commons during November and December 2011. Further details are available on Ipsos MORI’s website.