Richard Northedge

Pollster with an eye for business

Kurdish-born Nadhim Zahawi, boss of the internet-based polling company YouGov

The company Gordon Brown will be watching most closely as Prime Minister is the polling company most closely watching him. YouGov named Harriet Harman as the deputy best able to help him win the next general election, for example; until that day comes, it will constantly measure Brown’s popular support.

YouGov’s polls did not trouble Tony Blair when he moved into No. 10 because the company did not exist. It is a product of internet technology, founded just as the dotcom bubble burst in 2000. But it is still here, and for all the headlines generated by its political polls, they now provide less than 5 per cent of its profits: this Aim-quoted company makes its real money servicing conventional business.

The company’s chief executive and founder is anything but a conventional businessman however. Nadhim Zahawi, who turned 40 this month, fled to Britain from Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, stood for parliament as a Conservative but became entwined with Jeffrey Archer and saw his political ambitions dashed.

The man now measuring Brown’s fortunes emphasises that his own leanings influence neither his political polling nor YouGov’s corporate work. ‘We do work for all the three main parties and the Scottish Nationalists and Ukip,’ says Zahawi. ‘There are Chinese walls that are never breached. We pride ourselves on being non-partisan.’

What has attracted all those parties (plus, on occasion, The Spectator and the Telegraph) to a polling newcomer is YouGov’s speed and sample size. Conventional pollsters typically conduct 1,000 phone or street interviews; YouGov has a panel of 150,000 it questions by email. When Blair became party leader the technology did not exist. ‘The industry created methodology that suited its limitations,’ says Zahawi. ‘We came into it almost because we were untainted by that tradition. With technology you can engage huge numbers of people in an incredibly economical way.

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