Election 2024: Guidance on the use of statistics in a pre-election period

The Office for Statistics Regulation’s (OSR) role is to promote and safeguard the use of statistics in public debate. We use our independent voice to stand up for statistics and to represent the public, reporting publicly where we have concerns and highlighting good practice.

Ahead of the pre-election period, OSR’s expectations of organisations remain the same as any other time. OSR has a clear interventions policy that guides our work on making statements on the use of statistics in public debate.

Government statistics and data may be under additional scrutiny as election campaigns begin, and therefore it is essential that organisations continue to work in line with the Code of Practice for Statistics and the principles of Intelligent Transparency.

Requests for statistical support should be free of conflicts of interest, including political pressure, and should remain focused on supporting the organisation’s business of the day.

Officials involved in producing government analysis should work to anticipate the data needs of the electorate ahead of an election. In particular, where statistics are published at a parliamentary boundary geography level, and there is a user need for data based on the new boundaries, organisations should take steps to reflect these in the data ahead of any pre-election period.

Pre-election period

The Cabinet Office and Devolved Administrations set pre-election rules in relation to making public statements or publishing new policies and outputs. Regular pre-announced statistical releases can continue to be published during the pre-election period, in accordance with the Code of Practice for Statistics. Statistics fieldwork and data collection activities can also continue during this time.

To align with these pre-election rules, OSR’s threshold for public intervention is raised during a pre-election period. The guiding principle for intervening will be if a statement is materially wrong or misleading to the point it could significantly impact on the political debates that are presented to voters.

Producers should refer to this guidance when supporting briefing or public statements during the pre-election period. To adhere to the pre-election rules and our expectations around transparency, any public statements made during the pre-election period should only refer to statistics and data that are already in the public domain.

Where unpublished data are referred to unexpectedly during the pre-election period, OSR will write to the Head of Profession for Statistics in the relevant organisation if an ad-hoc publication providing a source for the claim or equivalent hasn’t been published within 72 hours of the data being quoted. This applies to the unexpected release of official statistics and management information. While we take a broad scope in our intelligent transparency expectations, we understand that figures drawn from internal analysis or unpublished research may not be able to be published within this time frame. We would expect producers to provide an explanation if this is the case to support transparency.

Where misinterpretation arises from a lack of context rather than the figure not being in the public domain, OSR will work with producers to publish a clarification and any context on their behalf.

The UK Statistics Authority owns and maintains guidance regarding the publication of statistics on polling day.