In Brief

YouGov tried to influence Iraq vote, say whistleblowers

Polling firms face fresh scrutiny after Brexit data scandal

One of the world’s most respected polling companies has been accused of trying to influence a controversial independence referendum in Iraq last year.

The Daily Telegraph has learnt that YouGov gathered information about voters and secretly created material for social media that promoted independence for Iraqi Kurdistan.

According to evidence provided by whistleblowers to the paper, YouGov created videos for a Facebook page targeting voters in the disputed oil-rich region of Kirkuk, playing on fears about security, criticising the Iraqi military and praising the Kurdish armed forces, known as the Peshmerga.

An example of “astroturfing”, when a PR campaign is presented as being disconnected from the organisation funding it, it comes in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal in which voters were targeted with Facebook content in an effort to influence opinions ahead of elections.

The revelations will raise further questions about the impartiality and influence of polling firms, who have recently come under fire from UK MPs for selling poll results to hedge funds ahead of the Brexit referendum, potentially allowing the firms to make million betting against the pound.

Stefan Kaszubowski, global head of custom research at YouGov, denied any wrongdoing and defended the firm’s “high level of ­accuracy and objectivity in polling and consultancy”.

Nonetheless, YouGov’s work on the Kurdish campaign for independence also “raises questions” for Nadhim Zahawi, one of the company’s founders and the current parliamentary under secretary of state for children and families, says the Telegraph.

At the time YouGov was working on the Kurdish independence campaign, the MP for Stratford-upon-Avon still owned shares in the polling firm. He also received a a monthly salary of ­almost £30,000 from Gulf Keystone Petroleum, an oil and gas company that is focused on the Iraqi Kurdistan region.

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