Academic survey or political polling ?

[300 words]  May I refer you to a news release from the University of Oxford on 24th March 2021, titled:

Majority of UK public want greater choice at the end of life – survey

The news release concludes with Professor Julian Savulescu, Director of the Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics saying:

This survey shows that the general public want to have greater choice at the end of life.

However, elsewhere in the news release, we learn that the numbers participating in the survey were about 500. This, of course, is not 5,000 or even 500,000. It is certainly nothing like the 66+ million figure for the population of the United Kingdom.

Yet a professor at the Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics is stating that the general public wants what he suggests.

As many people know,  surveys are often a poor barometer of public opinion. As evidence I cite the outcome of Mrs May’s 2017 General Election gamble, and the result of the Brexit Referendum in June 2016. In both instances, the pollsters were critically and notoriously wrong.

One reason is obvious: however carefully selected to be representative, a small sample does not necessarily represent the whole. Secondly, I suspect that people’s minds are far more focused when they believe that the expression of their view may make a real difference. A survey of opinion is not an official ballot which will lead to a  change of government or policy.

Is it really the case that these Oxford academics don’t realize this ?

Of course, many intelligent and informed people know that opinion polls can be used for political purposes.

The University news release for this can be found at

Majority of UK public want greater choice at the end of life – survey | University of Oxford

The link to the survey report can be found in the news release.