Tuesday, October 24, 2006

How to get the result you want from an opinion poll you commission or a petition you draw up.

It’s easy to get signatures to ‘save’ rural Post Offices or local Hospitals but no quite so simple if you include ‘and I would be happy to pay loads more tax to achieve this worthy goal’ after the ‘we the undersigned urge HMG to ...’ bit.

So too with opinion polls; ‘do you want a road to be torn through local fields disrupting wildlife and bringing more polution’ would almost certainly get a strong ‘no’ vote but then so would ‘are you happy that nothing is being done to take traffic away from your High Street’.

‘The clue is in the question’ as Terry Wogan used to say on TV’s Blankety Blank when it was, almost, worth watching.

There’s a nice little article in the Independent today. It outlines some tricks of the trade and says that an “astonishing thing is that the opinion polls are as accurate as they are... The pollsters contact 1,000 people and extrapolate from their answers the views of ... 44 million voters”. I’ve always found this thought rather more depressing than astonishing. Are we really merely herd animals rather than ones who would be heard (ho ho)?

At the last general election there was some excitement about “push polling”. The technique is to put ideas into voters’ minds by asking them questions in a pseudo-poll. ‘Are you happy that the Tory council plans to make three million pounds worth of cuts to local public transport’ is a none too subtle example of the genre. Do such tactics work? Don’t ask me; commission a poll...


At 21:31, Anonymous Skuds said...

There was a story, possibly by SF writer Isaac Asimov, about a future time when the psephologists had it down to such a fine art that they could get the sample so small that a single person would represent the overall feelings of the electorate, and then that single person person became the electorate with the result that it really was one man one vote.

At 21:02, Blogger Hughes Views said...

Thanks skuds - that would certainly make it easier to target our canvassing! And opinion pollsters would know if their panel were fibbing. But kinda hard to preserve the secrecy of the ballot which we hold so dear....


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