December 28, 2003 | Graham

Year ends with another push poll

What is Newspoll up to? According to the Sunday Mail today 66 percent of people favour banning tobacco smoking in pubs and clubs, and 77 percent believe that the number of poker machines should be reduced.
Both figures are probably true, and elicit a “So-what?” response from me. The interesting thing is what else the pollsters found.
The hard copy version of the Sunday Mail actually leads with a stamp duty story pulled out of the polling – 84 percent believe it ought to be eliminated for buyers of first homes. The polling consists of a list of propositions that were put to 1200 randomly selected Australians over 18 years of age. Stamp duty is the number one issue, followed by factory farmed chickens, poker machines, the UN taking over running Iraq, reality TV, smoking in clubs, a national identity card, and so on down to privatization of Telstra.
There is no indication how the questions were chosen, but my suspicion is they are a list of propositions that the SM intends to beat up during the course of the year. Certainly the list is useless as an indication of what people are really concerned about. Are factory farmed chickens really going to be a major issue in any election this century, let alone in the next year? I doubt it. This is just another version of push polling.
In fact, I have objective information that proves the list is a crock. According to the poll 57 percent of people favour a new referendum on the republic. This is undoubtedly quantitatively true, but completely irrelevant because it doesn’t tell us how strongly that belief is held. When we asked 300 or so Australians to nominate what issues would be most important to them in deciding their vote at the next election only one mentioned the republic. That’s one-third of a percent only.
Public opinion polling can be incredibly useful, but too much of it is pumped out to confirm the prejudices of corporate clients, or worse still, because the people designing the questionnaire have no idea what they are doing. A poll like this one skews its results just through its choice of questions. While I suspect that is deliberate on the part of the client it does not reflect well on Newspoll that they would conduct the research at all.
The worst thing is that election “pundits”, starved for results of their own will parrot these findings as though they have some authority and it will not only poison the public debate but lead some people to do silly things in the pursuit of worthy causes. Of course On Line Opinion will continue with its innovative qualitative research. One of the features of our research method is that it eliminates interviewer bias and agendas as much as humanly possible and so allows what our interviewees really think to come through clearly. Unfortunately we don’t receive the same amount of publicity for our research from the mainstream press as the established quantitative researchers do. We’ll keep at it until we do.

Posted by Graham at 10:49 pm | Comments (1) |
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1 Comment

  1. Unless the polls deal with items that are of real concern to voters, they become an irrelevance.
    It was in the past; it will be in the future. Consider the following –
    “….I stood for the Socialist Party of Canada which, as I’ve explained already, was too doctrinaire and propagandist. Their feet weren’t on the same ground as the everyday voter. Our campaign drew the biggest crowds. We had the most enthusiastic meetings. Easily. Everyone waved socialist flags. Audiences cheered like crazy. We were the best free show in town. But, when the chips were down, we didn’t get the votes. The electors didn’t go for show; they went for benefits they could see and feel. The things that count. One of the candidates talked the whole time about marketing cantaloupes. Another about building a breakwater. I talked my bloody head off about a Cooperative Commonwealth embodying the glories of Socialism. When the numbers went up, cheap cantaloupes won with 2816 votes, the breakwater came second with 2332 and I, who’d offered the Canadians a whole new world of equality and opportunity – a peaceful, cooperative Utopia in which all could share – I came stone motherless last with 290. I learned two lessons. First: people aren’t the fools some of us think. Second: they don’t think ‘big’. They think ‘little’. It’s the little things that do them good in very specific ways that they’re going to vote for. Nothin’ high-falutin’. Just hardheaded, down-to-earth benefits. Any pollie worth his salt’s got to learn pretty quick that it doesn’t pay to promise too much – and it does pay to keep his feet on the same cold ground the electors are getting chilblains from.”

    Comment by James Cumes — January 2, 2004 @ 6:28 pm

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