February 20, 2006 | Graham

Saulwick poll commits classic error

Well, maybe it’s not the Saulwick poll that commits the error, but the SMH analysis of it. A classic error in opinion polling is to ask subjects what they think other people are thinking. This is “classic” because the reason for doing opinion polling is so you don’t have to rely on what people think other people think, or guess for yourself, you ask the people doing the thinking what it is that they are thinking (hope that is clear).
The reportage of the polling suggests that we are a “meaner” country because 50% of us think so. The headline “A meaner country and a good job too” also implicates those in jobs in this deterioration in “niceness”.
Saulwick didn’t necessarily phrase the questionnaire – pollsters act on instructions from their clients, and sometimes these instructions aren’t the ones you would have given yourself. This questionnaire was obviously phrase to the SMH the headline that it obviously wanted.
Why? Because the poll is skewed. It asks people whether they think Australia is “meaner”. So it sets the agenda before laying down the rest of the questions. If it didn’t have a preconceived agenda, it would have left the issue of describing Australia to the respondents and given them an open question. That’s what we do with our online polling, and it has consistently got us better results than the so-called professional pollsters.
Having said that, there is a large percentage of the population that thinks Australia is meaner under John Howard even in our polling, but what we find is that it aligns more or less with voting intention. We also find that it is poorly related to how people perceive their own actions and circumstances.
When you delve below the surface of the Saulwick Poll, that is what they find too. Interestingly, while 50% thought we were meaner, only 30% thought Australia a worse place to live than it was before Howard came to power. How do you explain this?
While Howard has many negatives his performance is rated overall as a positive – because the economy is doing well. People are happier when they are wealthier, despite the efforts of happiness researchers to prove this is only relative. They also tend to be more generous – because they can afford to be. The combination of those two things is that when people make a concrete judgement about the world around them, rather than an abstract one, they describe what they see rather than what they fear. So their response to this question says that less of them really think that the place is worse than it was, and the growth in the economy is one reason for this.
Of course, one of the reasons that they think the country is meaner is because they are told that it is. In a sense, what the SMH is measuring is the success of its own propaganda. Despite the odd conservative contrarian, the SMH message is Hanrahan’s – “we’ll all be rooned”.
One thing that they do get right, is that Australians are not happy with Howard’s performance on health. That too is something that our polling confirms, and which might be the saviour of Peter Beattie when Queensland goes to an election next year. It will also probably take health off the agendas of the South Australian and Tasmanian elections – there are no votes in it for the Liberals.
Howard has been a successful politician, but at a cost which he has transferred inter-generationally. Who’d be his successor? Most of the bad public relations will eventually boomerang the guy in centre stadium.

Posted by Graham at 11:01 pm | Comments Off on Saulwick poll commits classic error |
Filed under: Australian Politics

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