Feb 132012

Polls, polls, and more bloody polls.

The only people genuinely interested in these endless bloody polls – and their interest per se would be debateable – are the bloody pollsters. I’m fed up to the back teeth with the latest poll for best liner-upperer of the knife-fork-spoon combination in the Parliamentary dining room. I’m not at all one for polls, believing in the time-worn adage that only one ever counts for anything, and that’s when the democracy faery visits us once every three years, federally. That poll is the only poll which has a ‘sample’ large enough to be worthy of the name.

There is an excellent piece on The Political Sword on polling in Australia, which goes into chapter & verse on the historical relevance of polling between elections. It’s well worth a read. The pertinent passage which conforms with my own belief being:

“Without going into tedious detail, polls are only as reliable as the quality of the sampling and the size of the sample. Regarding the nature of the sample, some wonder whether the use of landline phones distorts sampling, as it may tend to sample less adequately the younger people who predominantly use mobile phones. Getting a sample that is truly representative of the opinions of the entire Australian electorate is the greatest challenge to pollsters. Because representative sampling in online polls is impossible, they are not only useless, but dangerously misleading.
A sample size of around 1,000 carries a margin of error of around 3%; with smaller samples (some may sample as few as 600), the margin of error rises. To reduce the margin to 1%, around 10,000 would need to be sampled, but this is too expensive for the pollsters. While pollsters acknowledge these sampling drawbacks, usually in fine print, they usually do not feature prominently in any commentary, so that readers tend to regard the figures as ‘gospel’ and attribute more significance to them than the figures warrant. Even minor deviations, within the margin of error, are given credence.”

I would further question the demographic which is polled. In Australia, demographics are widely spread and all too often, we find that polling is limited to, say, western Sydney marginal electorates, which says nothing for the rest of Australian opinion. Opinion, that’s all polls measure. Not voting intentions because such things are only ever expressed on election day, in the booth. As to inane questions such as “who makes the better Prime Minister”, I am always aghast at the credence placed on the responses by the Main Stream Media. Prime Ministers are NOT elected. Candidates are elected, political organisations select their leaders and by default, a majority political party leader who leads their organisation to an electoral victory becomes Prime Minister. We, the people, don’t elect them. In fact, we know two-fifths of five-eighths of sweet fanny adams about them as either individuals or political aspirants. Their parties like it that way. They, like all of their political colleagues, are simply candidates.

The poll attracting most attention from pundits today is supposedly one conducted by Newspoll over the weekend, which apparently reveals those polled believe Tony Abbott is the better economic manager over Julia Gillard. Well, first point, I can’t find this poll and have searched the Newspoll site diligently, so exactly where is the proof of the Murdoch Media pudding? Secondly, Prime Ministers and Leaders of the Opposition don’t manage the country’s economy on their Pat Malone. Economic management is oversighted by the Reserve Bank of Australia. Treasury – a public service bureaucracy – does the actual management of decisions made by government. Note that word, ‘government’. Government is not one person. Government is a decision-making collective. Anyone who believes otherwise simply doesn’t understand the meaning of Australian democracy and our Parliament. When you drill right down, a good two-thirds of the voting populace would believe economy is something you achieve by driving judiciously or selecting this week’s bargains from Coles, Woolies or Aldi. Very, very few people understand or even take an interest in the big picture approach to the job of economic management which governments handle. Again, such questions as to who might be the better economic manager are entirely irrelevant.

So let’s get to the nub. What purpose do polls serve if only to feed the 24/7 media cycle? Is it genuinely “news” if a poll comes out every Monday morning from any one of seven or eight different pollsters, purporting to allude to this or that preference, when news briefs mention only what the particular controlling editor wants to put into print, or use as a soundbite on radio & television? What use if the genuinely interested, and I’m not one, can’t go to a website to peruse the stats for themselves? Why are the ‘undecided’ results never paid any heed? The answers are very simple. Hype makes type. Sensation fills newspaper columns and airwaves. A small demographic, and it is a VERY small demographic, actually look forward to these snippets of ultra-refined statistical equivalent of output from a bovine intestine. They feed upon it, excite themselves to the point of self-congratulations or flagellation. To what end utterly escapes me.

Don’t be a part of that minority, disproportionate demographic which hangs off the results of the latest droppings from a polling company. Always remember, they’re only doing what they do, in order to make money. The punditry that ride along remora-like on the body of pollsters are only picking up the crumbs which are passed on to you, the radio listener, TV viewer, newspaper reader. If you’re really, genuinely interested in what other people think, do your own research. You’ll be just as accurate, probably more so.

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