Monday, 21 April 2014

Reading The Signs No. 2 – The Slanted Poll

Ever since Yes, [Prime] Minister we have all learned just how easy it is to structure and present an opinion poll that is likely to deliver the answer that is wanted, and not necessarily the answer that is true...



There are many techniques involved in slanting poll results, though I am not going to explore them in detail here. Just an example or two should suffice. Actually, just one, as the 'Mittens Romney' poll (don't ask!) I also had lined-up for this turns out to be full of so many holes that, on deeper research, it has been difficult to explain just how that one seems to have come about. However, the mere fact that someone commissioned such a poll is in itself indicative of a specific intent.

Anyway, moving on...

Just recently, a local newspaper in my home county ran an online click-on embedded poll on one of its news pages regarding the forthcoming Euro elections. For which party would you vote? was the single question, and one simply clicked on the preferred choice from a bullet list and then clicked Submit. All standard stuff for this kind of thing; and they had taken basic precautions to prevent multiple voting (I always test this in cases such as this).

So, what was the problem? It was that the article talked almost exclusively about UKIP, and the full-width photographs were of the UKIP leader. No other party was thus featured, merely mentioned in passing. You can of course guess the outcome of the poll: a 'resounding' victory for UKIP.

I saw it coming; but cast my own vote anyway, so as not to be able to be accused of 'allowing' that result but not foing anything to help prevent it. Incidentally, the psychology behind this particular slanting, and in particular why it works, is a little more subtle than most. With a little thought, and by realising the somewhat obvious nature of the local rag's readership, it becomes obvious, but isn't so immediately.

The bottom line is that it has no value, and it also shows up the newspaper for its bias – and I for one have learned that lesson and will never trust them with anything again. That trust has been destroyed for ever – and it is entirely their own fault.

For all reading this, the message is stark and clear: be careful and don't be taken in, no matter how authoritatively something is presented and from which source. In reality there are very few of us without a hidden agenda and who always 'play it straight'. ou know one such already (if you've been paying close enough attention over these years I have been blogging!) and I am being pulled toward the conclusion that I might have to do more in the field yet again – though I'd rather not have to, as I now have other, equally engrossing, interests.

It's all enough to drive one up the 'poll'!

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