A meme that one saw all over Twitter a few weeks back, posted always by left-leaning folk, was a quote from that well-known leftie Peter Hitchens, saying the following about polling:
“Opinion polls are a device for influencing public opinion, not a device for measuring it. Crack that, and it all makes sense.”
This was all part of the very commonplace left of centre disregard for polls we’ve seen since 2015; that the pollsters were supposedly making up the enormous leads that the Conservatives kept racking up every week. It was all a lie, apparently; in actual fact, Corbyn was winning over most of the country, and whenever a general election came around this would be proven. The polls would lie about it until the very end, of course, but they would be shown to be full of it once the results were in.
All that has now changed. According to the Left, the polls are now irrefutable. All it took, apparently, was for the pollsters to start telling them what they wanted to hear – after they started doing that, the polls became sacrosanct overnight.
The saddest part about all of this is that I, who has always tended to defend the pollsters, am looking at a situation I think fits into Hitchens’ paradigm perfectly, and all while watching the Left abandon their slogan right at the moment it could have served them well.
I have no idea what’s going with the polls, and I’m not about to accuse anyone of doing anything wilfully untoward. Yet it is odd that this “Labour bounce” perfectly helps the Tories by making Corbyn as prime minister seem like a genuine possibility. You want to get onto “influencing public opinion” here: the group the Tories are suddenly concerned about are older, core voters, the ones narked off by the dementia tax. They probably wouldn’t go and vote Labour, but perhaps they sit this one out in protest – at least enough of them to cost the Tories a dozen or more seats. But if it looks like this could result in Labour actually winning, or at least being able to form a government via coalition, this will scare this bunch into voting en masse, regardless of how annoyed about the dementia tax they might be.
Again, I have no idea of what’s going on and won’t say that anyone is manipulating any numbers to produce a result. But it was the Left that handed around the Hitchens meme about polls being nothing more than a manipulation “device”, so why has their suspicion of polls deserted them at the exact time they should be most wary of what they are saying? Never underestimate the power in telling people what they want to hear – the Left are no different in what they will swallow in this regard, as this past week clearly demonstrates.
nigel hunter says
Latest conspiracy theory?
You Gov founded by two big- wig Tories
Wording of questions geared to achieve a certain answer.
Questioners go for certain ‘mode of dress’ people
The result comes out with what they wish it to (lead narrowing)’
Media jump on the result and lap it up.
Puts the fear of God up wavering Tory voters, they stay in the fold.
Gives Labour a false hope (other polls more ‘accurate?’ but are ignored).
They join the believers in polls
The only poll that matters is the one on the day that brings forth the Government.All others are bunkem!!!
Albert Snodgrass says
I’m posting under a pseudonym but my email address for Nick Tyrone is real.
I worked for a market research company many years ago. I am not a statistician or psychologist. I’d just like to comment about ethics in market research.
We didn’t do any political work but I worked with associates at other firms who did so in private and business roles. Market research people are usually bright and socially aware, so it is no surprise that they might be interested in politics.
Market researchers are expected to be observers of human behaviour. A lot of market research analysts regard themselves as social scientists and behave accordingly. If market research companies are believed to be manipulating behaviour (e.g. by asking loaded questions), the public would stop helping and the market research industry would decline. Given that political work is a loss leader, companies are unlikely to go down the road of manipulating opinion; and they would lose many staff if people felt that companies were doing so.
It is for advertising and marketing people to change minds. In politics, campaign strategists win votes. Regard pollsters like accountants predicting monthly sales (and the effects of recent advertising); pollsters deliver welcome or unwelcome data that will be used by somebody else.
The Conservative win in 2015 happened because the party conducted research in the right places and acted on it.