Monday, 26 August 2013

We seem to have an unhealthy addiction

to opinion polls, and even more so at present.
One of our neighbours gleefully announced to me yesterday that the political party she supports had risen again in the polls. I refrained from saying anything but I wanted to point out that the "1%" rise she was so excited about is meaningless. It comes within the "margin of error" and that is usually considered to around 4%. In other words there could be four percentage points difference between the figure given and the actual votes her party gains on the day.
Indeed, although the opinion polls and the political pundits suggest the Opposition is in a winning position at present there is absolutely nothing certain about this. Anything could happen. Indeed there are many in the government who still genuinely believe they can win.
But, the media makes much of opinion polls. They are published on a regular basis. Politicians claim not to take any notice of them. This is why the government recently recycled the Prime Minister. They were not (perhaps) taking any notice of the opinion polls.
Of course they do.
Opinion polls are, as I have said elsewhere, an inexact science involving samples of the population. We rely on them for all sorts of reasons, not just politics. They give an indication of what might happen. They can be right - and often are. They can be wrong - and often are. Those conducted by some of the big, well respected researchers provide essential information for the development of government policy and for those involved in social activism. They have their place.
But a movement of 1% is meaningless.  A movement of 5% would not be. That would suggest there is a shift in opinion large enough to influence the outcome of the election.
In my humble, or perhaps not-so-humble, opinion the media is spending too much time reporting on these things. It is lazy journalism. It makes for quick and easy reporting. It fills in a nice large space in the print media and can take up a minute or more on air.
It would be good for all of us if those opinion polls ceased, at least for now. It would be good if, for the rest of the election campaign, they were not mentioned. It would be even better if the media concentrated on telling us what the policies of the various parties are. We get a little of Labor. We get a little of the Coalition. We get an even smaller amount of the Greens. Katter's Australia Party has had the occasional mention, as has the Palmer United Party. Little detail has been mentioned. Wikileaks has rated a mention but no real analysis.
Oh yes, you can look the details up for yourself on the internet if you are a political junkie. Most of us are not that interested. I know of only one person who is likely to do it. Her hobby is politics. Mine is not. Most people are not interested enough to do a search.
The major parties are relying on that. They are relying on the loyalty of voters to "their" side of politics.
I do wish the media would spend less time on opinion polls and more time on policies. It might make those opinion polls mean something.

No comments: