Saturday, 3 June 2017

Pollsters, hucksters

After starting as the most boring ever, this election has become seriously interesting, not least because of the polls. The Cameron-led Conservatives (Tories, from here on) were pretty sure, largely because of the polls, they were going to win the Brexit vote (I mean, so sure that the UK would vote to remain, as was in the manifesto, he won on that, and the polls) and they lost. The May-led Tories (May herself a remainer, now U-turned, and the U-turning become her signature) were then sure, because of the polls, that calling this coming election would deliver a surefire landslide victory, barely any need (again) to campaign, certainly no need for the PM to bother debating one-to-one with the leader of the opposition, and now no one is so pretty pretty sure. Long before this, the polls had it so wrong on Corbyn getting Labour leadership.

There’s a fun article on the BBC website titled ‘How do opinion polls work?’, January 2016, which begins, hilariously: ‘The 2015 general election result took political pollsters by surprise and a of experts panel has now said that, put simply, their predictions were wrong because they spoke to the wrong people.’(I wasn’t among the wrong people, by the way; I’ve never been polled in my life. Maybe they just make it all up and take the money.) Which implies that the pollsters just got in with the wrong crowd, as any intelligent teenager does. And implies that the pollsters, though they may be experts – people pay them, they make a living from this – are always going to be ?smaller experts than the bigger experts, this other ‘panel of experts’: who they, and who pays them?

It’s fun, that BBC article, because it includes sentences such as: ‘Tory voters in general are also said by pollsters to be more likely to put the phone down [Ed: but how do they know the phone-slammers are Tory if they can’t even ask them?] or be ex-directory, and less likely to answer the door.’ Because the person knocking on the door might be one of those ex-offenders who want sell you severely overpriced tea-towels? But the knocking-on-the-door may be delivery of that thing you’ve ordered off the net, that thing that will make your life a little smarter ... And you sign with a scriggle on their pad. Dilemma. Tory dilemma.

Just open the door, ffs.

Polls are not cheap; someone is paying; who?; there’s very little transparency on this, or on their methodology. Meanwhile, the polls (‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ A pollster?) do influence how people vote. People, on the whole, follow other people. That's the only reason why polls are even vaguely interesting, and then not. They were why Cameron took in the EU referendum to get elected, and then had to resign. They were why May called this election. The polls work in mysterious ways.