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Scepticism about polls January 31, 2016

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.
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Harry McGee much earlier this month had this to say about polling in the course of a longer article in the IT.

There are two other problems that are insuperable for pollsters. People tell lies to researchers, be it face-to-face, on the phone or in internet polls. It is also impossible to differentiate with any accuracy those in the sample who will carry through on their opinion and those who will not.
It had been a habit of the Referendum Commission to carry out polling surveys after the final result of referendums to determine what influenced voters. This year after the same-sex referendum, it declined. “Past experience has shown that public responses after a referendum frequently result in those polled providing inaccurate data as to the level of claimed turnout and how the respondents claimed they voted. Accordingly, post-referendum polling may be misleading,” said its chair High Court Judge Kevin Cross.
In other words, people who have not voted say they have voted. Typically, more than 90 per cent say they voted when the turnout is two-thirds of that, at most.

There’s a lot in there beyond politics which is of interest. Why this sense that some of those who didn’t participate feel the need to say they did? What does that indicate about social and peer pressure even in this oddly disconnected age?

Another point he makes is worth considering.

In Ireland, there are some things that should be borne in mind. For one, opinion polls are a crude instrument. It is like being asked to figure out what’s behind an opaque window that’s also cracked. That said, the closer you get to polling day, the more accurate they become as people are more engaged. The Ipsos MRBI poll in the final days before the 2011 election was right on the money. But then when you scrolled back to the previous September, Labour’s support, according to the same pollster, was at a dizzy 33 per cent, which was never a true reflection of its support.

I think he is half-right there. Labour never had any strong or real support at the level, but… fleetingly it may have had some support pushing up into the high twenties.

He concludes by asking…

Distortions are caused by lower response rates; by flawed guesswork about which groups won’t vote; and by getting people to respond to a question on which they have no view. So why do we still rely on them so much? Seemingly, eight out of 10 cats still prefer them.

Well, perhaps, but more usefully one has to notice how they sell newspapers, become a part and parcel of the political discourse and so on. The recent flurry of polls with less bad (rather than better) results for FG and the LP are of a piece with that latter dynamic (the weekend articles on ‘focus’ groups are a part of that approach too). It is difficult to see them being banned, indeed ironically to do so might rob legitimacy from an election.

Comments»

1. dublinstreams - January 31, 2016

would the polling company that surveyed after the election not buy the marked register and check if the person voted?

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RosencrantzisDead - January 31, 2016

They very likely did. The point is that they had confirmation that people lied to them about voting and this lie undermines the presumption of truthfulness and thus the accuracy of the poll.

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dublinstreams - January 31, 2016

but Commissioner is not just using it as an example of why polls are wrong before elections/refs but a reason why they didn’t do a survey after the referendum, which doesn’t make sense as they ‘d have the data to make a more accurate survey.

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2. Liberius - January 31, 2016

The Ipsos MRBI poll in the final days before the 2011 election was right on the money.

However the RED C poll from the 23rd of February was not accurate with FG on 40%, 3.9% above the reality of three days later. In the case of Ipsos-MRBI they were just lucky that they were inside of the MOE for all the scores.

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3. Joe - February 2, 2016

The point is we’ll never know for sure whether any particular poll is ‘right or ‘wrong’, will we?
The last UK GE is a case in point. All the polls pointed to a hung parliament but on the day of the election, people voted in a Tory majority. Then afterwards, the polling companies ‘explained’ the ‘error’ by saying that they’d made a mistake and had polled more people more likely to vote Labour than to vote Conservative. And everyone seems to just accept that explanation – like everyone seemed to accept before the election that the polls were going to be on the money.
People can change their mind from the day before an election to the actual election day; they can lie to pollsters; they can lie to themselves; they can only making up their minds finally in the polling booth.

Yes, what I’m saying is the only poll that matters is the election itself!

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