Opinion polls have much impact but little value

Opinion polls not only have much impact, but they also have a great potential to do harm.

The Winnipeg Free Press carried two important stories.

The Canadian Press – ONLINE EDITION
Feb. 13, 2011
Pollster warns politicians: Think for yourself; don’t be slaves to public opinion

By: Joan Bryden, The Canadian Press

[The] blind faith in the authority of polling numbers is increasingly ill-founded as the industry struggles with a methodological crisis that is putting the accuracy of survey results into serious question.

“Anyone who’s done this long enough will tell you that public opinion need not be consistent, need not be permanent to be important or real,” [pollster Allan Gregg, chairman of Harris-Decima which provides political surveys to The Canadian Press]  says.

Full Story

There are more warnings and cautions about the accuracy — or rather lack of it — in Canadian polls in this story:

The Canadian Press – ONLINE EDITION
Feb. 12, 2011
Pollsters advise voters to be wary of polls ahead of possible spring vote

By: Joan Bryden, The Canadian Press

OTTAWA – Canada’s notoriously competitive pollsters have some surprisingly uniform advice about the parade of confusing and conflicting numbers they’re about to toss at voters ahead of a possible spring election: Take political horse race polls with a small boulder of salt….[Andre Turcotte, a pollster and communications professsor at Carleton University.]

“The way it’s working now is a real dog’s breakfast. It’s not working,” says Ekos Research president Frank Graves, who provides bi-weekly surveys to the CBC.

There’s broad consensus among pollsters that proliferating political polls suffer from a combination of methodological problems, commercial pressures and an unhealthy relationship with the media.

Start with the methodological morass.

“The dirty little secret of the polling business . . . is that our ability to yield results accurately from samples that reflect the total population has probably never been worse in the 30 to 35 years that the discipline has been active in Canada,” says veteran pollster Allan Gregg, chairman of Harris-Decima which provides political polling for The Canadian Press….

Full Story

The article explains the meaning of “margin of error”, that it is important, that statements relating to margin of error often have no basis in fact, and that the media regard the numbers provided in polls to be more important than the truth — or the lack of it — that those numbers should represent but no longer can or do.

The media are addicted to the ‘horse race numbers” provided by opinion polls.  As the first story identified above indicates, the politicians are guided by the often false numbers provided by the polls, and if you are addicted to the media, to politicians and to opinion poll results, then all is well.  At least all of the players, including you, have got their story straight.  The trouble with that is that the story line that every player in the game adheres to is a plot out of a bizarre reality and bear little relation to the real world.

The trouble with that is that the story line that every player in the game adheres to is a plot out of a bizarre reality and bears little relation to the real world, other than making the real world more bizarre.

All of that means that Canadian politics are being as firmly controlled and steered by a bizarre story line as, for instance, the USSR was controlled and steered by the aims of the Central Party Committee.

Whether a controlling ideology is used by a Central Party Committee and published through the media, thereby controlling and influencing the people, or whether it is being promoted by the media to influence politicians and the public who vote for them, there is little difference.  The results are the same: central control through an overpowering ideology.

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