http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-03-26/coalition-support-leaps-in-latest-newspoll/4593938 – Coalition support leaps in latest Newspoll
(Trigger warning: “smug bastard” photo of Tony Abbott).
Does it occur to anyone else this headline is rather like “Phenomenal amount of rain didn’t fall yesterday”?
According to this poll, if somehow time were annihilated between today, Tuesday the 26th of March, and Saturday the 14th of September, the Coalition might very well win the election. Provided the only persons who voted were the people sampled in the latest Newspoll.
Does the above summation help anyone to see just how this makes the headline, and the article it accompanies, resemble someone talking earnestly about how much rain didn’t fall last night?
Poll watching is the great spectator sport among Australian journalists, and there are polls just about every week measuring how people feel about X, Y, or Z. What these polls leave out (and what they have to leave out) is due to the mechanism of our representative democracy, how we-the-voters feel about issues doesn’t matter most of the time. It only matters on one day every three years – on election day, when we get to cast our votes. The rest of the time, it’s just noise, and no amount of opinion polls showing how concerned we are by $ISSUE are going to change the fact.
Politicians could quite easily ignore polls (and I’d argue things would be a lot better for a number of them if they did) – but then, the polls aren’t being commissioned by the politicians. This is the big clue. The opinion polls are being commissioned by the media organisations, because as far as they’re concerned, opinion polls are an easy way to generate a lot of content out of the one result. They can write stories about the poll result itself. They can write stories about how the result was received by various political figures (making a huge fuss if said political figures don’t give the results the same degree of importance they do). They can write stories about what these results might “mean” for various political figures. They can make a lot of journalistic soup out of the one onion of a single poll result.
But this only works so long as they conceal the basic truth: opinion polls, as a statistical measure, aren’t measuring anything relevant. The poll that matters is going to be held on September the 14th, it’s going to have a sample size which encompasses the entire Australian voting population, and will be far more representative than any media-sponsored poll could be. All the others before then? They’re just measuring how much rain didn’t fall yesterday.