Category Archives: Opinion polls

How Polling Works

Following on from my critique of polls and polling companies, I have produced this flow chart that explains how opinion polling works.  Polls don’t exist to measure public opinion, they exist to shape it.  The media and the polling companies enjoy a symbiotic relationship in which each sustains the other.  One supplies a narrative and the other responds by producing a poll to support that narrative.  The media company then produces a story that reinforces the initial narrative,  which uses the poll as ‘evidence’.  You may need to click on the image to view it properly.

how-polls-workEven when polls are patently nonsensical or illogical,  their ‘findings’ are lauded by commentators and their followers, who cite them as evidence to support one narrative or another.  One such poll is the recent ComRes poll , which claimed that “most people” think the Tories would do a better job at running the National Health Service this winter than Labour.  The same poll also claimed that “most people” thought the Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, was doing a “poor job”.  Make of that what you will.  In any case, the media’s commentators seized on it and cherry-picked its ‘findings’.  The negative narratives that had already been produced to put the Labour Party in a bad light were thus reinforced by this shoddy poll.

Wash, rinse and repeat: that’s how the process works.

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Filed under Journalism, Media, Opinion polls, propaganda

Opinions Are Not Sacrosanct

I’ve lost count of the times someone on Facebook or Twitter has told me that I should “respect” their opinion. I always tell them, “I don’t give a fuck about your opinion” and they, like some needy child, will always wail, moan and stamp their feet and accuse me of all kinds of things. As someone once said “Opinions are like arseholes, everyone has one”. Those who offer their opinions en lieu of a reasoned argument need to bear this in mind.

Opinions also tend to be confused for coherent and well-constructed arguments. There is nothing well-constructed about opinions, they are the product of an emotional reaction to someone or some thing, or they’ve been produced by the media and repeated without question . Yet, if you use the word ‘argument’ in your response, these people will confuse it with the word ‘quarrel’ or ‘disagreement’. An argument or a thesis is based on reading/study and is supported by the production of evidence. Opinions require no evidence. Hence, they are useless in a debate.

So what’s the difference between an opinion and an argument?

An example of an opinion is “I like McDonald’s burgers because they’re nice”. That statement is based on how a person feels about McDonald’s in relation to Burger King or any other fast food outlet. It is entirely subjective. There is no evidence to support the statement.

An example of an argument is “I hate McDonald’s because they refuse to recognise unions on their premises and have sacked unionised workers. Therefore, I boycott them”. Here, I have not only made a statement, but I have supported it with some evidence in the form of a link and given you my reasons for disliking McDonald’s. If I wished I could have added more evidence to support my thesis.

Recently, anti-Corbynites, Tories and Kippers have shouted in near unison that “Jeremy Corbyn is unelectable”. There is no evidence offered and the opinion is based almost entirely on narratives produced by opinion-formers in the mass media. If you attempt to press them to offer an explanation for this narrative, they will almost always mention a recent poll. But are polls evidence? No. Why do I say that? Because polls are not peer-reviewed and those who interpret the data aren’t self-reflexive. Moreover, the way in which respondents are led to a conclusion is rarely, if ever, discussed. Polling companies will preface a question with a statement like “It has been said that Jeremy Corbyn is unelectable”. Already, the notion that Corbyn is “unelectable” has been fixed in the respondent’s mind and they will offer a Pavlovian response on cue.  Remember, these are called opinion polls for a good reason.

Polls don’t exist to measure public opinion. On the contrary, they exist to shape it.

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Filed under Opinion polls, Research, Society & culture