Is there a problem with political polling?

There is growing concern about political polling.

The Australian election result a week ago defied the polls. The Brexit referendum, Donald Trump elected president of the USA and the New Zealand election in 2017 all delivered different results to what polls were predicting.

I think the biggest problem here is the word ‘predicting’. Media has become obsessed with trying to predict election results. Polls are only designed to be approximate snapshots of voter leaning or intent, with typical statistical margins of error of 3-4% (as at the time the poll was taken, not on the election date).

ODT:  Is there a political polling problem?

In each of these examples, the Left has appeared stronger in polling data than the Right and, more importantly, the Left has polled higher than what the electorate has ultimately delivered.

It is worth noting that, in the above examples, polling data was very close to the final results. A little swing this way or that, added to margins of error, could be all the explanation required.

Don’t forget movement on voting intentions as voters close into making an actual decision on election day.

There is a school of thought, however, suggesting there is a trend at play here. The theory posits much of the major media organisations around the country and the world are staffed – at least on the “shop floor” – by a majority who swing left politically.

Is it possible an element of that presumed political thinking comes through in reporting?

There are two separate issues – polling, and reporting of polls.

Is it possible consumers of that news then feel it is more acceptable, when asked, to align themselves to the tone of the news stories and causes of the day, rather than more conservative views which may out them as morally outdated?

Is it possible the highly visual social campaigning undertaken by some on the political left – current strikes and marches are a fair example – compel those polled to err towards the left? And that, months later, in a private voting booth with just themselves, their personal views and a list of options in front of them, they opt for their own views – even if those views are more conservative than they’re willing to admit out loud?

There could be many reasons why this apparent trend in polling is resulting in a mistaken skew leftwards. It could well be the sample size listed in this piece is far too small to be worth analysing. Perhaps there is no issue at all.

I think there is very little issue. Polls don’t decide elections, media don’t decide elections (despite them appearing at times to do their best to influence them rather than report on them) – voters decide elections. It isn’t a contest between pollsters and voters.

Political arguments, intellectual disagreements and challenges to our world view are generally tiring and difficult. Is that what’s at play here?

Is the Left winning the publicity and polling battle, but losing the war?

That’s a different issue again.

And it isn’t entirely accurate – in the last New Zealand election the slightly more right leaning National Party won the election battle, but lost the coalition war to Labour, NZ First and the Greens.

There’s too many variations and variations to make any sort of statement about problems with political polling.

The best solution is to polls as approximate indicators of support prior to elections, and to ignore most media overstatements about their importance.

The media need to learn that they don’t decide election results beforehand. Voters have the only say.