Surveys Skew the Votes29.04.10
Aired on April 29, 2010
Narration by Baben Lumapas
SURVEYS SKEW THE VOTES
These days, and around the world, the pollster is a key player. In many democratic societies, the opinion poll is an important tool to gauge support not only for candidates but also for policy choices. Techniques for seeking public opinion have become so refined that within minutes after, say, a major address, people can be asked whether they liked it or not.In our country, opinion polls have become a tool, not just for gauging support, but for decision-making. Sadly, given our tendency to go with the winner, the bandwagon effect kicks in and makes surveys less a gauge of people’s views than like betting on the odds in a horse race. That is why every now and then, people say not so good things about polls and pollsters.
A candidate who was once badly trailing in the opinion polls had criticized the leading survey groups for using outdated methods. He criticized the use of face-to-face interviews in surveys, saying that these have been proven to fail in the US experience.
There is an answer to his criticism. In our culture, in the first place, you are more likely to get an answer if the interview is face to face than if it is done through a faceless questionnaire. Context is important. How a tool works in one context is not necessarily how it will be utilized in another cultural context.
A journalist replied to the candidate’s criticism by saying that it reflected a degree of political immaturity. If he was not doing badly in the polls, the journalist asked, would he be singing the same tune? And if the polls did not truly reflect public opinion, why do people pay to commission them? Yes, survey firms do make mistakes, but it does not undermine the fact that they have been known to predict the results with accuracy.
On the other hand, surveys can be detrimental to a democracy like ours where its actual effect is that people no longer vote according to conscience but according to who is ‘winnable.’ There are some candidates in this election who have both the executive experience and the relative integrity to lead this nation with some degree of effectiveness and honesty. But because they lag behind in the surveys, people do not take their candidacies seriously. ‘Winnability’ rather than character or competence becomes paramount in the voters’ choices.
This is one country where the political culture is such that a tool like surveys can skew the choice of voters towards a more narrow but not necessarily better range of options as to who will lead this nation. It is time that polling organizations think seriously on how survey results can be disclosed without their being used as tools for unduly advancing a candidate’s fortunes and unfairly depriving the other candidates of a fighting chance.