Thursday, May 03, 2007

Opinion Polls

Words about politics don't come easy to me. Words about pictures do, however.

The French Hesitate: (on newspaper: "Opinion Polls") "50% of the French hate Sarkozy, 50% Ségolène."

One could call this an election Style Américain what with the branding, the soundbites and the scores of polls being taken. Candidate-wise, it's also a bit like our past two presidential elections: neither is particularly well-loved, and many people are voting against rather than for.


Relying on opinion polls can be a double-edged sword: several politicians here have been accused of conducting policy based on polls. Reliance on the shaky data of exit polls has caused quite a bit of grief in recent elections.

From a francophone site in Morocco:

"Presidential Elections 2007: Opinion Polls, the Drug of the French.

We're not speaking of anything but that now. On all the television stations, in all the newspapers, the fora, the blogs. What will become of France in 2007? Who will take up residence in the Champs Elysee? Bayrou, Ségolène, Sarko, Le Pen, or one of the eight other candidates?...

...What has been grabbing my attention the most during these elections has been the usage of opinion polls. Why so many of them? Are the French afraid of (bad) surprises? It becomes even more complicated when we start hearing about "voting intentions" and from the undecideds who "could vote pour so-and-so."

All this leads us to the following questions: What role do these opinion polls play? How are they calculated? Most importantly, what is their impact on voting intentions?

An opinion poll, by its very definition, is based on a sample of the population. Thus, it cannot objectively represent the intentions of all French people. Even less so when something as important as presidential elections are at stake.

Certainly, it is easier to say in the framework of a poll that "I'll vote for Ségolène," rather than to actually do so on election day (More tension in the air, more hesitation and of course, last-minute fears.)

The 2007 opinion polls are taken, either by institutions like the CSA or Médiamétrie. There are also plenty of newspaper sites that offer online polls. The latter are even more dangerous, as in the majority of cases, the sites don't have a means of guarding against bad data. For example, someone can always vote multiple times, thus

What one needs to keep in mind is the impact on intentions to vote...take, for example, Le Pen at the bottom of the list: why couldn't he get more people to vote for him? Whereas Sarko, leading in all the polls, might well encourage more anti-Sarko types (and not pro Ségolène types) to vote for Ségolène Royal?

In this case, opinion polls are much more dangerous than simple numbers and could very well be used to manipulate the voters."

No comments: