Thursday, March 05, 2009

What Poll?

This is the Ultimate “Push Poll”

By Marcus M. Mottley, Ph.D.

We recently heard that a “new” poll “just released” indicated that the ALP would win the upcoming general elections by 14 – 3!

Even before the numbers were released many people – from those with varying levels of knowledge of surveys and statistics to common, everyday folks who didn’t even reach Senior 3, were scratching their heads over the ‘new’ poll and the pollsters who were footing it around various communities.

One of my family members noticed two young girls walking hesitantly down the street and timidly and nervously glancing at her as she tended to her garden. Being curious, she asked them if she could help them. They hemmed and hawed, each one waiting for the other one to say something. Finally, one of them pushed a form in my family member’s hand and said that they were conducting a poll.

Wanting to be helpful, she filled out the information. As she was completing the form, it dawned on her that she had not asked who was conducting the poll and who they represented. They responded that they were conducting the poll for “Some people from America who represented Obama… or who had worked with Obama..l or some lame response like that. ”

Of course all kinds of “red” flags went up in her head! But… she completed the survey and they quickly hustled away.

Since I heard that I began to ask my friends around Antigua about their experiences. I found out that some of these juveniles who were giving out the questionnaires were approaching only those people who they knew and many of them… maybe most of them… were approaching people who they knew belong to a particular party! Why? Well… maybe they got instructions to do so… or maybe those were the people with whom they were most comfortable… since they all belonged to the same party!

In some instances, I am told that some of these young people would avoid and bypass the houses to the front… those to the street-side... and go down the alley to the houses in the back where the people with whom they are familiar live.

So questions about the sampling methods will abound. The reasons for those doubts are not driven by what the pollsters say… and not even by the so-called results. They are driven by what people in the community have seen. They are driven by the behaviors of those young people who were doing the polling.

But one does have to question the “poll” itself. I have not seen the questionnaire so I cannot question the relevance of the questions asked or analyze the format of the questionnaire.

For a long time, however, I have felt that some of the pollsters who conduct public opinion polls in Antigua, fail to release the full information about their sampling and polling methods at the same time that they release the results. It is as if they do not want their methods to be under scrutiny.

The results of all such surveys should be posted online along with copies of the questionnaire and a full description of both the sampling and polling methods and the methods of analysis.

There should be full disclosure about who conducted the surveys, who paid for the whole exercise, where and when the surveys were conducted and what the limitations to the exercise were. How many people took part in the poll and can they prove it by showing us the surveys? Any reputable pollster would keep the documents on which their results… and their reputation… stand. At least they would keep them until after the election for which they are ‘predicting’ the results…. Or is it ‘pushing’ the results?

You cannot just tell me that ALP is going to win 14 of the seats and expect me to buy that… particularly when every other poll indicates evidence to the opposite.

A poll released one week before the election? That sounds and looks and feels and smells like a push poll to me.

What is a push poll? Wikipedia says that it is a “political campaign technique in which an organization attempts to influence or alter the view of respondents under the guise of conducting a poll.” It continues that in a push poll “large numbers of respondents are contacted, and little or no effort is made to collect or analyze the response data.”

In the current case, I don't even think that large numbers of people were contacted. And, we don’t know if the organization that supposedly carried out this poll is a reputable research firm. What is their track record? Who paid them?

What we do know is that the timing raises questions, the methodology dumbfounds our understanding, and the results… well… simply put… they are not believable.

It is a push poll in the sense… that they are trying to “push” the notion into our heads… that they can win… that they are going to win… that they have more than a chance…!

Again according to Wikipedia… “It is a form of… propaganda and rumour mongering, masquerading as a poll.”

Lets push this gross attempt at rumour mongering out of the way. Pay it no more attention. Period!