The Null Device

How to lie with polling

As the Australian election approaches (capsule summary: the Tories look set to be wiped out, much as they did in the previous two elections), the ABC's Bob Ellis (presumably a leftwinger who evaded the purges) claims that Rupert Murdoch's polling organisation manipulates its own results by timing its polls, technically without actually doing anything fraudulent:
Newspoll is not called 'the Fox News of statistics' for nothing. Like Fox News, it serves Rupert Murdoch. Like Bill O'Reilly, it tells him what he wants to hear. And what does Rupert Murdoch want to hear? Well, that the voters are very volatile, for one thing. The Labor numbers go up to 58 before the Great Debate, then down to 54 after it. On the weekend when, in the greatest gatherings in human history, the West protests against the Iraq war, and it's known that most Australians oppose it, the vote for Howard goes up. When he's found to have lied about Children Overboard, the vote for Howard goes up. When Howard seems on his last legs, he gets the good news he needs. From Newspoll, the preferred Murdoch pollster.
And like Newspoll you ring no mobile phones, thus eliminating or minimising, the Labor-leaning, or Green-leaning, under-38s. Like Newspoll you ring homes on Friday night, when the under-38s aren't home, but the old, the ill, the friendless, the poor and the mad are, the Howard battlers, the Menzies limpets, the One Nation crazies in socks and sandals. And you make them one-third of your figure.
How is I know, or I suspect, this is what they do? Well, I noticed the Labor vote always plummets, according to Newspoll, at the beginning of the Christmas holidays, and soars at the end of them, and it has for the last ten years. Is this because people think of John Howard over the plum pudding and decide that they love him? No. It's because the Labor vote, or the prosperous, educated Labor vote, aren't home. They're at the Sydney Festival or on a boat on the Hawkesbury or in a hotel in Byron Bay or a pensione in Venice whereas the old, the ill, the friendless, the poor and the mad are at home, as usual, waiting for Newspoll to engage them in detailed conversation. And so it is the Labor vote goes down at Christmas, and up again after Australia Day.

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