A month ago the ALP was up in Newspoll. Today …
well, you know what it says. But does it actually mean anything? This and the
next Newspoll will mark the midpoint between two elections – or as close as you can get..

Britain went to the polls just last May.
Since then, however, the Tories and the Liberal Democrats have gained new
leaders, and Labour soon seems set to follow as Tony Blair gradually cedes more
power to his Chancellor, Gordon Brown.

Yet a
recent poll provoked a fierce response in the Press Gazette by commentator
Carol Sarler:

The
question in last week’s MORI poll for The Sun was straightforward
enough: “How would you vote if there were a General Election
tomorrow?” The answer, had common sense applied, should have been equally
straightforward: “But there isn’t. Come back and bother me in three years’
time.”

Instead,
far being it from The Sun to waste their investment, they handed over
the better part of an above-the fold half page to a solemn reporting of the
“shock poll” results – the “shock”, predictable to any with
the slightest interest, was that “Dave Takes A Dive” – for all the
world as if it mattered…

Now, I
can see why the increasingly focus-grouped labours of the individual parties
might wish to attempt to monitor even the smallest fluctuations on a daily
basis. What I can’t see, however, is why their essentially flawed research does
not stay within their camps, where it sensibly belongs, rather than being
endlessly released in the guise of “news” – which, in any meaningful
way, it is not.

Sarler notes that “the roughly 20% of the population, who
make up the
floating vote that will actually pick our next government, famously
does not
commit until the last possible moment”. So rather than asking questions
now, “you might as well save your breath, and your money, and
ask Mystic Meg.”

Are polls
purely p*rnography for political groupies? Probably. Sarler describes how wavering
public opinion is “being dished up figures and graphs and pretend cakes cut
into pretend slices.” And she attacks editors for the attention they pay to
polling:

In almost
no other field of subject could they persistently fill choice positions in
their pages with stuff to bore the pants off those who feed them and expect to
get away with it. The exception is made here, I fear, because the higher up the
paper-chain you look, from senior executive to editor and on even further, to
proprietor or to board of trustees, the more likely you are to see people
flattered into playing to their own interests…

Sarler
recognises that most people have general interest in politics, but only really
engage at election time and the focus on polling outside campaigns
creates “serious risk of overkill, a risk that another three years of this will
impede the democratic process because voters will just stop looking, listening
or giving a toss.”

Today’s
Newspoll is of infinitely greater interest to Labor insiders than voters. How
these insiders might react will have greater impact on ordinary voters than the
poll itself.

So, do we
suffer from poll overkill? Perhaps we need some market research – maybe a poll.

Peter Fray

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