Buried towards the bottom of Phil Coorey’s report on last Monday’s AC Nielsen poll in last Monday’s Sydney Morning Herald was this short par:

Mr Howard’s approval rating was unchanged at 49 per cent, as was his disapproval rating of 44 per cent. Mr Rudd’s approval rating fell two points, which is within the margin of error, but is still high at 61 per cent, while his disapproval rating stayed steady at 23 per cent.

He said it. Margin of error. Nothing may have actually happened.

It’s an important point to consider in our current poll obsessing and with a Newspoll of federal voting intention due tomorrow.

So what’s a poor journo to do? Stanford University’s Simon Jackman offered one of the calmer observations amongst the flurry of blog posts that followed Newspoll’s last effort. He quoted Murray Groot:

[T]he press plays up differences which are otherwise insignificant because it has to. Its only alternative is to say that what a poll found today is not significantly different from what it found yesterday; and under most (though not all) circumstances, that sort of news is no news at all.

As Peter Brent observes in The Crikey Guide to the 2007 Federal Election (in stores next Monday) “Polls do become better predictors as the election approaches and the scenario becomes less hypothetical.”

He’s a political scientist. He’s got his job to do. So do journos and editors. Theirs are different.

And guess what?

Intelligent readers – discriminating readers – are supposed to realise this.

So please think before you add any froth of your own on tomorrow morning’s coffee.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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