How do we explain the difference between the News and Fairfax polls on whether Turnbull or Hockey is the preferred coalition leader. As someone who has had a very long career in teaching and doing quantitative research, I can suggest a possibility. It’s the don’t care factor.

Any experienced researcher knows that the cardinal sin in research is getting a response that does not reflect the views of the respondent. This is particularly likely to happen when the respondent really does not care about the question but is not ready to acknowledge this to the interviewer.

How can a voter be caught out not having a firm opinion on THE big issue of the week. Every media outlet, even the populist ones, banged on about the leadership issue. This is not even a new issue, but a regular return to headlines one. Its prominence reflects the interest of the press gallery and media outlets, but not the population at large.

The boredom factor in research can be seen in those polls where people are not interested enough to have a solid opinion but have the compulsion to answer something. they don’t want to acknowledge they don’t care, and there is no category for such a response. Question designers try and push for a response they can interpret easily.

So two sets of questions on a random sample would expect to have the same randomised responses from disaffected voters, but maybe this time the views were genuinely refecting a don’t care viewpoint which means they diverged with people just saying something to terminate the boredom. Maybe more in one poll had just listened to the news and were crss or just bored enough to answer in ways that were not random. Bored respondents are not reliable in their responses.

I’m sure that some qualitative responses would show that most voters cared very little which of them was the leader as they thought it was not going to make any difference, so both responses were equally meaningless.

Maybe the media needs to look at why they take the fallible area of polls as seriously as they do, and find some real news to engage people. Between polls and deluges of economic statistics, it’s not surprising people get bored.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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