Essential polling

William Fettes writes: Re. (comments, yesterday). In response to David Hand’s comment about Essential polling in yesterday’s edition: it must be said an extreme contention requires commensurate evidence that was notably absent in his rant. But the example he cited isn’t even mild push-polling, let alone evidence of unscientific methodology.

One of the most infamous examples of push polling was used by Karl Rove against McCain in the South Carolina primary with the highly loaded question: “Would you be more likely or less likely to vote for John McCain for president if you knew he had fathered an illegitimate black child?” That’s a push-poll question.

Push-polling is designed to shift the views of participants using suggestive innuendo in the question to negatively attack an opponent or positively boost an ally. Because it relies on influencing participants, it is usually combined with much larger sample sizes than would be necessary for normal polling. At the very least, the language is non-neutral and the order of the questions makes it apparent that it is designed to influence subsequent questions.

Nothing like that is apparent in the example cited by Hand, and all the mainstream polls ask their specific questions after they’ve determined critical stuff first, like voting intention. For that reason, even awkward phrasing of subsequent questions will not impact measures like 2PP.

Moreover, it is perfectly proper for a pollster to assess top ordinal priorities amongst major spending items proposed by a sitting government. It is not push-polling to ask this neutrally, excluding a revenue-raising Pigovian tax that is already legislated as well as the Opposition’s plan to abolish said tax. Both matters are not in the same category.

Now, this question in isolation tells us very little about how people rank different policy proposals between the two parties, but I don’t see Essential claiming otherwise, and it’s certainly not evidence of them pushing the poll.

Given the embarrassing failure of the Republican epistemic bubble and inskewed polls in preparing for the US election result, with the comparative vindication of the open, scientific approach, including a strong performance by online models, I really do question the wisdom of any conservative who goes looking to pick a fight in this area without a little more research and knowledge about the science of polling.

Come back and play again when you can actually demonstrate there’s a house effect biased towards the ALP, some other serious methodological problem, or a genuinely poorly framed question which is trumpeted by the pollster inappropriately.

Peter Rosier writes: Has David Hand just returned from a trip to work on the GOP’s campaign in the US? His whinge (to us lefties) has a satisfyingly familiar ring to it.

Political parties getting closer, despite unkind polity

John Richardson writes: Re. Richard Farmer’s chunky bits (yesterday). Surely it’s no riddle at all in the fact that the vicious nature of the current engagement between our major political parties seems to stand in sharp contrast to the similarity of their policies?

Sadly, for all of us, when there is no fundamental difference between the protagonists at a policy level, they are left with little option but to go the knuckle on a personal level.

Alan Baird writes: Of course the dialogue becomes more vitriolic the closer they become in policy! In economic terms it’s called product differentiation. They have to turn purple and shout especially loudly when ever they reach the point, illustrated by Clarke and Dawe down on all fours, parting the pile in the carpet looking for the difference.

Abbott’s “urban Aboriginal” remarks

Judy Bamberger writes: “Urban Aboriginal” and “not a man of culture” — Abbott shows his own lack of tact, respect, culture.

“Highly traditional Australian Aboriginal, who is nevertheless charismatic and inspirational,” Abbott demonstrates his ignorance with his surprise that someone “highly traditional” can at the same time be “charismatic and inspirational.”

And since when is an “urban Aboriginal” not an “authentic representative of the ancient cultures” as asserted by Abbott? Is Abbott, then, not an “authentic Catholic” because he fathered a child out of wedlock?

US representative Todd Akin was soundly defeated for his “off the cuff” comments about “legitimate r-pe.” A few more similar, off the cuff remarks by Abbott, and he may suffer the same fate yet.