Straw Men Polls

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From top: Irish Times/Ipsos Poll from Martch 2, 2017; Tony Groves

Opinion polls are no longer a weather vane of the electorate but a a tool of manipulation.

So what has this got to do with the American buffalo?

Tony Groves writes:

Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics; unoriginal and cliche, but so often true. None more so than when we forensically autopsy Opinion Polls.

Despite predicting Brexit, Trump and our own 2016 General Election incorrectly, Polls are still afforded a undeserved gravitas.

People who like to be seen as “Centrist” are led into the arms of the Poll topping Party. The warm embrace of the herd is an attractive lure to people who are generally too busy to give the talent pool of politics much thought.

The consensus of a Poll can take the hassle out of voting. For supporters of smaller parties or independents, Polls can act as a disincentive to vote. They’re reported in such a way as to tell an already disillusioned citizen that their views are in such a small minority that the very exercise of voting is futile.

Pollsters constantly tell people, who are already on the fringes of society, that they don’t vote in enough numbers to change their lot in life. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy of political stagnation.

Nervous politicians can cynically use Polls to gauge which manifesto promises they should make (only to break later) in the seat retention race. Polls can bring on Leadership Heaves against a Political Corpse, or they can placate restless backbenchers. Maybe it’s better the Cadaver you know?

Take this Irish Times poll for example. It shows Fine Gael and Fianna Fail, at 28% and 29% respectively, are electorally viewed as Fianna Gael.

When Pat Leahy went on Newstalk Breakfast, with the Chuckle Brothers (Messrs Coleman & Williams) to explain how Fianna Gael’s support plummets when you poll people aged between 18-35, the lads were aghast.

Really? Imagine scratching your head in disbelief at the idea that the generation hammered by the 2008 Crash and the Age of Austerity would have an aversion to the Parties that oversaw the entire period? The mind boggles that their minds were boggled.

However, it was in the (whisper it) rise in the poll of Sinn Féin, that things took a more sinister turn and subtle biases surfaced.

To explain I digress, your patience please…

Between 1872-1874 over 3,700,000 Buffalo were killed. Of this gargantuan slaughter only 150,000 were killed by Native American Indians, that’s a little over 4%. The rest were butchered by the White Man; so bad was it that “the stench of rotting carcasses fouled the very winds of the Plains.” The stench of death, 96% due to the White Man, was 100% attached to the Indians. The Indian savage narrative was a convenient shroud to hide the brutality of our civilised Whites.

In much the same way Polls are used to civilise our electorate. In a brilliant piece of analysis Padraig O’Mara, showed how in the run up to General Election 2016, with polls showing Sinn Féin trending up, media biases became more pronounced.

A total of 1,150 articles were processed and fed through a sentiment analysis engine one by one to reveal that Sinn Fein received 200% more negative coverage than the other parties. 200%!

For every 100 articles on Sinn Féin, 61 were negative, 21 were neutral and 18 were positive. For combined Fianna Gael it was 28.5 negative, 22.5 neutral and 49 were positive.

Remember, the Indians did 4% of the killing and got 100% of the blame. 4% is coincidentally the same number Sinn Fein were up in the Irish Times Poll.

But rather than focus on the growth of a party of opposition, Pat Leahy quickly changed the narrative, saying Sinn Féin “tends to underperform the polls in elections”.

Neither Pat, Shane nor Paul dared acknowledge that Sinn Fein’s under-performance is part driven by media biases. That inconvenient truth doesn’t suit the cosy narrative of a civilised Fianna Gael versus a savage Opposition.

Discussing Polls exposes commentators’ (conscious or unconscious) biases. Media bubble world views explain away the trend of electorate polarisation, in trendy journalistic ways. In much the same way as the White Man explained away the extermination of the Buffalo as “the only way…to allow civilisation advance”, the Pollsters explain away large swaths of the electorate as stray Buffalo, which will be corralled back into the fold in time for Election Day.

Polls can be inaccurate, culturally biased and financially driven to deliver results more favourable to whomever is paying the bill. And yet so much importance is given to Polls that I’d hazard a guess they are given more airtime and ink than the Homelessness and Hospital Trolley Crisis combined.

In fact, forget guessing. Can I get a show of hands?

Tony Groves is a full-time Financial Consultant and part-time commentator. With over 18 years experience in the Financial Industry and a keen interest in politics, history and “being ornery”, he has published one book and writes regularly at Trickstersworld

46 thoughts on “Straw Men Polls

  1. Formerly known as @ireland.com

    FF @ 29% – FFS….. it is like the communist parties in Eastern Europe, remaining popular after the Berlin Wall came down.

    Don’t people have any imagination? Ireland needs a Bernie Sanders, to drain the bog.

    1. Sam

      Worth bearing in mind that they don’t include the don’t knows or the “None of the above”. That is an important piece of information, because if FF and FG are getting a larger proportion of a smaller pie, then it is misleading to suggest that “support” rather than “apathy” has gone up.

    2. Tony Groves

      That’s a fair point. We have a shallow pool of political “talent”, coupled with a deficit of credible cohesive alternatives. We don’t need a Messiah, but it would be nice to have someone you can have some faith in.

      1. phil

        If we fix the system , maybe a Republic 2.0. I think we will find there will be plenty of talent , and the current pool of ‘talent’ we have will become obsolete the day after.

    3. pat harding

      They will continue to vote for conservative Jiggers so long as the army of darkness (Sinn Fein) are lurking in the shadows. A vote for Sinn Fein = 65c in the Euro on the top level of taxation within a short period of time.

      Hello Sinn Fein – Goodbye Middle Class

      1. ahjayzis

        I think it’s cute you don’t think of things like bin charges, private health insurance, etc. as forms of taxation.

  2. Cian

    TLDR: “Research was conducted for Fine Gael, Fianna Fail, Sinn Fein and Labour for the period 03/02/2016 to 25/02/2016, across five publications: The Irish Times, RTE, Irish Examiner, The Independent and TheJournal.ie.” looking for headlines using the following key words:
    – allintitle:“Fine Gael” OR “Enda Kenny”
    – allintitle:“Fianna Fail” OR Micheal Martin”
    – allintitle:“Labour” OR “Joan Burton”
    – allintitle:“Sinn Fein” OR “Gerry Adams” OR “IRA” OR “Special Criminal Court” OR “Gang” OR “Slab Murphy”

    And from this amazing analysis you see more negativity towards the last group that the other three!

    1. Tony Groves

      No, from a lengthy, comprehensive and well laid out analysis I draw these conclusions. Not from a single paragraph. You’re welcome to do your own analysis and subsequent rebuttal. Thanks for reading. TG

      1. Cian

        While the analysis itself is well laid out and easy to follow, the underling data is rubbish. It is literally looking for headlines that contain the word “Gang” and including this in the Gerry Adams/SF count. And from a quick read of the Google results returned these are mostly (a) nothing to do with Gerry Adams/SF and (b) negative stories.

  3. Cian

    further analysis: “For every 100 articles on Sinn Féin, 61 were negative, 21 were neutral and 18 were positive. ”

    but if just you looked at :“Sinn Fein” OR “Gerry Adams” you only get 97 article; if you look at “IRA” OR “Special Criminal Court” OR “Gang” OR “Slab Murphy” you get 190. Perhaps, and this is just a wild guess, that the 66% of the articles on “IRA” OR “Special Criminal Court” OR “Gang” OR “Slab Murphy” are mostly negative. But that would then suggest the remaining 97 articles on just “Sinn Fein” OR “Gerry Adams” would then be 50:50 good/neutral.
    Which is the complete opposite of what you’re trying to suggest. As Tony Groves himself wrote:”Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics”

        1. rotide

          Rather than congratulating yourself on your Wildean wit , you could address the point that Cian raises

          1. Tony Groves

            My Wildean wit? I think you’re projecting talents I lack. As for the rest, I have addressed it. I agree with the conclusions of Padraig’s lengthy and comprehensive analysis. Cian is welcome to disagree. Thanks for the feedback. TG

  4. Harry Molloy

    “Sinn Fein received 200% more negative coverage than other parties”

    Leaving aside the fact that such negative coverage might be unavoidable given their association with a terrorist organisation, hidden bodies etc, negative cover also increased with Trump the more popular he became which is probably a natural reaction to the WTF!! feeling that follows

    1. Rob_G

      +1

      I’m surprised it wasn’t more than 200% – this was around the time of the Slab Murphy trial, Maria Cahill & Paudie McGahon, Louise O’Reilly failing to condemn the killing of Jerry McCabe…

      When the other main parties have scandals, they are about cronyism, budgets misspent, corruption, etc – Sinn Féin’s scandals involve actual rape and murder.

      1. BT Barham

        They just found 800 little bodies , that your cult is tearing itself apart trying to cover up

      2. Bridget Cairns

        In light of on-going scandals involving the sexual abuse of “Grace”, Tuam babies & others, Rob G, you must be wilfully ignorant of the role played by church & state in these atrocities. “budgets, cronyism” etc you are having a laugh, surely

    2. Nigel

      Hmm. Not to disagree as such, but what main parties have been associated with their own atrocities, eg, the Tuam babies? Maybe the connection is too indirect, diluted by time and history and multiple parties being in charge at different stages,, but by God I’d love to see them held responsible for the actions or inactions that lead to death and suffering on a staggering scale the same way Sinn Fein are for their support for the IRA. Someone remarked that DeValera was giving his famous oration at a time of staggering infant mortality in one of the institutions. I would very much like for that narrative to be hung around FF’s neck, and more besides.

  5. gringo

    The 18 to 35 age group will eventually clear out the gombeen men and women from Irish politics, and as for hidden bodies……….

    1. rotide

      Because this 18-35 group are such special snowflakes compared to every other 18-35 age group up until now?

  6. Ben Redmond

    We should all be talking about policies and systems of local and national government. Instead, we are diverted by opinion poll statistics.

  7. Rob_G

    “Pollsters constantly tell people, who are already on the fringes of society, that they don’t vote in enough numbers to change their lot in life.”

    – no, they don’t.

      1. Rob_G

        No, they don’t. Polls tell, based on people self-reporting, which is not always accurate, how much support political parties are likely to receive.

        ““Pollsters constantly tell people, who are already on the fringes of society, that they don’t vote in enough numbers to change their lot in life.” is more a reflection of your own personal interpretation of given poll numbers.

          1. Rob_G

            “It’s an opinion piece, so I need make no effort to support any of my fallacious arguments”

            – Righto

  8. Cian

    Oh and your (Tony Groves) usage of percentages is incorrect. You wrote: “1,150 articles were processed […] to reveal that Sinn Fein received 200% more negative coverage than the other parties. 200%!”

    In the article is states: “It reveals Sinn Fein received twice as much negative coverage as the other parties”

    So if they received *twice* as much negative coverage, that is 100% more.

        1. Cian

          so, any thoughts from you about the “200%” you wrote about above? I’m saying that twice as much is 100% more.

          Am I wrong? and if so could you explain why?
          Or are you wrong? and if so will you update the article (and perhaps even acknowledge your mistake).
          Thanks, Cian

          1. Tony Groves

            Thanks Cian, I’m not an editor. I note you haven’t rebutted the actual findings from Padraig O’Mara’s excellent analysis. We can agree to disagree. Thanks for engaging. TG

          2. Cian

            Tony, you seem to be the author of this piece – so I would assume have some form of communication to BS to request it is fixed. Similarly an acknowledgement here in the comments that it is wrong (and you have asked for it to be fixed) would be the norm.

            Secondly, I listed above why I believe Padraig O’Mara is wrong. I agree that the analysis was well done – he detail both his source data and his methodology. And from this he admits that he compared articles with
            – “Fine Gael” OR “Enda Kenny”
            – “Fianna Fail” OR Micheal Martin”
            – “Labour” OR “Joan Burton”
            – “Sinn Fein” OR “Gerry Adams” OR “IRA” OR “Special Criminal Court” OR “Gang” OR “Slab Murphy”
            I don’t think that this is fair. He included all articles with the word “Gang” in the title! Let’s google this [allintitle: “Gang” site:independent.ie for the date range 2-4-16 to 25-3-16] and look at what is returned from the independent:
            + Suburban customers who fuel gang wars
            + Garda bosses to meet Policing Authority on capital’s gang wars …
            + Gunmen who killed mum Baiba suspected of gang hit on The Monk’s …
            + Garda Chief Nóirín O’Sullivan to oversee security operation for gang …
            + Gang using ‘fake Sky TV van’ to spy on homes for potential robberies …
            + Shop attacked after gang demanded €20,000 protection money …
            + Gang of thugs terrorise businesses and demand €20k after kidnapping …
            …so these articles were used to inflate the Sinn Fein article count. And looking at these titles I would assume these are all ‘negative’.

            Tony, if these are included do you still think that the Padraig O’Mara’s findings are valid?

  9. ahjayzis

    I’d actually be really interested to run an experiment in an alternate dimension around having an election with no opinion poll reportage allowed for the few months lead-up. If people vote differently without a pre-indication of how the parties are doing.

    Don’t other countries ban poll coverage during short campaigns?

  10. Kieran NYC

    “Remember, the Indians did 4% of the killing and got 100% of the blame.”

    Talking about who did what % of killing probably isn’t a smart move in an article trying to shill for Sinn Fein…

  11. nellyb

    If no voters turned up on election day – what’s the procedure for this outcome? is it provisioned for? I am a minority for not voting fine fossils, fine goulds, blahbour or sinn pain. But alternatives never really win, even when they do. It’s a silly game. Why don’t we just elect Martin or Noonan prime-minister for life and stop wasting money on elections.

    1. Rob_G

      Define ‘alternatives’ – PDs were a niche party that got into government several time; the Greens are a small party that were also in government, the current government is formed of some fairly ‘alternative’ independents.

      Fianna Fáil (and, to a lessor extent, Fine Gael) tend to be the main party in government because they are able to convince enough of the electorate that they are the best party for the job.

  12. Rainy Day

    The buffalo in America analogy is incorrect. Nobody who studies American history blames the native Americans for wiping out the buffalo.
    It was never official US Government policy to wipe out the buffalo (Bison), however the the US Army at the time were very conscious of the fact that if you eliminate the native Americans food source you go a very long way to eliminate the native American.
    https://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2016/05/the-buffalo-killers/482349/

    1. Rob_G

      The whole piece is a bit odd: “Because I have demonstrated X to be true, Y is also true” – even though X and Y aren’t really related, and X isn’t in fact demonstrably true.

      1. Tony Groves

        It’s an opinion piece. That’s the beauty of getting away from groupthink, like Polls. Cheer. TG

    2. Tony Groves

      Yes, historians do not blame the Indians. But they were blamed in that period. Perhaps I didn’t make that clear in the piece?
      Thanks
      TG

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