Friday, June 24, 2016

Brexit, and a ‘confusion’ of pollsters.

Well, I drafted this a couple of weeks ago, but got distracted and didn’t publish it until it’s too late (at least to be predictive). Shame really, I probably like being able to say ‘I told you so’, even more than the average egotist. Still, some of the points still have some relevance…

The reason pollsters get so much so wrong, is that they are just a subset of the chattering class.

They are university educated, inner urban, part of the ‘knowledge’ economy, and try to look like they are actually trendy. They hang out with the latte set, circulate mainly within the ‘goat-cheese circle’, and spend as much time as possible doing media commentary with like minded chattering class loonies.

The idea that their privileged, insular existence, leads them to fail to communicate with the great unwashed, pretty much fails to occur to them.

(Which could be why the Brussels bureaucrats, British chattering classes; conga line of international political twats from Obama to Turnball; and big business PR faces: all worked so hard to convince themselves that British voters would ignore Angela Merkels unilateral announcement of the collapse of the EU - when she announced an open door to Europe…  NOTE: I have long since been fond of saying that eventually the Germans would find their third attempt to take over Europe in a century might end no better than the other two… perhaps worse. Well now we’re going to find out.)

I occasionally succumb to curiosity about pollsters, and actually let a cold caller or an on-line survey through, just to see how unthinkingly biased the questions are. The sad fact is that I, like most people NOT of the chattering classes (despite the fact that I am a university educated inner urban professional with no kids) would usually hang up on such callers.

The other exceptions, who will actually answer questions, often being so bored and lonely, or starving for attention, that they will talk to anyone… often agreeing with whatever crap the interviewer clearly favours just to get approval.

When I do bother to answer, I am amazed at how clearly the preconceptions of the questioner come through.

Sometimes it is just the dreadful phrasing… Instead of saying ‘do you favour Brexit or Bremain?’, the question is actually more likely to be ‘are you willing to take the risk of flushing everything you have ever known down the toilet, or do you prefer stability?’. Amusingly, they usually don’t even realise this might be a problem.

I had enormous fun playing with these sorts of phrasings in first year Psychology class… it was great how you could – Yes Minister like – order 3 or 4 leading questions to get any answer you like…”

[Sir Humphrey demonstrates how public surveys can reach opposite conclusions]
Sir Humphrey Appleby: Mr. Woolley, are you worried about the rise in crime among teenagers?
Sir Humphrey Appleby: Do you think there is lack of discipline and vigorous training in our Comprehensive Schools?
Sir Humphrey Appleby: Do you think young people welcome some structure and leadership in their lives?
Sir Humphrey Appleby: Do they respond to a challenge?
Sir Humphrey Appleby: Might you be in favour of reintroducing National Service?
Bernard Woolley: Er, I might be.
Sir Humphrey Appleby: Of course, after all you've said you can't say no to that. On the other hand, the surveys can reach opposite conclusions.
[survey two]
Sir Humphrey Appleby: Mr. Woolley, are you worried about the danger of war?
Sir Humphrey Appleby: Are you unhappy about the growth of armaments?
Sir Humphrey Appleby: Do you think there's a danger in giving young people guns and teaching them how to kill?
Sir Humphrey Appleby: Do you think it's wrong to force people to take arms against their will?
Sir Humphrey Appleby: Would you oppose the reintroduction of conscription?
[does a double-take]
Sir Humphrey Appleby: There you are, Bernard. The perfectly balanced sample.

The problem is, of course, that most modern pollsters don’t even realize that they are biasing the responses. They are simply convinced that ‘ALL RIGHT THINKING PEOPLE BELIEVE X’, so their questions are rarely phrased in a way that doesn’t assume that anyone who believes anything else must be a moron or a criminal deviant.

Even when the questions are actually better phrased, you can usually tell by the tone of voice how you are expected to respond.

I once tried saying the absolute opposite of whatever the pollster clearly wanted to one of these phone callers. You could hear the strain in his voice as he tried to sound as though he was just calmly going through questions while really thinking ‘this guy is a f******* idiot’.

Try it sometime, it can be fun... If you're really, really bored.

So the pollsters managed to avoid the obvious response of the huge number of people who are sick of politicians talking down to them, and convince themselves that their preferred outcome was obvious.

They managed to ignore the fact that all the Bremains Chicken Little Act (yes I mean you David ‘the sky will fall’ Cameron), was so clearly manipulative crap, and assume that people would be scared for it on mass. The obvious response – that people would be so pissed off at the lies they might revolt – apparently didn't occur to them. 

(Amusingly, the only ones to take it seriously appear to be… the chattering classes! Despite the fact that this is a tactic they themselves invented to manipulate the unwashed?)

You might imagine that the fact that they got last years British election so wrong (or the Scottish referendum so wrong, etc) by only listening to the feedback their prejudices demanded, might have had an effect? Apparently not.

It’s not that they are too wedded to their failed models, its that they are too wedded to their pre-conceptions.

I am irresistibly reminded of Australia’s referendum on a republic a while back. 

Every single member of the chattering class - every newspaper, every commentator, every radio program – was absolutely convinced the referendum would walk it in, in a land slide. The confusion when not a single state supported it. (I don’t count Hot Air Central as a useful political division, seeing the entire town is designed and built for the chattering classes to gorge themselves at the taxpayers trough.)

The only sad part is that the markets are so prone to gullibly swallow what the chattering commentators say, that they had their normal panick about the sky falling.
How dare people do what their betters have told them is wrong!

(I am actually going to the UK in a couple of weeks, and my wife is there now. Wish I had the organizational ability to jump on the exchange rate when the markets did their initial panick. Could have saved a fortune on what things will be back to almost immediately.)

Still it gives one to think about a few other things the pollsters are likely to screw up.
Donald Trump definitely won’t get anywhere in primaries… Well he won’t win the candidacy…. Well he can’t win the presidency…

Keep talking guys. The more you put down your own voters, the better he will do.

(Not saying that’s a good thing… the man’s a protectionist moron. But Obama and George W and Clinton and… well you get the idea… are not exactly sensible coherent internationalists are they? As a side comment, the US now is going through the weariness and incompetent insularity that led British interwar voters to simultaneously vote for more action to enforce peace, and disarmament, and believe both were not mutually exclusive! Possibly with similar consequences long term?)

Pollsters, if they want to reclaim any relevance, need to stop acting like those sad universities who actually sack anyone who dares to question the accepted orthodoxy just because it is based on distorting the facts to fit.

They have to actually accept that people who aren’t the elite few might have opinions that have value.

But that would require them to accept that their limited insular clique is not the one true holder of the truth?

The nobility managed it, eventually (well, after the occasional revolution). The clergy managed it, a bit (after enough child abuse scandals). The Marxists have gone underground (or to the Greens, or to anti-bullying programs). Perhaps the chatterers might manage it too?

Or will that require its own bloodletting?

Let’s ask the bureaucrats in Brussels? 


  1. Did you see the returning officer for Sunderland?
    The third area to report a result and the first to have a massive swing for leave.
    The poor thing was practically in tears, obviously a massive remain supporter, and aghast at having to report the outcome
    She simply couldn't believe that the people would vote against her ideas and pre-conceptions.

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  3. I think you're being unfair on the pollsters - they only make money if they can prove they can get it right, so personal attitudes should not count.

    They got a wake-up call in the UK's 2015 general election where they were predicting a hung Parliament. Post-mortem analysis identified under-reporting of Conservative voters not due to prejudice but because they were too busy (not enrolled in on-line panels, not answering phone surveys) and the pollsters did not adjust enough for this fact.

    Brexit polling failed mainly because of turn-out - higher than general elections especially in working class areas. Those knowledgeable about these areas predicted the referendum result, once they were aware of the level of turnout.

    1. Hi Aber, fair enough, but just a comment.
      If that had been a general election, about 570 of the 650 UK seats would have gone Brexit....
      That isn't even a landslide in political terms, that's obliteration.
      What value pollsters who can't see that coming?

  4. After a month in the UK – mainly in the counties that voted to leave like Suffolk and Norfolk and Lincolnshire – I accumulated a few interesting feedbacks:

    1. We were really annoyed at being told the only people who would vote to leave were racist scum, when we have many, many other genuine concerns.

    2. We were really furious at all the pompous 'the sky will fall' commentators like Obama and the IMF trying to intimidate us.

    3. (While I was in Burgundy) - Bring on Frexit!

    ON the other hand, that is exactly what I expected (wanted?) to hear... maybe I should get a job as a pollster!

  5. I suspect that the high voter turnout and the Brexit result was due to border control/immigration acting as the prime mover for very many people. A classic instance of the people being ahead of the politicians. We are seeing this being writ large here in Australia; polls showing widespread opposition to increased refugee/asylum-seeker quotas, Muslim immigration and attendant growth of cultural and religious divide; non-integration. Those who oppose these beliefs play the racist card as their primary response. Branding opposition to religion-based cultural polarisation as racist is the means to fuel indignation and fervour in their breasts, arming them for the contest. Just as those who promote the need for a viable defence force are branded as "warmongers", so are those who oppose current Muslim immigration/asylum-seeker policies branded as racist - which is a blatant misuse of the word. The factor that is clouding and masking the Muslim and immigration issues is that the standard-bearer is Pauline Hanson. While I would draw no comparison of her with Enoch Powell, she, like Powell, has aroused political and self-righteous grandstanding to an extent that proper, rational debate is not presently possible. Typically, many politicians are failing to represent the views of their constituents by toeing their party line and, through sheer cowardice. The result of the recent poll on the issue (and the "shock and surprise") shows how out of touch politicians are with the nation. The massive success of multiculturalism in Australia is a monument to our tolerance, goodwill and ability to integrate with those who came to join the Australian community. It was a symbiotic process. Given that experience, it is not difficult to understand why people are so opposed to the increase in numbers of those determined to establish a separate, cultural, religion-based non-integrated sector in the country. Those who denounce the cultural values of the majority derive the means to do so from the very value-system - freedom of speech, religion, and civil rights - they seek to destroy. As for the "moderates" within the Muslim community, they serve mainly as the source of militant converts at the hands of their radical, extremist fellow Muslims. The growing opposition to the real prospect of Australia following Britain "watching a nation busily engaged in heaping up its own funeral pyre" is a manifestation of awareness of the experiences of other countries such as the UK. The men who blew up the underground and the London buses were born-in-the-UK radicalised Muslims. Many argue that it is already too late to try and stuff the problem back into the bottle here. In any event, we don't need pollsters to inform us of the national sentiment with respect to maintaining the right to determine who may come here and preservation of "the Australian Way".

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