Polls: Have they had their day?

2016 has been a year when we have seen polls fail at every turn. After decades of relying on pollsters, they have finally been proved to be wrong, and we have seen for ourselves how little they matter. I have some vested interest here, as I am a long-term member of the UK’s largest polling group, You Gov. Despite my scrupulously honest answers to their frequent polls, they got it wrong. Every time.

They were not alone. Every poll got the ‘Leave’ vote wrong, in the EU referendum. Just to add insult to injury, the polls everywhere also failed to predict the result of the US election, as they all decided that Trump would lose. This has continued in Europe, where they missed the results in the Italian and Austrian referenda by a mile. So, can they be trusted anymore? Obviously not.

Since the mania for polling arrived here from America in the early 1960s, their predictions have been hit and miss at best. Despite some convincing results with ‘exit polls’ at General Elections, their strike rate has been something like 50%. That equates to tossing a coin, and does not justify the huge amounts of money spent engaging these numerous polling companies to foretell events.

This year has seen their high watermark in failure. They can no longer claim to have that finger on the pulse of the electorate, anywhere. In fact, we can no longer rely on them to even tell us what a nation’s favourite biscuit happens to be. So, time for them to shut up shop, and disappear. Thanks all the same, polling companies, but we might just as well feel some seaweed, or examine the entrails of a dead goat.

Your USP has gone, and you should go with it.

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12 comments

  1. John Liming's Blog

    I believe the shortcoming of polls is multi-faceted: (1) They do not represent the opinions of enough people to make an accurate cross section. I have always believed that the only reliable poll would be one that takes surveys of as close to 100% of the affected correspondents as possible and not some miserly little “Cross Section.” —- (2) I think polls results can be lied about, fudged, manipulated for the sake of promoting an agenda and that the poll organizations can make their results say pretty much anything they want them to say and so they are biased to a sometimes exponential degree and (3) I think people who generally feel cooperative and nice about themselves sometimes tell fibs to the poll takers just to get them off their backs. I think, for example that a lot of people who actually voted for Donald Trump probably told the poll takers their intentions were otherwise. —– I don’t trust polls any further than I can throw them …… and it is the same with much of our contemporary Main Stream Media and for many of the same reasons

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    • beetleypete

      The main problem with polls is who pays for them. If the polling companies want to continue to get paid, it is in their interests to provide their customers with something positive that they want to hear. Hence the untruths and bad guidance.
      Thanks for commenting, John.
      Best wishes, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Woebegone but Hopeful

    Just my opinion
    (1) In this era when anyone and everyone with access to a laptop or mobile phone can (and will be?) a pundit the population as a whole can possibly be subject to mood swings started by a just a relative few folk on the net, and not necessarily swayed for a point but against it. This can be difficult to predict.
    (2) Us on the Left/Liberal have to face up to the fact that the populist dissatisfaction which was our homeground during the later half of the 20th century has been taken over the Right….sort of…… “if its official it’s to be distrusted”. Opinion Polls (unless commissioned by eg: Daily Mail, Express) are distrusted as the products of ‘elitist lefties’ and can produce a “Huh! I’ll show ’em!” response. Which again is difficult and also somewhat embarrassing for polling firms to try and predict.
    (Asimov’s SF Foundation series had the concept of psycho-history which required with the study of billions to reach an accurate prediction; Asimov wrote that in the 1950s…).
    To avoid a possible slip into a fragmentations of society and nations we will have to do a very serious hard think on how to convince folk. The days of putting up mocking pictures and insulting posts on Social Media are over. It’s time convert not confront (sorry I slipped a bit off topic; gets you like that sometimes doesn’t it?)

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    • beetleypete

      Thanks for your considered comment, WBH. It is a conundrum for the polling companies that their members are using the Internet to participate in the polls, (I am a You Gov member) yet at the same time possibly extolling the opposite point of view via blogs and other social media platforms. We have come a long way from the ‘Swingometer’ of years ago, but the results tend to be less reliable.
      Perhaps people used to act how they said they would, but now are liable to change opinions at the drop of a hat, depending what they have just read on the web, as you suggest? If this trend continues, the polls will have less and less meaning, worth little more than gossip over a garden fence.
      Regards, Pete.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Woebegone but Hopeful

        This is very possible.
        It’s possible the next step will be the polling companies trawling social media for keywords or phrases to ‘get the feel’, rather than asking direct questions.
        In the words of the ‘old’ song…
        “There’s always someone looking at you”.
        All the best to you Pete,
        Roger

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