Tuesday, March 27, 2007

What's wrong with polls?

It is no secret that French presidential campaigns are heavily regulated affairs: no political TV commercials are allowed, and networks must give each first round candiate the same amount of "air" time.

But even this was topped today by Matthias Guyomar, general secretary, and Jean-Michel Galabert, president, of the Commission of Polls ("La Commission des sondages"), who announced their concern with the plethora of political polls and their pervasiveness in the media.

"There is a very clear increase in the surveys published which is coupled with a dominating place of polls in the (election) debate. That all the more reinforces the need, in the eyes of the Commission, to emit calls with prudence.

The polls are not that an instrument of analysis of the political life and not a tool of forecast of the electoral results."

What? Isn't a poll intrinsically an "instrument of analysis" to judge the current political mood of the nation? Aren't they taken to "forecast...electoral results"?

To give them credit, 2002 polls did not entirely predict Jean-Marie Le Pen's major upset in the first round, beating out Socialist Lionel Jospin, so caution is always needed. The US learned that only too well on the night of the 2000 election, when exit polls showed both Gore and Bush winning Florida at different times during the night. But accurate political polls, developed only within the past century, have become a crucial and integral part of the political debate. Ignoring them would only be ignoring reality.


romke said...

Interestingly, during the past three presidential elections the number one in the polls did NOT win. Sarkozy: be afraid!

Boz said...

BBC - Some say sport and politics do not mix, but John Kerry believes a strange sporting omen will ensure his success in the US presidential election.
The senator has based his claim on a historical quirk linking the Washington Redskins and past White House races.

The NFL side lost 28-14 to the Green Bay Packers on Sunday which, according to tradition, bodes well for Kerry.

The Redskins legend states if they lose their last home game before Election Day, the current president will lose.

And if the American football outfit win, the White House incumbent will remain president.

Heading into the 2004 contest, the Redskins' electoral barometer has held true for 17 straight elections.

The streak began in 1933, when the Boston Braves were renamed the Redskins.

Since then, beginning with Franklin Roosevelt's re-election in 1936, the trend has continued, including a 2000 Redskins loss to the Tennessee Titans before Bush's win over Al Gore.


Certainly the past doesn't bode well for Sarkozy, but nothing holds true forever, at least in the US!


Tim said...

I totally disagree with you.
Polls are really inaccurate. Indeed, 30% of the population can't anwser polls because... they don't have a home phone, only cellphones which are not used for the polls. And what part of the population has the most cellphones? Young people.
Also, April 20 2002, one of the last poll showed LePen with 6%... we all know it wasn't the truth...

Boz said...

You're entitled to your own opinion, but these polling groups aren't just pulling numbers out of the air; it's based on decades of statistical experience and large, well chosen samples. Polls may have bias if people lie to pollsters (as may be the case with Le Pen), but overall they are the best way of judging the current political situation.

As pointed out by Romke, I wouldn't put too much money on today's numbers for next month's vote, but if the election was today, the polls are likely not that far off the mark.


Régis said...

I am afraid both Romke and Tom make mistake.

Actually, the number one in the polls did actually win during the past presidential election: have a look at this:
The fact is that for these, the number of 'indécis' is much higher.
You can check as well that the poll in April did not show le pen at 6. And sofres were not those who showed him the higher.

Pejman said...

Talking of polls, you may wish to have a look at a site I have recently designed:
It provides a bird's eye view of the candidates and - I am ashamed to say :) - an online poll!