My election notes. E-Day – 18

by Pseud O'Nym


As anyone who’s been following these posts will know, I don’t have an especially good opinion of polls, not just because they were so spectacularly wrong during the last election – although they were – and not just because they manage to base headline grabbing claims out of a statistically irrelevant number of interviewee’s – which I think they do. Nor is it the fact that they dress up all of their guff with sciency sounding assurances that are somehow meant to convince us that their results and actually mean something in the real world.

No what really bothers me about polls is that they’re allowed to be conducted at all. I mean, let them be conducted, fine, let political parties undertake polls to better know which of their policies are playing well to the electorate or not and how they are perceived and the like. But like sex, keep it private.

The problem with polling is, as I mentioned in last Sundays post, the ‘bandwagon effect’, where because people are told something over and over again in the polls, it becomes ultimately self-fulfilling. And as it becomes thus, so the media report on it, rather like an echo chamber. Like an echo chamber the original source is amplified way, way beyond it’s actual significance and as the media report it, it becomes a genuine news story, with no mention in the media of the fact that they’ve helped create the very thing they’re reporting on.

A recent woeful was example set by Donald Trump in his election campaign. It has been variously estimated that he got between $2-5 billion worth of free publicity because of the outrageous comments that he made during the election campaign. Of course, if the media had ignored these, then he would not be president now. But because the news media swiftly reported what he said, and that in turn encouraged other media outlets to do the same, he was able to reach a far greater audience than if his comments had gone ignored or unreported. But the sad fact is that they didn’t. The news needs newness  and and Trump was only too happy to oblige, sometimes even criticizing the very news outlets that were giving him a stick to beat them with.

I’ve long been of the belief that as soon as a general election is called there should be a restriction on the media as to the limits on the reporting of the campaign, not to keep the electorate in the dark, but the opposite. If there was only limited exposure given to only the fact of something happening, rather than endless discussing of what this might mean, bland anodyne reporting instead of increasing biased conjecture wouldn’t that be a good thing? If people weren’t told what others thought but were instead forced to think about what they thought, to examine why they thought what they thought? Why is it that critical reasoning and consequential potentiality have been left to others to frame within their own prism of right and wrong, of what’s good or bad, as if they don’t have their own agenda’s but are merely impartial.

Thankfully we have Chris Morris to illustrate the point.