Sunday, February 26, 2012

Rubbish opinion polls and media beatups

There's been a real beatup in Australia's media in the past few weeks.

Part of the problem is opinion polls.  The standing of Prime Minister Julia Gillard has been poor for a long time.  Correspondingly, that for the conservative opposition leader Tony Abbott has been comparatively strong - for a long time.

Enter Kevin Rudd, who was deposed as PM by Gillard, but still served as foreign minister - until recently.

The stir factor lies in the fact that Rudd does well in opinion polls - better than Abbott, even.  And so he resigned his post and the leadership's up for a vote tomorrow.

But Rudd was quite unpopular at the time he was deposed.  And Gillard fared better in the polls.

I think opinion polls have a lot to answer for.  When you aggregate people's opinions, they often get contradictory.

I remember back in the 1980s in New Zealand, when the government had an anti-nuclear policy.  As a result of the US "neither confirm nor deny" stance on whether their warships had nuclear weapons, the NZ government felt obliged to refuse access to NZ ports to those warships.  In retaliation, the US threatened to exclude New Zealand from ANZUS (Australia, New Zealand, U.S.), which was NZ's most important military alliance.

Opinion polls? They firmly affirmed the non-nuclear stance, but in contradiction strongly desired to keep the ANZUS alliance.

The point being that when you aggregate people's opinions, you can easily get rubbish.

On the basis of past experience, should Kevin Rudd become PM again, I'm quite sure his poll ratings would plummet after a few months.

In any case, the numbers are clearly against Rudd.  And the numbers that count are the ones that vote: those in the parliamentary caucus who will vote tomorrow for their leader.  Rudd doesn't stand a snowball's chance.  In large part this is because past experience has taught them that Rudd is particularly difficult to work with as a leader.  Authoritarian and micro-managing.

But the media has been in overdrive on the matter.  They don't care that the outcome is clear: media outlets are driven by the desire to be popular and to fill space with content.

But there have been people who have been media junkies around this stoush - one person even deviated from his usual Sydney Morning Herald diet to buy a Murdoch as well, to get additional field.  Despite the outcome being tantamount to pre-ordained.

Lessons: beware contradictory poll results; pay attention to the real signs - and really, that's no reason to buy a Murdoch.

No comments: