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In My Opinion

There were two elections last week that were important to me. In one, the British General Election, the opinion polls got it wrong. They predicted a minority government for the United Kingdom. In the second, the Alberta Provincial Election, most of the pollsters predicted the end of 44 years of rule by the Progressive Conservatives and they got that right. The Tories were swept from power by the left of centre, for Canada,  Alberta New Democrats. People don't like to "waste" their vote and prefer to cast it for someone they think has a chance of winning. The problem with opinion polls is they give people the idea that a certain someone does has a chance of winning. The other problem with opinion polls is that they are terrible guides as to what the public is thinking or what it is going to do. Most polls are paid for by someone and the questions are skewed to get the answers those people want. They are as much opinion formers as opinion reflectors. I used to, if I had time, help out the poor pollsters if I could. Then I was forced in one poll to give two apparently contradictory answers to yes-no questions. Obviously, the poll came nowhere near reflecting my opinion. So, now I don't waste my or the pollster's time.  There are other problems with polls - people lie to the pollsters, who wants to admit to being a racist or a political nutcase? And there are real problems getting a reasonable sample of people to take part. Telephone pollsters tend to scoop up a lot of oldies who still have landlines and miss out on those who only have cellphones. And my maths isn't good enough to work out how inaccurate something that is correct to three or four percentage points 19 times out 20 actually is. Though I suspect the margin of error being admitted to is in the region of 20%.  In these days of social media it is impossible to ban polls. But all pollsters should be forced to preface their findings with the words "And don't forget folks, this is just a bit of fun".


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