Archive for the Referendum Category

Questioning PollsĀ 

Posted in Brexit, Current Affairs, Politics, Referendum, Society on June 19, 2016 by richardhowle

I don’t know about you, but I am fed up with this referendum campaign.  The campaigners on both sides have treated the electorate with contempt as if we are all idiots incapable of making a rational decision based on facts without being bullied, bribed or frightened. It has all been pretty distasteful, pathetic and quite frankly childish. It reached its nadir with the ridiculous spectacle of Bob Geldof and Nigel Farage trading insults each other whilst they floated up the Thames on rival boats. 

All this campaign has done is to expose the dearth of talented politicians that we have in this country. People complain about MP’s pay and their pay rises and whilst with this bunch it is easy to have some sympathy with those complainers, it does prove the old adage – pay peanuts get monkeys. I should qualify that statement by acknowledging that in comparison to most people,  MP’s are paid very well and is certainly not peanuts. But we put a lot of responsibility in the hands of those 650 odd people who represent us (it will be even more responsibility if we vote for Brexit)  so therefore, surely we want the very best people handling that responsibility? To attract the best, we need to pay for the best.  Unfortunately the best can earn far more working elsewhere and an MP’s pay is peanuts in comparison. Why would or should they take a pay cut to become Members of Parliament?

Anyway, I digress before I have even started.  In the last General Election the pollsters famously got it very wrong- throughout the campaign Labour were polling ahead of the Conservative Party and ended up being comfortably beaten. There was shock, not just amongst the pollsters but also the Twitterati – those that inhabit social media. In the lead up to the General Election, Labour supporters were shouting very loudly on Facebook and Twitter, so much so that it was easy to think that this was a true reflection of how everyone felt. But the reality of the situation is that there are vast swathes of the population who aren’t on social media – and of those that are , how many are expressing political opinions?  Think about your own Facebook account (if you have one) – let’s say you have 200 friends, how many of them posted about politics during the General Election? 20, 50, 80 – maybe even 100?  Probably for most people less than half of their friends posted about politics. Now of course many of those who did, did so a lot – and often quite forcibly and on my timeline it was largely in support of the Labour Party. Therefore it was quite easy to wrongly assume that this was what everyone was thinking, particularly combined with the polls which all pointed to a Labour victory. 

In reality, the silent majority spoke and the Conservatives won out, much to the consternation of the left. But why were they silent? I suspect that there are two reasons, and this is only my conjecture and not based on any research. Firstly the naturally more inclined conservative voter is less likely to be on social media (elderly etc), which as discussed earlier is a lot of people. My use of the small ‘c’ in that last sentence was deliberate – less likely to be radical or inclined toward change – supposedly what the Labour Party were offering. Secondly, for those on social media, the vitriolic rhetoric of a lot of the left meant that staying quiet was the best option for an easy life.  They chose to do their talking at the ballot box.  The pollsters claimed that their pre election polls were wrong because many people lied to them and were really secret  Conservative Party voters. I can understand that, such was the climate it is easy to believe that people were  wary or ashamed to admit that they were voting Tory. Although the polling companies will deny this, I think that the way many of the polls are conducted, primarily online, does not truly represent a lot of people – many of whom may be unwilling or unable to participate in an online poll.

Which brings me back to the referendum. It is easy to forget that your social media timelines are unique to you. Your friends are likely to be from a fairly similar demographic.  I work in theatre, many of my Facebook friends or the people that I follow on Twitter do as well.  The social media posts that I read are therefore  not representative of the wider population. With the majority (of those expressing a view) on my Facebook and Twitter feed supporting the “remain” campaign I thought I would conduct own poll on Twitter to see how my followers felt on the subject. Although my followers choose me rather than the other way round, I thought it was reasonable to expect that they were likely to be of a similar bent to the people I follow / am friends with – so I expected a remain victory.

However the poll was quickly picked up by “leave” campaigners, retweeted over 30 times by them and quickly dominated by leave votes.  In the end, Leave comfortably won with 82% of the vote. 


It immediately reminded me of the General Election – where Labour voters dominated social media, creating the impression that it was on course for an easy victory.  So although the “leave” campaign seems to be winning both in the polls and on social media, will the silent conservative (with a small ‘c’) majority do their talking at the polling booth once more  and produce a “shock” win for remain? I for one do not believe the result of my Twitter poll. Leave may very well win, but not by such a large majority.  Polls are not to be trusted. 

Who knows? But one thing is for sure – that I think the majority will be in agreement about – I’ll be glad when it’s all over