Mark Twain once wrote, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.”
When it comes to opinion polls, he may be onto something. Only last week, a poll found that 47 percent of people were in favour of repealing the eighth Amendment, 28 were against and 20 percent were unsure.
We’ll have to wait another to month to find out if the 1200 people who took part reflect the national mood.
What was interesting, was that Yes votes have seen a 9 point drop in support since January, and rather than focus on that, newspapers were quick to focus on the positives- using phrases like ‘clear majority’ and ‘strong lead.’ Perception of opinion polls is even more convoluted than the results. It’s like saying some footballer has a 100 per cent scoring rate in the last two matches, omitting the bit where he hasn’t scored competitively since 2014.
Readers were also told that – should those who are undecided not vote, 63 percent will vote Yes, while 37 per cent will vote No. So it’s already been won? Hang on.
Its an abortion referendum. Lots of people don’t know what to vote yet and will make their decision based on the last person who speaks to them with confidence on the issue- not necessarily facts. Lest we forget, the lessons from Brexit loom large. There are few certainties in the predictions business.
Remember the Jacob K Javits Convention Centre in New York City? On November 9th the venue, which stands under a glass ceiling, was meant to host Hillary Clinton’s victory celebrations as the first woman president of the United States.
That didn’t happen. The champagne was chilled, the lobsters were ready to be boiled alive, the petit fours sat idly in the bakers corner, ready to be served, but in a shocking upset, Clinton had to move to a smaller venue last minute- the New Yorker hotel, in order to concede to the rookie with zero political experience.
The race that was projected to be an easy one, saw Trump take 304 electoral colleges over Hillary Clinton’s 227. Just days before- some 20 polls put her ahead, just two didn’t. Some suggested she would win 353 colleges to his 185.
The poles were wrong.
Though they should be indispensable to finding out what people think, polls often miss core groups. During the US election you’d get a sampling 1000 people representative of how the other 300 million people would respond. It can’t be accurate.
Polls in the US are conducted by landline, but 35 percent of Americans don’t have landlines. Most people don’t do opinion polls for privacy reasons, plus the samples of 1000 people mean lots of groups won’t be represented because the number is simply too small.
Also call centre ambivalence is a thing- ‘Yeah I dunno how much I love Guinness. Loads from a scale of ‘not at all to a lot,’ but it depends where I get my pint. Oh I have to run now and no I my dog doesn’t have alzheimer’s. I don’t have a dog. Is that OK?”
There are lies in polls. In 2015, we thought Yes would get a landslide in the gay marriage referendum. Yet it only won by 62 to 38 percent. In total, 1,201,607 people voted in favour while 734,300 voted against.
It was good, but still thats more No than we thought. In Dublin, 70 percent of voters said Yes and everyone in my extended circle voted Yes, and in the extended circles of their circles. So someone’s telling porkies. Some people felt under pressure to say Yes from the feelings brigade, but then voted No on the day. In Dublin 8, you would have been lynched had you said you’re voting No. It was intense.
In light of this I decided to conduct a survey of my own. I asked 20 friends what they would vote on May 25th. Eight said they’d vote No another eight said they’d vote Yes and the other four were undecided, with two likely not to vote. So what does that mean? These voters are all in Dublin and fit the demographic of Yes voters- bar one coming home to vote No. It makes me think, if everyone I know voted Yes last time, and half of the people I know are voting No this time and we’re in Dublin, which is the hub of Yes, it doesn’t bode well.
I have yet to leave the Pale in the run up to the election, so when I do I’ll have a better knowledge of what the general mood is. The Yes campaign is very Dublin, Cork and Galways centric, so the real results could lie beyond.
I spoke to a friend in Monaghan- a Yes voter, who was afraid of the No’s ‘coming out of the woodwork.’
Twenty percent of the Irish population is out there, not sure what to vote. If they come across over zealous pro or anti abortion warriors, who like to force their personal insecurities down their throats they will vote against them. You’ve got four weeks. Use it wisely. Don’t screw it up.