22 February 2011

Ask me no questions...

The latest opinion polls show Fine Gael heading towards that elusive overall majority with 40% of the first preference vote, which (with all apologies to my Grandfather, who is a Blueshirt to his very core) would be a very bad thing.

All our problems have been caused by Fianna Fail's neo-liberal agenda, it is madness to try and fix all our woes by implementing even more neo-liberal policies. Lower taxes, lighter-touch regulation, less onuses on businesses to protect their workers, handing the medical system over to the insurance companies, with the exception of the abolition of the Seanad and reform of the Dáil every single aspect of Fine Gael's five point plan will be a disaster for the country.

No matter, the point of this post is not to bemoan the disaster that will be our incoming government, there will be plenty of time for that later, the point of this post is to comment on the nature of opinion polls.

The Very Understanding Girlfriend took part in one this morning. This was her third phone poll. I have also taken part in three over the last eight weeks. We have been called four times by RedC and twice by MRBI. Our answers have not changed in this time. We have been called once in the evening, and five times during business hours, and only once on the weekend. All in an eight week period.

Now, this cannot be unusual behaviour for the pollsters, we are obviously on some sort "call these folks, they don't hang up on us" list. So if I extrapolate from our own experience I would assume that most polls are composed of homemakers, the unemployed and folks who work from home. Who else is at home during business hours on a weekday? This is, to say the least, not a particularly representative sample of either the populace at large or likely voters.

We've also been polled six times in a very short timescale, and our views haven't changed from week to week. Why have we been called so often? Are they deliberately calling us multiple times so they can track the same sample group to see if their opinions change over time? Poll sample sizes seem to be around 1,000 for the MRBI and RedC, but I always assumed that successive polls sampled different groups, leading to a more representative picture over time. Surely sampling the same group each time means that you are only drawing the opinions of 1,000 people (most of whom made their minds up ages ago) as opposed to the nation as a whole?

In the 2009 local and EU elections, the total electorate was 3,259,253, of which 1,880,589 (or 57% of the electorate) voted. Am I really representative of 0.1% of the electorate? Are there really 3,259 folks out there as grumpy as me (1,880 of them grumpy enough to get off their backsides and vote)? And if there are this many, why do I never seem to end up sitting beside them on trains, busses park benches and other locations seemingly populated exclusively by rabid Fianna Failers?

What I'm wondering is, given my own direct experience of recent polling, just how accurate a prediction of actual voter intentions are Irish election polls?

Well, we'll all know on Saturday I suppose.

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