Ipsos MORI have re-asked their questions on the junior doctors’ dispute ahead of the second strike today. The overall level of support remains the same, with two-thirds backing the strike, but underneath that opinions appear to be polarising. While the 66% of people supporting the strike is the same percentage as last month, within that the proportion saying “strongly support” has risen, those saying “tend to support” has fallen. Among the other third of the population the proportion of people saying they don’t know or have no feelings either way has fallen (from 19% to 12%), the proportion of people saying they oppose the strike has risen (from 15% to 22%).
Asked who is to blame for the dispute continuing this long 64% blamed the government, 13% the doctors and 18% both equally. Full details of the poll is here, and my write-up of the January figures is here.
As well as the quality polling by MORI, there is also sadly a new outbreak of newspaper reporting of voodoo polls on the issue. The Indy and Mirror are reporting a “poll” apparently showing 90% of junior doctors would resign if the contract was imposed. We’ve already had one outbreak of voodoo polling in this dispute, that one claiming 70% of junior doctors would resign… which turned out to be a “survey” conducted among the members of a Facebook group campaigning against the contract. This time the two papers reporting it are very tight lipped about where it was conducted, so I don’t know if it’s the same forum – the only clue is that it was organised by Dr Ben White, who is campaigning against the contract. From the Mirror’s write up Dr White did at least ensure respondents were real doctors, but false or multiple responses is far from the only thing that stops voodoo polls being meaningful, it’s also where you do it, whether you recruit respondents in a manner that gets a representative and unbiased survey. You would, for example, get a very different result on foxhunting in a survey conducted on a Countryside Alliance Forum or a League Against Cruel Sports Forum, even if you took measures to ensure all participants were genuine countryside dwellers.
Questions along the lines of “If thing you oppose happens, will you do x?” are extremely dicey anyway – people pick the answers that will best express their anger and opposition (Dr White himself seems to take that perfectly sensible angle in his quote to the Mirror, presenting his findings as an expression of anger). To quote what I wrote last time…
From a respondent’s point of view, if you are filling in a survey about something you oppose, you’re are likely to give the answers that most effectively express your opposition. Faced with a question like this, it’s far more effective to say you might leave your job if your contract is changed than say you’d meekly accept it and carry on as usual.
We see this again and again in polls seeking to measure the impact of policies. For example, before tuition fees were increased there were lots of polls claiming to show how many young people would be put off going to university by increased fees (such as here and here). After the rise, they miraculously continued to apply anyway. Nobody wants to tell a pollster that they would just swallow the thing they oppose.
I don’t doubt that many or most junior doctors are unhappy with the new contract […but…] you shouldn’t necessarily believe people telling pollsters about the awful consequences that will happen if something they don’t like happens. It’s a lot easier to make a threat to a pollster that you’ll resign from your job than it is to actually do it.
And that’s before we get to fact that “considering resigning” is very different to “resigning”. I consider taking up jogging every January, yet the people of Dartford are yet to be subjected to even the briefest glimpse of me in jogging gear.)