Voodoo poll update

Sometimes voodoo polls are so blatantly idiotic it feels almost superfluous to point out they are worthless. Surely no one, no one at all, could mistake them as legitimate measures of public opinion. On one level that’s probably right, but on the other hand, staying silent just encourages them.

Once upon a time lots of newspapers did silly voodoo polls, but over the years they have faded in prominence – probably because for a while they were truly ubiquitous, with every TV channel and newspaper website having silly “press the red button” or “ring this number” surveys which eventually bored everyone into submission. More positively, when the media does use them these days they do at least normally refer to them in a responsible manner – putting in appropriate caveats about them not being representative or referring to them showing x number of their readers think, rather than projecting actual results from it. I’d still rather they didn’t exist at all – since many people don’t realise the difference between properly conducted polls and voodoo polls they damage the whole reputation of the market research industry – but publishing them with caveats is better than without.

Nevertheless, when they turn up in massive font on the front page of a national newspaper claiming to be meaningful they demand appropriate mockery. Today the Express reports that “An exclusive poll conducted on the first day of our crusade showed an astonishing 99 per cent of people agree we should quit the European Union.”

It would be astonishing were it a proper measure of public opinion but, of course, it wasn’t. It is a result of inviting Express readers to phone one of two premium rate phone numbers to say whether or not they think Britain should leave Europe, advertised in the middle of a two page spread about how awful Europe is.

Obviously the context of the question is extremely skewed, the sample will be exclusively made up of people who read stories about Europe in the Daily Express (or people to whom the phone number was subsequently sent on to) and who care enough about the issue to waste their money phoning up to vote, there is unlikely to be any attempt to properly sample or weight the data, nor protections against multiple voting, nor preventing pressure groups organising people to ring up en masse. Yes, in this case it’s blindingly obvious that the poll is bunkum – but do remember the same caveats apply to all other polls that don’t take appropriate sampling or weighting measures to obtain a representative sample.

Properly conducted opinion polls on the subject of Europe show varying levels of support for leaving the EU – if you give people a straight option of saying whether or not they think Britain should withdraw though, support and opposition tend to be pretty even.

I suspect the Express didn’t find the results that astonishing anyway, since almost all of their own phone “polls” find 99% of so of respondents agree with the more reactionary option. There’s a fantastic archive of Daily Express “polls” on their website here, including such astonishing findings of 98% of respondents agreeing that “This Labour government wrecked the NHS”, 99% thinking “Labour’s treatment of the elderly a disgrace”, 98% thinking it is time to “ban immigrants” and 99% saying they are fed up with ditching British traditions. Funny that.

27 Responses to “Voodoo poll update”

  1. 99% of people not sectioned under the Mental Health Act, think the Daily Express is beneath contempt.

  2. I never believe any poll on the front of the Express unless a medium assures me that Princess Di agrees with it too.

  3. This has brightened my day! I had a good chuckle when I heard the story on the news early today.

  4. I didn’t even chuckle – I just thought, oh goodness, the silly old Express has done it again…..

  5. That’s it, I’m cancelling my subscription. Until now the journalism of the express has been just about good enough to win my money, but this tips it over the edge. I don’t believe such a respected broadsheet would do such a thing…

  6. Voodoo it may be, but for those pro Europeans it might be time to start getting worried. The Euro is about to break apart and the political recriminations will be enormous.

    The bankrupt states will have very strong feelings about the way the Germans treated them in precipitating the immediate cause of the crisis, while the German public, with some justification, will feel aggrieved about being expected to bail out countries who have lived beyond their means for years.

    Altogether, this makes the EU look very shaky politically as well as financially and provides Euro sceptics with their best opportunity in years. The only reason British voters put up with the EU is the notion that it works financially. If that idea is shot down and the rest of Eurpoe is mired in recriminatory bickering, it won’t take much campaigning from the UK press to get up a head of steam.

  7. @Alec

    Voodoo it may be, but for those pro Europeans it might be time to start getting worried. The Euro is about to break apart and the political recriminations will be enormous.


    Not least because the UK will need to repatriate 2,000,000 British citizens at an absolutely enormous cost.

    They’ll need homes, legal fees, travel costs, health care top-ups, removals…

    Yup. It should just about bankrupt the UK if the EU were to go under.

    So EVERYONE ought to be concerned, not just Pro-Europeans.

  8. @ALEC
    This is getting serious, once again I share you view point. It reminds me of the last days of the USSR, will we wake up to demonstrations and people wanting to take their country back.

  9. @Roland – relax – I’m really quite a pleasant chap (most of the time).

    I do genuinely find it interesting though that about 5 or 6 days ago we saw the first serious discussions on political and current affairs programmes where people were asked if the Euro can survive. Now, people are asking what about the EU. Whatever our individual views on this, the historical lessons from the collapse of supposedly impregnable political entities in the past has been that at the end things unravel mighty fast.

    I actually think we’ve got a great opportunity here. On Europe, I’ve always been closer to the Colin/Roland viewpoint than most others on this site and I’ve personally pondered quite why we signed up to an organisation that spends over half it’s budget on farmers and does things like subsidised tobbacco farming at a higher rate than any other crop while campaigning to reduce smoking. Weird.

    A crisis would be painful, but should be the excuse to reshape Europe to preserve the best but ditch the junk. Perhaps the Express is doing us a favour?

  10. The Express, like The Sun, is not a newspaper, it is a joke book.

    News just in from Brussels, the Euro Anthem “Ode to Joy ” is being changed to “Owed to Germany”.

  12. @Roland – “News just in from Brussels, the Euro Anthem “Ode to Joy ” is being changed to “Owed to Germany”.”

    Excellent. Rolling about the floor etc etc

    Also just in – Anglo Irish bonds just been downgraded to junk status, Portugal under pressure to accept a bailout to prevent contagion spreading to Spain. Spain is too big to bail – anyone with money in Santander might be interested in that one.

  13. @Alec

    I don’t know how old you are but if you approach, or exceed, my tender years then I hope you were campaigning for a “No” vote vigorously like me in Wilson’s 1975 referendum on continuing our membership of the EEC. Then of course the Common Market, as it was known, was still very much as it was first intended; a fairly loose trading arrangement with little political union, albeit dominated by an unofficial Franco-German axis. Isn’t it ironic looking back on those years and recalling that the anti EEC movement was made up then of mainly the British Left, railing as we did against the iniquities of a “capitalist’s club”. Now all the opposition comes, primarily, from the British right, although it was Heath’s Tory Government that took us in, with no referendum, and Thatcher’s government which entrenched us ever deeper in a widening political union by signing up to the Rome and Maastricht treaties. The web in which we are now enmeshed is almost impossible to unravel. Put simply, we are where we are. I see no sensible alternative strategy to maintaining membership and reforming sensibly from within.

    I fear, like most quandaries in political life, it’s tempting to bemoan where are but impossible to reverse what has taken place. Most business leaders, and I’m no sycophant to their endless wisdom by any means, accept that the economic price to pay from decoupling ourselves from the EEC is too high to pay. On this, I agree with them and, working as I do, and have done for 33 years, in manufacturing industry, exporting millions of pounds worth of goods to the EEC, and creating thousands of jobs in so doing, I have seen some of the obvious economic benefits first hand( e.g the demolition of trade barriers and tariffs etc). The political union that has crept along with the economic and trading benefits has occurred furtively with a succession of governments being anything from complicit and compliant in its slow and pervasive progress.

    Let’s raise a toast to good old Ted Heath, shall we? He always regarded it as his crowning political achievement and, as I recall it, he was egged on by most of the right wing press and the vast majority of the Conservative Party at the time. I don’t recall many Tories alongside me when we campaigned to get out of the Common Market in 1975! And here’s the irony for me. With the benefit of hindsight, it would probably have been a wrong decision anyway had we left the EEC then, although try telling that to the 19 year old radical and anti-capitalist that I was then! My salad days of yesteryear!

  14. Isn’t this site supposed to be an impartial site to discuss the latest opinion polls,every time Ive read the comments lately it reads more like a spin off of conservative home,shame really as their used to be some interesting debates to read on here.

  15. great fun the Daily Express – so 99% of DE readers who responded want to leave the EU – no surprise there then. All political groupies like to believe that ‘the rest of us’ agree with them – but that is because they only mix with like minded people. The anti EU brigade however are the most self delusional grouping there is. Despite repeated polling and electoral evidence they really do believe that there is a strong sense of revulsion against the EU.

    The last Eurobarometer Poll (2009 unless a new one is out) had a clear majority in favour of EU membership across Europe. The UK result was a tie with 30% for 30% against and the bulk not caring less. The last real election (June 2009) only 20% of the votes were cast for political parties who want to leave the EU.

    Yet we continually here the cry going up that Britons want to leave. When will they accept the evidence that actually most Britons don’t care, and that at real elections they vote time & time again to stay in.

    On the same vein I have been hearing about the imminent death of the Eurp ever since it was created – yet here it is! The worlds strongest currency, the currency of choice pricing key electronic and mechanical components, and seen as a major reserve currency. Delusions again I am afraid.

  16. Lol this article shows so much left wing bias its unreal. So much for keeping neutral Anthony.

  17. @Eric Goodyer

    “Yet we continually here the cry going up that Britons want to leave. When will they accept the evidence that actually most Britons don’t care, and that at real elections they vote time & time again to stay in.”

    I have a feeling that you and I may hold different political views on many issues, but I do agree with you here. There’s a lot of manipulation of opinion on the subject of our EEC membership, with raucously opposed media magnates like Murdoch marshalling their tame newspapers and broadcasters to orchestrate and inflate the anti Euro sentiment. And why do you think Murdoch does it? Well, because the EEC challenges his freedom to monopolise media rights and access in most European countries in the way that he has been allowed to do in the US and South East Asia. He’s protecting and championing his business interests and we should assign nothing more noble, selfless or political to his motives than that.

    I have no doubt either that the fine gentleman known as Mr Desmond is doing something similar with the Daily Express. He’s probably niggled that he couldn’t peddle his renowned, tasteful and cerebral late night adult TV stations inside the EEC!

  18. @Nick

    For the record I am pro-EU and Labour. The greatest problem facing the anti-EU campaign is that the Conservative Party pretends to be anti-EU and thus depresses UKIP support – they are of course the architects of British membership of the EU and will never take us out.

    Anti EU sentiment is probably now greater then pro-EU – but the reality is that most people do not care. Once the financial crisis is over then then anti-EU sentiment will decline again back to around 20 to 30%

  19. @ Max King:

    Would you mind elaborating on your post. I can’t see any bias in Anthony’s article, which seems to be his usual objective discussion of polling information and methodology.

  20. @Eric

    My apologies. I may have mistaken your name with another poster and it would appear that, as a fellow pro EU and Labour man, we may have much in common!. I was ambivalent about the EU in my early political days, I must confess, and I haven’t always supported some it’s more overtly political and federal aspirations, but we have derived enormous economic benefits from our membership and I tend to share your view about some of the more shrill voices advocating our withdrawal or semi-detached involvement.

    I’ve said in another post that I think a lot of the opposition is synthetic or whipped up by sections of the media who have business and commercial interests that conflict with EU policies, but the nationalist and sovereignty argument is the one that amuses me most. Can you think of two more fiercely proud, sovereign and independent nations than France and Germany? Do you think they would ever allow themselves to be subsumed into a European superstate? Of course not, and such an entity only really exists in the feverish and deranged nightmares of people like Nigel Farage. If you distilled his views into a cryptic phrase it would be; “I don’t like Johnny Foreigner!”

  21. Got to say when I saw this I thought of Anthony and ‘Voodoo Polls and new he would have to post this

  22. Brilliant article Anthony. Keep up the good work. Looks like you have your first Daily Express Troll…

  23. @ Nick Hadley

    It’s not quite true to imply that the old EEC debate of the 1970s was a simple left/right issue: the more dubious elements on the right of the Tory Party opposed our entry (basically because then, like now, they dislike foreigners) whereas some sensible Labour people (like Jenkins and Williams) were in favour – though sadly their own party did much to alienate them on this issue a decade later.

    Yes, Heath successfully negotiating our entry into Europe may well have been his crowning achievement – although his resolute action in getting rid of the odious Enoch Powell certainly comes a pretty close second.

    As for the Daily Express, what is realy offensive is that BBC News 24 continue to give the rag coverage in their newpaper review.

  24. Re: Voodoo polls. I like the disclaimer that Slashdot always run with their website polls: “This whole thing is wildly inaccurate. Rounding errors, ballot stuffers, dynamic IPs, firewalls. If you’re using these numbers to do anything important, you’re insane.”

  25. I also campaigned against the EEC as I saw it as a trade body only, and a barrier to European Unity. Like all institutions it needs reform, but i cannot see us leaving – nor is there a mass movement of opposition to the EU in the UK

  26. IMHO, it is yet another a sign of the growing weakness of the center-right coalition. They need to rekindle their troops and use the good old clichés so much loved by the right wing. Such a technique works very well in my disgraced country, so I’m curios to see how it evolves in the UK :)
    As far as I know about the British approach to politics, extremism is generally unwelcome, so the more they insist on this path, the more it will retort against them.

  27. The Guardian like to run comments where some Muslim women writes an article making derogatory comments about England and is then shot down in flames by the readership. I remember Jeremy Paxman in his book ‘The English’ saying English middle-class people love to feel oppressed.