Saturday, 9 May 2015

Why Were The Polls So Wrong...?

So, once again, the polls got it wrong. They said that Labour and
Tories were neck and neck, and there would be a hung Parliament, with bargaining and horse-deals between parties to get acts passed - and perhaps another election in a few months time.
          And what did we wake up to on Friday morning? - A Tory majority.
          As my friends in Scotland say, 'Whatever you vote, you get Tory.'
          The Guardian site has an article asking, What went wrong with the polls?
          I can tell you. Here it is. Brace yourselves. This may come as a shock. The reason the polls were wrong is: Tories lie.
          You never suspected that, did you?
          As it happened, on election day, I was reading a book on Maths. I know this is hard to believe, but it is true. The book is: Why Do Buses Come In Threes? By coincidence I was reading the pages where it explains why sampling is often skewed.
          To find out, for instance, which is the nation's favourite biscuit, you don't knock on every door in the land and ask. You ask a small but representative sample of the nation's population, and use that figure as a basis, making sure to include people from every age and income-group, from every ethnic and religious group, from every corner of the UK.
Wikimedia: Dezidor
          It would be impossible, realistically, to ask even 1% of UK's population this question - 1% would be six hundred and forty thousand people. But if your sample is representative enough, the result will be reasonably accurate, even if you ask only a much smaller number. (My money is on the milk chocolate digestive, with shortbread a close second.)
          Polls become less accurate as the sample group becomes smaller and/or less representive. How representative a sample is counts for a great deal. You could ask a million football fans which sport is the most popular, and be fairly certain that you'll get the answer: football. The sample group was large, but it was unrepresentative. But you might get a similarly biased answer by putting the question only to the eleven members of your local football team. The sample was small but, again, unrepresentative. Football probably is, at present, the most popular UK sport - but these samples would tell you nothing about, for instance, the rising popularity of cycling.
           This is how advertisers get away with claiming that '8 out of 10' people fetishise their product, or that their 'scientific test' proves that their  vitamin supplement increases intelligence. They're very careful who they ask, and who they test. But hey - they did a test! They conducted a poll! Proves it. Stands to sense.

           But even if a poll is conducted absolutely honestly,
on a large scale and over a widely representative sample,
there's something else that can completely screw it up. That is, humanity's lamentable tendency to lie.

          This is why social scientists, who have to conduct research by
A sneaky pollster (Public Domain.)
asking people things, have a rotten life. Other scientists can just force rats to run round mazes or learn tricks for food. Rats, despite their reputation for sneakiness, can't agree to be interviewed and then not turn up, thus ruining a study that took months to design and prepare (with great care taken to make the sample representative.) They can't take part in an interview and then change their minds and refuse to allow their answers to be used. These things happened to more than one social science student I met when I was an RLF Fellow.

          Most of all, the rats can't lie, thus making the study's results inaccurate.
          Statisticians have been aware for a long time that there are some subjects on which it's almost impossible to get an honest answer. Do you take part in illegal activity, such as drug-taking? How much do you earn? How much do you drink? How many sexual partners have you had? - On any subject where people feel they may be judged unkindly, or come in second or third best to
Public Domain: Vicol
someone else, you can confidently expect people to lie. If you're trying to get an acceptably accurate answer to, how many times a week the average Briton has sex, or takes cocaine, you're stuffed before you start. Some people will exaggerate, some will depreciate, depending on the image they wish to present. A few will answer honestly, but even so, your results will be wildly inaccurate.

          So how does this relate to the election? Well, for the results to be so inaccurate, the most likely explanation is that people lied. The Guardian article (link above) is diplomatic and talks about the need 'to do polls better.' But the polls had a large sample, and they represented everyone who could vote. They should have been much more accurate than they were. The simplest explanation is: someone was lying. Who could it be?

          Well, the Tory majority was unexpected. It wasn't there in the figures used for the calculations. Which strongly suggests that, of those who were asked their voting intentions, it was overwhelmingly Tories who lied.
          The same thing happened, according to 'Why Do Buses Come In Threes?' in the 1992 election, where the result was very different to that predicted by the polls.
          The explanation is the same for both elections. Those intending to vote Tory lied.
          Those intending to vote for other parties largely told the
Why Do Buses Come In Threes?
truth. But Tories said they hadn't decided, or that they were going to vote for some other party, or said their principles forbade them to answer.

          Of course, you might prefer the idea that enough people to give Cameron a majority really didn't make up their mind until - ooh - half an hour before. They took the trouble to make time in their day to go and vote, but they still didn't know, as they walked through the polling station door, how they were going to vote... Yeah, right. Or maybe they closed their eyes, jabbed the pencil at the ballot paper, and then voted Tory just because that's where the pencil landed.
          Either way, it doesn't say a lot for the Tory electorate, does it?
          Come on. The Tory voters lied.

          But why would they? People of my acquaintance who voted SNP weren't shy about letting anyone know their intention. I was undecided myself, for a while, between Labour and Green. I can no longer rely on Labour to be socialist - they often seem like the Tory Party in sheep's clothing. Whereas the Green party seemed to offer a manifesto that was exactly what I want from the Labour Party. With a few days to go - not, note, while I was standing in the polling-booth with the pencil in my hand - I decided to vote Labour for two reasons.
          One, I live in a Labour safe-seat. Voting Green wouldn't benefit the Greens - it would only diminish Labour and give a boost to the Tories, or even worse.
          Also, the Greens, along with the good stuff, support a policy of theft - they want to give my copyrights on my intellectual property away for free.  Socialism, I agree with. Theft, no.

           We need, we badly need, a fairer, more representative voting system than this first-past the post malarkey. Are we going to get it, now the Tories have a majority? Are we cocoa. Nor would we have done if Labour had won a majority. But a hung parliament now...

          The point is, I'm happy to tell anyone who I'm voting for, and why.
          Many Tories, evidently, are strangely shy about it. How so?

          Because they're ashamed to admit they're Tories. The Labour Party's values - not New Labour or Tory Lite - but the original and best Labour Party, stood for Solidarity - that is, standing by others and supporting them, defending their right to a good life as well as your own.
           It stood for Sharing - not paying others less than their labour is worth to you, and then taking the wealth that you couldn't have created without them, and keeping it within the walls of your family and class, while blaming those poorer than you for being poor. (Even though you benefited from their labour far more than they did.)

          The Labour Party's values are Kindness, Concern and Care for others - which is why it established the National Health Service (against Tory opposition), and tried hard to introduce (against Tory obstruction) an education system which is fair for all. Both of which the Tories and Tories-Lite have been dismantling for profit over decades now.

          Those Tories who lied to the polls know all this fine well. And they know that what they planned to vote for is, frankly, nasty.
          The Tories have taught all the newspapers they own - which is most of them - to squeal in chorus, 'The Politics of Envy,' whenever Labour is mentioned. But they mistake a sense of Justice and Fairness for envy - or perhaps they never knew how to tell the difference. 

          It's the Tories who resent and envy the tiny amounts spent on welfare benefits while managing to ignore the huge amounts being grabbed by tax evaders, the huge amounts grabbed by financiers. (Do you think Cameron will still close the Mayfair Loophole now that's he's got a majority? Don't hold your breath.)
          Those Tories who lied about their voting intentions know full well that their Party represents Greed, and Greedy Bankers, and exploitation, and exploitative Big Business, and Privilege.
          They know that Tax-Dodging is okay by Tories, so long as it's tax-dodging by the privileged, and Scrounging is okay, so long as the scroungers have crowns on their heads. It represents Division, not Sharing. The Tories are The Nasty Party, and they know it. 

           When those nice poll people asked, 'Who do you intend to vote for?' a lot of Tories were just too ashamed to tell the truth. Not too ashamed to vote for the nasty policies of the Nasty Party, but too ashamed to admit it.
          So we go into another term of 'austerity,' but only for the defenceless. The Nasty Party will continue to target the poor and the sick, to order the disabled to pick up their beds and walk to work - and then they'll go to Church and pray to gentle Jesus while not listening to anything he said.

          Education and Health will be handed over to Business - after all, what a success privitisation has made of the railways, eh? Just wait you until they get hospitals and schools fully into their claws. It'll be back to the values that made Britain great!
'Fear this girl, Want, but shun this boy, Ignorance.

          Now that the Tories have a majority, are you looking forward to them passing the TTIP bill, which will allow their pals in Big Business to sue any UK government which passes a law they don't agree with? Such as that pesky law to protect children from addiction by making all cigarette packages plain?
          Who would want to admit that, while shrilly squealing about the EU 'governing' Britain, they willingly voted for a party planning to let Big Business make Britain's laws?
          The Tories who were ashamed to admit how they were going to vote should be ashamed. I wish I could promise them that they will experience, in the fullest of full measure, exactly what they've voted for - but I suspect that one of the reasons for their shame is that they know fine well they won't.


Joan Lennon said...

Well put. Sigh.

Jenny Alexander said...

Interesting, Sue. I thought it must be because the pollsters, like virtually all the press, were Tory. Actually not just the press. I blame the media for the collapse of the Libdems, who punched above their weight in a very uneven coalition and tempered Tory policy - the media always reported it as if the Cons and LDs were equals in that partnership, and played on the student fees instead of the promises they were able to deliver. Result, collapse of liberal values and polarisation of the right South of the border and progressive left to the North. They've misrepresented why Scots voted SNP too, which I don't think had anything to do with devolution, but with having an opportunity - which we in England didn't have - to vote for a different kind of politics. Cornwall, which was all Lib Dem 10 years ago, is now completely blue. Depressing.

Bill Kirton said...

Thanks for articulating it all, Susan. It amazes me that there were sufficient supporters of the Tories not only to keep them in power but to give them total control. Look what they did when the Lib Dems were there (ineffectually perhaps) to curb their excesses. I hope Jenny's right about us having a 'progressive left' here in Scotland but I'm not holding my breath. And, even if she is right, the unavoidable fact is that we'll still be governed by an uncaring, cynical elite who've been given the opportunity to privatise the hell out of everything, stick two fingers up to the 'have-nots' or 'don't quite have enoughs', and trample all over such notions as compassion and humanity. It's all very bleak.

Susan Price said...

Gods, I wish I could disagree with you, Bill, but I can't. Jenny - good points, but one of the polls that failed was the Guardian's poll, and the good old G is Lib-Dem.
Certainly all the rest of the press sang along in chorus to Murdoch and the Right. I have a friend who, god help him, takes the Daily Mail. I've been looking through it over the past weeks and have been horrified/amused/aghast at the frothy-mouthed hysterical anti-Left propaganda they managed to cram into every article, column and cartoon.

Katherine Roberts said...

I too think the Lib Dems got bad press - as well as they were able, it seems they opposed some of the more hard-line Tory policies... did I just read in the paper the unleashed Tories are now making plans to abolish the Human Rights Act? I hope that's not true.

Understand Clegg and Farage going, but can't really understand why Miliband resigned, as it seems that apart from losing most of Scotland (which can't have been all his fault, surely?) Labour actually did a bit better than last time against the Tories relatively speaking... he should have hung in there for all the teenage fans who might have voted for him next time!

Nick Green said...

Whatever the answer, it doesn't address the underlying problem that more people voted for the politics of greed than for the politics of responsibility.

Sandra Horn said...

Depressingly well put, Sue. We need a new party - a PROPER social democrat party, like what we now call 'Old Labour'. Is there anyone out there with the guts and vision to set it up, though? At the moment, I think probably not - but then I'm deeply depressed by the election result and feeling pessimistic.

Nick Green said...

What we actually need is a non-fragmented left and a sense of realism and pragmatism. The left is its own worst enemy because people turn against Labour for something like (say) Iraq, only to let in parties which at best would have made exactly the same decisons, and probably worse ones. People need to accept that the running of the country is a two-horse race, and not sacrifice everything on the altar of idealism. I voted Green in my council elections, but when it comes to MPs it has to be Labour for me because anything else = Tory.

manxli said...

Hi Sue

I think you're absolutely right about people voting Tory and being ashamed of it. At the end of the day it's human nature to defend one's "castle" and although one may intellectually be a socialist, protecting and 'not sharing' one's possessions may come first in the voting booth.

Fortunately, I've lived most of my adult life outside the UK and have not had to vote in the UK. I've lived now in Switzerland for the past 18 years and despite what the average Brit might think, the Swiss are quite left wing on average and used to a wide mix coalition style of government. There is NEVER a majority!! The federal system allows voters to concentrate on local issues, which are decided by referendums on every count. Oh yes, the 'gnomes' of Z├╝rich do exist (although no Swiss has ever heard of them), but also a well educated population employed in many small scale specialist, enterprising and successful industries. BTW the minimum wage in Switzerland is over £2000 per month !!!!!!!! But you do need to buy health insurance out of it.

Interestingly, there is no 'hang up' to speaking in dialect in Switzerland. Every one does, including bankers, brain surgeons and university professors. Can you imagine a prime minister speaking in West Midlands dialect in the UK?

Maybe it's time to separate Wales, Cornwall, Scotland, Ulster into rather big 'counties' in a federal system. Even Yorkshire, Geordie Land or Merseyside? Why not. The Swiss system has a lot to offer.


Susan Price said...

Manxli (who is my cousin, Alan, folks) I'd be happy to have a federation style coalition. It would be more representative, and I don't think, under such a system, the Tories would be able to get away with selling off our assets to their friends, as they shamelessly have.

Our 'coalition' government wasn't any such thing - it was a Tory government. That's what we get with our FPTP system - whatever you vote, you get Tory.

Nick, you say people voted 'for greed' - well some did. The borders of our constituencies have been fiddled to ensure that the vote is skewed. So, twice as many people vote, say Lib Dem, as vote Tory - but the Tory vote has been split over constituencies so they produce twice the number of seats. We supposedly live in a democracy, but we don't. It feels more like a rotten borough.

madwippitt said...

They are all lying thieving bastards who want to kill badgers when they aren't experimenting on animals or destroying wildlife habitats with high speed trains we neither want,need nor can afford. Time for the Chris Packham Party to be invented.

Susan Price said...

The Chris Packham Party! Where do they stand on Education and the National Health? How do they feel about semi-house-trained polecats?

manxli said...

Hi Sue

Just picking up on your comment about schools.

I wonder what the average schooling history of the majority of people who don't bother voting is? I get the feeling that it may, in very many cases, be quite poor and combined with a lack of motivation, this would suit the party in discussion here quite well. After all the uneducated are almost certainly amongst those who will suffer most when social services are cut and who are unlikely to find work other than zero hours contracts.

In some Swiss counties you are actually fined if you don't vote in the regular referendums!!


Susan Price said...

I think the major reason for not voting in the UK, especially among young people, is apathy.

They know that, whatever they vote, they'll get Tories, so why bother? Whoever they get will go back on their promises as soon as they're in - I don't think I've ever known a time when this oft-repeated jibe was more true.

I begin to feel like this myself. Why bother to find out what it says in the manifestos? Why bother going out in the rain to vote? - You're going to get Tories anyway, who will proceed to do whatever most benefits the people who need the least help.

Our FPTP system is deadly. It badly needs reforming - but as long as one version or another of the Tory party gets in, it never will be. Turkeys, y'know, and Christmas.