Whose opinion polls count?
Professor Wadan Narsey
Friday, June 06, 2014
VOTERS are being presented with the results of opinion polls by different groups of people.
Allegations are being made about polls being deliberately “biased”.
But there is no need to allege that results are being deliberately manipulated one way or another.
The reality of sample surveys is that errors in methodology can easily give “wrong” results, even if the pollsters are genuine in their intentions.
Readers will find it easier if they read through my tabular comparison of the Razor and Tebutt polls, with a genuinely good sample survey (even as low as two per cent), run by the Fiji Bureau of Statistics.
Basically, if today we wanted to waste taxpayers’ money by asking all of Fiji’s 550,000 voters in an “opinion poll” to give their answers in the same secret way they will do in the polling booth in September (i.e. without telling any official how exactly they voted), of course, you will get a perfectly accurate answer, the same as you would get in the September election.
To save some money, you could ask a genuine random sample of 20,000 voters, and you would still get a pretty accurate result of each party’s support.
To save even more money, you could ask an even smaller 5000 voters randomly selected by the Fiji Bureau of Statistics, to vote in the same secret way, and in my opinion, you will still get a pretty accurate answer, even if there will be some small errors.
BUT, a genuine random survey of even 5000 voters all over Fiji, urban and rural areas, including the outer islands, will cost you heaps of money, which no polling company wants to spend.
The possibility of sampling error becomes larger, as the sample size becomes smaller. And if, to save money by not going all over Fiji, the persons polled are not truly randomly representative of all voters, then the results can be quite biased, or even worthless.
What happens then when you ask only 600 voters (Razor Group) or 1032 voters (Tebbutt Poll), using their particular methods?
What is a good opinion poll?
For any opinion poll, the possibility of systematic errors and biases depend on the following:
(1) Who owns and/or controls the opinion poll? Could it lead to bias?
(2) How are the questions asked and responses recorded?
(3) How randomly are the respondents selected?
(4) How many respondents are selected relative to the population of voters (which will be around 550,000)?
(5) How close might be the true party support results in the September election, for both large parties and small?
Using these five criteria, I present a comparison of the Razor and Tebbutt polls with the independent accurate sample surveys done by the Fiji Bureau of Statistics. Although FBS surveys are household incomes and expenditures or employment, the principles are exactly the same as in opinion polls.
(Please refer to the tables above now)
While the Razor Research team results are not necessarily biased because of these relationships, the intelligent voters cannot avoid a perception of the possibility of bias in favour of the Bainimarama government, especially when the internal Razor Research processes are not available to public scrutiny.
What of other opinion polls?
There are online opinion polls run by various blogs, where the readers can click on the possible answers and the blog site automatically adds up the numbers supporting the various options.
While the respondents are anonymous, and no one knows how many times they can “vote”, the blog-sites are already known to be either opposed or supportive of the Bainimarama government.
Most of the respondents therefore also probably have similar opinions to that of the blog-site, so the results may be inherently biased.
Sometimes, “opinion polls of taxidrivers” are used by lazy international journalists.
Landing at Nadi sloshed and jet-lagged from their flights from London or Sydney, they want to want to write a quick story on Fiji’s politics, before heading off for fun and frolic to Denerau.
But 70 per cent of voters do not regularly travel by taxis, hence the taxi-driver poll is also unreliable.
Then you can have the “1 person opinion poll”.
Making the rounds on the Internet currently are stories that Nostradamus, five hundred years ago, predicted the victory and even the name of India’s latest Prime Minister, Narendra Modi.
So here is this “Narseydamus Opinion Poll” with three predictions:
1. There will be a hung parliament (i.e. no party will win more than 25 seats) with two large parties very close in the results, so there will probably be a coalition government;
2. There will be the rise of a third party whose support might even approach that of the two large parties, with the third smaller party being the “king-maker”.
3. At least 1 Independent candidate will get more votes than at least 10 of the parliamentarians elected under the umbrella of the larger parties.
But I would not put any of my hard-earned personal money on the “Narseydamus Opinion Poll”.
* These are the views of Professor Wadan Narsey and not of The Fiji Times. Professor Narsey was a parliamentarian from 1996 to 1999 after which he has had no political affiliations. He has stated to The Fiji Times he is not aligned to any political party and will not contest the election.