Tuesday, January 27, 2004

If political pollsters are so scientifically scrupulous, why are their employees revolting?

A letter to the editor in today’s Australian from Aubrey Belford, criticizing the methodology of a recent poll he worked on, is revealing – but mainly for what it deosn’t say. As a former (it is safe to assume) call-centre worker (/contractor) for official Liberal Party pollsters Crosby Textor, Belford spills no worthwhile insider's beans at all.

Which is a shame – if Belford has done his homework on his employer, he would have soon found out that the eponymous Mark Textor is the inventor of a uber-sleazy form a marginal seat campaigning known as "push polling". Indeed, poor young (I’m assuming) Aubrey Belford is (or rather, was) so innocent of what his true job description was that he drops this line in, by way of high dudgeon:

All the survey really worked out was respondents' reaction to the language of political rhetoric, and how well the Liberals could use this at the next election.

Err, I think you’ll find that that’s what push polling is, Aubrey – only what you were working on was a dry run, which is also why doofus journo Glenn Milne got handed the non-story on a plate by his wife, who is the director of Crosby Textor's head office (a relationship that, to his credit, Milne acknowledges). As to why Milne ran with and hyped up such a yawn falls into the other category, though, of errors of judgement (if not something more serious).

In any case, the real push polling, during the actual election campaign, will not, of course, be written up (by Milne, letter-writing former Crosby Textor employees, or anyone else), and will be much, much nastier than the recent dry-run. The object of the real thing is not to note, assemble and then later use the thoughts of swinging voters (“PM promises a new 4WD for every at-home mum with 2 or more kids in private schools”), but to use the insecurities of the said swinging voter to change their vote to firm Lib on the spot. Not surprisingly, this process requires a skilled telephonist to pull it off (sorry, Aubrey). (AFAIK, Mark Textor was a one-man band in his early push-polling career, a feat only enabled by the Northern Territory’s tiny (~3,000 voters) electorate sizes).

Finally, although I risk contradicting myself, to the extent that Crosby Textor's push-polling dry-run does say anything empirical at all – its relaxed and comfortable findings of Australia’s collective current mood are directly at odds with this recent Roy Morgan poll (note: poll, not push-poll).

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