Federal election 2013: Should pre-election polling be banned?

Analysis of elector responses to the political advertising that will be banned before we are likely to see final costings suggests that those rusted onto the major parties like their own party’s ads and hate their opposition’s efforts.

The NOTs (neither of them) and DBMs (don’t bother me) actually evaluate the messages. Both leaders at the NSW debate should not assume that the audience of purportedly undecideds selected by a media-managed poll are truly open to new approaches, unless they are given a secret ballot immediately before and afterwards that is not influenced by the leaders’ personal intervention before they hand in their returns.

This week we will see a narrowing of the gap between the national polls but we will not be given the results of those that are NOTS and DBMS (see earlier columns).

We will not be shown the failure rates of the technopolls that have no human interface, the differences between older and younger voters in each household or the very significant differences between states and territories responses that have been aggregated (blanded?) to produce a spurious “national profile”.

There are huge differences between electorates, states and regions across the nations that disappear in these ‘pollmixers’.

With News Corp’s open campaign against the incumbent that does not accede to its demands (conservative or otherwise) in the countries in which it controls much of the print media, it is not the accuracy of the polling but the bias on its presentation that raised concerns.

Overseas there is considerable debate about the need for electoral commissions to ban publication of polls up to a month before their elections.

It is argued that putting out results of opinions polls in the public domain long before actual elections are conducted runs the risk of compromising the independent exercise of the franchise. Instead of rational choice, such voters tend to “go along” with a bandwagon mentality.

The massive concentration of media ownership in the hands of two or three individuals enables them to control the way that so-called “two-party preferred results” are manipulated. It also ensures that their competitors’ findings are downplayed or even unpublished except on minority nerdsites.

On top of this, the media owners are now attempting to kill off independent readership reviews and alternative polls by setting up their own extended media measurement systems (EMMA).

Predicting poll results, like advertisement campaigns, can be tailored to meet the requirements of “clients.” Besides, even if opinion polls, which constitute an external control, are not deliberately skewed, media owners aim to influence the decisions of undecided electors in the direction of their desired and preferred outcome.

After this election the AEC should open a public inquiry into the necessity to follow the ban on pre-poll advertising with a ban on pre-poll polling. As stated in offshore comments on this phenomenon, the real danger is the political parties’ links with polling companies, a nexus that can be employed to project a certain party by loading front page reporting of an outcome that can be potentially damaging for the country’s democratic credentials.

Dr Colin Benjamin OAM is the chairman of Cultural Infusion Ltd and director general of the Life: ‘Be in it’ Australia charity.



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