Tag Archives: Polls

Forget the polls, just have another referendum

It’s been a long time since the 23rd June 2016. Perhaps not in the chronological sense but certainly in terms of experience. A vote was held and a decision was made (albeit marginally) but are we really the same electorate over 18 months on?  After all, it wasn’t until after the results had come in that the majority of proclamations and promises were torn to the ground, often by those who had happily stood by such pledges merely a few days prior. There was scepticism sure, but nobody of prominence really seemed eager to attempt the killer blow, much less deliver it.

Circumstances have undeniably changed but the lingering question remains, have we? Do we still hold the same values? Have we been swayed by the ensuing omnishambles? Most crucially of all though, how would we vote now?

This final poser continues to haunt the debate, not least due to the echoing mantra of “Brexit is the will of the people” seeping into any and all discussions on the matter. Owing to its perceived trump card status, it’s especially understandable that the truth behind the claim is sought; whether to rebut or reinforce.

This is where polls come in.

I’ve touched upon polls before and how the actual results often don’t match the narrative that’s imposed upon them but a recent Twitter poll held by the Brexit backing Lord Ashcroft brought a certain quandary to the forefront of my mind once more.

result
“Resounding” doesn’t quite do this justice.

Ah, the second referendum question. This one’s been doing the rounds ever since we woke up to the 24th June 2016. Anger and incredulity were common themes, the former of which only grew in prominence the moment this particular charmer confirmed that many had been duped. As for the latter, it can’t be denied that there was a certain complacency amongst the Remain campaign as the referendum vote crept ever closer. There was a sense that, not only shouldn’t a Leave victory happen, it simply couldn’t. It was perhaps owing to this particular naivety that the Remain cause failed to land a fatal smackdown throughout the entire campaign, instead finding itself breezing somewhat passively from issue to issue – never really engaging in the matter at its core and preferring to offer up vague warnings should their advice remain unheeded. Almost as though it didn’t take its opponent entirely seriously.

Mistakes were made and whether it was through unwarranted assurance or misplaced trust in a cause, the instinctive reaction to a mistake is a desire to correct it.

Thus the movement for a second referendum was born, prompting sympathy and scorn in perhaps equal measure. However, even if the majority isn’t quite behind the cause, it would be foolish to ignore the rather significant demographic that are.

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Remember this recent attempt for some semblance of control that was dismissed out of hand?

Of course it would be disingenuous of me to act as though there’s no counter viewpoint to this, that there’s not a significant number of hardline Leave voters who are desperate to unshackle from the nefarious EU as a matter of priority so we can ride off over the horizon of prosperity on our magic unicorns. I mock but hell, this petition to trigger Article 50 immediately edged out the ‘Referendum on the final deal’ petition by a fair few signatures. Which way the wind is blowing depends entirely on who you ultimately believe and therein lies the real problem.

We simply don’t fucking know.

 

brexittypepoll
If there isn’t a referendum on the final Brexit deal the 12% desperate for their McBrexit with fries will be left without a voice.

Right now the debate has become almost static, sure the steady stream of broken Brexit promises continue to filter through as the days drift by but it’s not quite as impactful as it once was. We’re creeping up to the two year mark since the referendum and the news that Brexit is actually shit isn’t really surprising anymore and, as such, the battleground has shifted. It now seems to be primarily concerned with second guessing as to which side of the fence public mood is currently leaning towards.

As such we find the discourse peppered with polls, petitions and questionnaires – almost to the point of parody. Furthering the farce, we’re also provided with hysterical displays of indignation when the result doesn’t quite go the way the original poster had envisioned.

rection
Boo! Sneaky old Remainers! Didn’t they realise that the ‘retweet’ option was for Leave voters only?

As hilarious as Ashcroft’s reaction and accompanying sophistry is, he does have a semblance of a point. Opinion polls are only representative of the people who acknowledge their existence long enough to bother voting in them and, in the case of Twitter polls at least, it then becomes more a battle to get the word out to those who subscribe to your views rather than an earnest endeavour to actually find out the truth of the matter. I don’t deny that it provides a small morsel of both satisfaction and assurance when an opinion poll suiting my desired narrative comes along but this is essentially cold comfort. The lack of any form of control whatsoever fatally dilutes the result and ultimately, irrespective of the message the outcome was supposed to convey, the trumpeted cause remains unfortunately stranded with its wheels ever spinning in the mud.

Not that this ever deters anyone mind, exponents from both sides of the argument will continue their quest to uncover what the British people really think – or at least try to paint a picture of what they want the British people to think.

Though curiously, despite such an apparently popular desire to uncover this information, there’s also a notion cropping up simultaneous to this that it ultimately doesn’t matter. That the British people spoke back on June 23rd 2016 and they stand by their decision. Those espousing such an idea are, by and large, members of the Brexit Bunch – each equipped with the results of their own Twitter polls that oh so obviously weren’t shared predominantly within anti-EU circles.

The trouble being that there’s an inherent contradiction afoot here.  A prevailing concept behind the entire Brexit campaign was the idea of the country (and by extension, its people) taking back control. So much so that it was the slogan for the official Leave campaign.

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Let’s take back control and never have a say on anything ever again. Right?

Forgive me for perhaps being obtuse but it’s rather baffling to me as to how you can be a self proclaimed bastion for democracy one moment, yet insist that a contentious issue is settled beyond doubt and no further input from the people is required the next. It’s often claimed that any attempt to undermine the referendum result, even in the form of a second vote, would be undemocratic though I’ve always found this argument to be patently absurd. I mean if a second referendum was put to the public and this time the majority opted for Remain that would surely be a democratic decision, right? If not then I’d be curious as to the justification behind how one vote can be less democratic than the one that preceded it. After all, a second referendum would inevitably be more informed; Brexit has remained a hot button issue to this day with time failing to heal the divide. You almost can’t help but assimilate the discussion as it rages on around you.

In closing I would simply say this. For every time you’re frustrated with the direction Brexit is taking make sure to ask yourself whether you’d like more control – irrespective of where your loyalties lie. If it’s control that you’re after then presumably you’d like an opportunity to express it in a meaningful way? If you find yourself answering in the affirmative once more then there’s only one thing that will satisfy your desire – a shiny new referendum, complete with all new choices and each potential consequence finely detailed. Best of all, unlike Ashcroft’s latest poll, the result actually has enough clout to potentially change something.

Unless of course, that’s too democratic for your tastes?

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Polls? You could even use those to prove Remainers back Brexit…

Ah, 2017…

What an unprecedented shitsack of a year it’s been. Brexit continues to bumble onward like a drunk aimlessly searching for his house keys in a neighbour’s garden, we have a bequiffed satsuma in the White House brazenly goading the world towards nuclear war and we have terror attacks of all varieties occurring with alarming regularity.

It’s both bewildering and terrifying in equal measure but, for all the political instability it’s caused, perhaps the most striking result is the way the populace was polarised – venomously so.

Naturally, such a confusing zeitgeist is going to leave people understandably baffled and, as is the usual reaction from the perplexed and scared, comfort is sought…and what could be more comforting than a binary vote on Twitter?

Hell, the President of Dubiously Free World reaches for this particular comfort blanket during his 2,478 weak moments each day.

trump hubris
Aww, bless…

See? Even the Commander in Chief needs a shot to his fragile ego every now and again. Though given how his self esteem seems to be perpetually teetering upon a cliff edge, perhaps it’s a good job he didn’t stumble across a similar poll that ran shortly after.

presidentpoll
Donald Trump – A President with an approval rating so low he’s bettered by an inanimate fun-tube dispenser and a currently dead evolutionary anomaly.

So that settles that right?

Well no, obviously not. As much as I celebrate Oliver’s victory over Donald I begrudgingly have to concede that, owing to my non-entity status, my sample size was fairly pathetic and it likely didn’t travel far beyond my own Twitter echo chamber.

As far as polls go it was pretty worthless but. as luck would have it, a seemingly worthy survey reared its head the following day – Brexit being the subject in question. Given how its arrival was heralded by the likes of Nigel Farage and his cabal of chancers, I figured it must be worth a look.

nigelvote
Nigel claims victory – interestingly a phrase never once uttered after his seven attempts at being elected to Parliament.

First of all, holy shit! 20,000 people? Sampling both Remain AND Leave voters? With a Hard Brexit emerging victorious? Perhaps I have been living in my own sealed echo chamber, studiously avoiding the pro-Brexit reality around me. The referendum campaign was bitter, spiteful and divisive, effectively tearing the country in two. Could it be possible that a conflict I expected to drag on for aeons had healed its wounds without me so much as noticing?

I mean hell, even self proclaimed Remainer Owen Jones held it aloft as a victory for Brexit being the will of the people.

owenjones reaction
I voted Remain. The above isn’t what I “actually think”

Must be pretty resounding right? Well, let’s take a look shall we?

This allegedly definitive poll was carried out by the London School of Economics and Oxford University with Buzzfeed being the first to bring their findings to prominence. However, upon perusing, things seemed rather dubious right off the bat.

First of all, remember how it was claimed that this was a 20,000 strong poll?

spinpoll
See? Right there, 20,000 person poll.

Turns out that this was not only untrue, but also laughably inaccurate. The sample size was actually much, much lower.

oopspoll
The surefire sign of a quality journalist is to blame others when you don’t cross reference your sources.

So there you have it, it was actually a 3,000 strong poll. Whether the mistake originated from Buzzfeed, Westmonster or that obnoxious windbag from your local drinking pit is ultimately besides the point. Whoever fucked up the result remains the same – the sample size, originally put forward as an extra stamp of credibility, has now been cut to less than a quarter of its previously reported size.

So what of the actual questions put towards the participants you ask? Well, let’s see how Buzzfeed summed up the results:

buzzfeed summary

Again, they’re going with the “Even Remainers favour a Hard Brexit” narrative that the jokers at Westmonster also latched onto but there’s one very interesting detail that they attempted to sneak through in the above paragraph. Specifically – “…when the British public are asked in detail what they want from the negotiations…”

Hmmm, curious. Let’s look into this further and see what the questions actually were. Again, these are all snatched from the previously linked Buzzfeed article:

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EU citizens in the UK
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Future UK immigration
result3
The European Court of Justice
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The Irish border
result5
The divorce bill
result6
Ongoing payments to Brussels
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Future trade with the EU
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Timeline to Brexit
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The final analysis

Now, the eagle eyed amongst you will have noticed something. Something very important that seems to have been airbrushed out of every single summary various partisan outlets have put out there.

There’s no option to remain. None whatsoever.

The heading of the final chart from the rather exhaustive picture montage I’ve just subjected you to gives the game away: “When forced to plan Brexit…”

Short of being a resounding indication of Remainers abandoning their previous pro-EU principles and shacking up with the most anti-EU version of Brexit possible, what the survey actually indicates is that: when forced to plan Brexit without any option for Remain on the table, Remainers occasionally find common ground with the hardline Brexiters.

Even Professor Sara Hobolt, one of the authors of this survey, concludes as such:

Sara Hobolt
Or, once run through Westmonster’s spin machine: “Remainers now back the shittiest version of Brexit imaginable”

So what have we learnt? Effectively that people will always find a way to massage data in order to suit their agenda. Nothing groundbreaking – it’s been happening as long as human beings have come equipped with a brain. But nevertheless, I felt compelled to dip my toe into the world of data accumulation once again with a somewhat more simplistic poll:

brexittypepoll
I didn’t manage to get a sample size of 20,000 either…

Oh wow. Remain won a resounding victory AND the poll had a significantly larger sample size than its LSE equivalent. I mean sure, the vast majority of my followers are likely to be pro remain but, while there’s no real method of proving either way, for the 24 hours it ran it got passed around by Remainers and Leavers alike so the sample wasn’t necessarily imbalanced.

analyticw
FOA: Donald Trump – This is what transparency looks like.

So what of this? Can I claim this fairly tongue in cheek poll as a victory for Remain? I could try I suppose but, for reasons alluded to previously, there’s no way to guarantee an unbiased sample and ultimately the whole exercise was pointless. The only real way to gauge the current ‘will of the people’ is to have a 2nd ref on a final deal which, again, seemed resoundingly popular when put to the very same Twitter polls that I’ve just this moment discredited.

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Nigel’s not very popular it seems.

As a final point, there was one particular gem that Buzzfeed managed to glean from all this – that the public in general don’t especially understand the issues they were voting on. Whether this is while participating in a survey or casting their vote in the EU referendum – despite it being heresy to the committed Brexiteer, it turns out the “will of the people” contains copious amounts of cognitive dissonance.

buzzfeed varying results
“But the people knew what they were voting for…”

At the end of the day, polls are effectively worthless. Yes, if enough of a sample is obtained they can be indicative of the common feeling but, ultimately, it’s only representative of a specific microcosm of the electorate. The previous EU referendum was over a year ago now and won based on a campaign containing more fiction than The Wizard of Oz. If you accept that people are capable of changing their minds you also accept that the ‘will of the people’ is transient. You can conduct dubious polls and surveys until the end of your days but, if we as an electorate really value the ‘will of the people’, we simply must have another referendum on the final deal – including an option for remain.

You Brexiteers wanted “control”? There’s your control. Vote on the final terms and prove that the ‘will of the people’ is as you claim.

But watch out, rumour has it that the McBrexit with fries is currently more popular than your beloved Hard Brexit.