Thursday 22 March 2018

Knock, knock. Who's there? Your local TD

Sarah Carey: Asking all the right questions on Newstalk
Sarah Carey: Asking all the right questions on Newstalk

Elis O'Hanlon

Does canvassing door-to- door increase a candidate's chances of being elected? The question was posed by Thursday's Morning Ireland, as an impatient media kills time in the absence of an actual date for the poll.

"There is science that suggests canvassing does influence how we vote," reporter Petula Martyn could soon be heard declaring, though by "science" it became clear that what she really meant was some studies into the "mere exposure effect" in product marketing that might or might not be applicable to politics. Interesting all the same, but science? Meh.

Labour's Aodhan O Riordain had more practical concerns. "People are not used to getting a knock on the door any more," he pointed out. "If somebody knocks on the door, they're a bit surprised."

The logistics of reaching voters at all was echoed on BBC Radio Four's Can We Trust The Opinion Polls?

This three-part series is based on a recent report into why polls published before last year's UK general election got it so wrong by failing to predict a convincing Tory win.

It's long been known that telephone polls are more accurate than internet surveys, but one pollster explained that, not only do fewer people have landlines nowadays, they're also less likely to pick up the phone when it rings. As a result, his organisation had to make nearly 30,000 calls before reaching the necessary 2,000 target for a sample.

The interesting question for Irish politics is whether the same errors are being replicated here - namely overstating support for left-of-centre parties, because their voters, often younger, are the ones who tend to be online and politically engaged.

Oddly, the Irish media isn't discussing this question much, perhaps because polls are an easy way to fill airtime. One welcome exception was Newstalk's Talking Point.

Sarah Carey's guests included the managing director of Red C, who clarified that Irish organisations don't do internet polling, and that the real struggle for them is reaching 18-24 year olds at all.

One thing is definitely the same, however. Just as the UK election was dominated by chatter about "coalition options", Carey wondered if the current emphasis in Ireland on post-election horse trading was overshadowing discussion of real ideas - a pertinent worry in a week dominated by talk of whether the Government would do a deal with Michael Lowry TD for his support if needed.

On The Pat Kenny Show on Thursday, the presenter suggested that this may have been a media-driven story, in which a politician is asked a question so that his refusal to answer it then becomes a story. Hush, Pat, stop giving away the secrets of the trade.

The intrepid Henry McKean, meanwhile, was out on the streets of Limerick asking women if it's inevitable that they turn into their mothers, provoking the usual entertaining responses. He also asked one man if he thought he might turn into his father. "Hopefully not. He's dead."

Well, you did ask, Henry.

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