Monday 11 December 2017

How emotion can skew the picture on polls

On a plate? Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tanaiste Joan Burton. Photo: Mark Condren
On a plate? Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tanaiste Joan Burton. Photo: Mark Condren

Liz O’Donnell

As the General Election looms ever closer, there is no shortage of experts spouting predictions of the make-up of the next Government. Some are so cock sure of themselves as to call exact outcomes in individual constituencies as if it was a matter of a mathematical equation. As a former candidate over four elections, I question the certainties of pollsters, psephologists and pundits, particularly when it comes to the fate of the smaller party in coalitions.

For example, opinion polls here consistently show steady support for Fine Gael, while also indicating diminished support for coalition partners the Labour Party. This polarisation of voter support in respect of Government parties is misleading in my view. Because on election day, people are asked to vote for a Government, not a party. The question has changed and so will the answer.

Meanwhile, door-to-door canvassers are generally a more reliable source of intelligence about voting preferences. Even then, the picture can be skewed by emotion. On the doorstep, people like to vent. It is a rare opportunity to let fly over some particular grievance.

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