Tag: General election

Opinion polls are being used to influence public opinion rather than simply measuring it

The wide variation of poll results on how the the two leaders were viewed following the ITV debate last night, and how the media cherry pick statistics to fit their framing and narratives of significant issues and events.

It’s curious that neither the BBC nor the ITV mentioned the other poll results. That would have provided a rather more “impartial” and democratic account of how people responded to the event.

I think we need to question exactly who the BBC and ITV are delivering “the news” for.

The ‘snap poll’, published by YouGov that the BBC and several other media outlets have drawn on to inform their ‘analysis’ of the leaders’ debate, found ‘viewers split on who won ITV general election debate‘ and states that Boris Johnson narrowly won among 1.646 respondents polled. It was apparently Sky news who commissioned that particular poll.

However, the date and time on the page highlighting the poll result is one hour and ten minutes before the debate started at 8pm.

The page has been archived here – and the SKWAWKBOX has made a video of the open page to show that the image above has not been doctored and that the page address is genuine. Read the rest of the article here.

YouGov has been contacted with a request for an explanation of the apparent anomaly. It will be interesting to see the poll company’s response.

Polls are controversial. Some of the major concerns that surround the current polling landscape: Are the polls accurate and scientific? Reliable? Can the questions be manipulated to get a particular answer? Can polls be used to influence rather than simply measure public opinion and voting behaviour? I think the last two concerns are the greatest, and threaten our democracy.

The outcomes of both political and marketing polls — and whether or not the public trusts the results — are influenced by many factors, including polling technology and methodology, how the question is worded, the perception of who is asking the question, when and how the polling sample is drawn, and who agrees to take the poll (the responders) and who decides not to (the non-responders).

 Burkean Conservative, Peter Hitchens, has said:

“Opinion polls are a device for influencing public opinion, not a device for measuring it. Crack that, and it all makes sense.”

It certainly does

Hitchens goes on to say that the establishment and the media are responsible for manipulation, based on the misuse of statistics. The overall purpose is to “bring about the thing it claims is already happening” (the “bandwaggon effect”).

In his book The Broken Compass, Hitchens cites contemporary examples of the media attacking Gordon Brown and the “predicted” win of the Conservative Party at the 2010 general election, although Hitchens also described Brown, as a “dismal Marxoid.”  Hitchens’ comments are based on his time as a reporter at Westminster. He says that political journalists are uninterested in serious political debate, and describes how a media reporting bias is attempting to facilitate a Tory general election win. 

Remarkably, as a social Conservative, Hitchens states one of his motivations for writing the book was to frustrate this exercise.

The current obsession with predicting election results doesn’t add much to our democratic practices. Polls give an apparency of “data-driven journalism” but it produces a reductive “horse-race” narrative, in which political and policy context is mostly ignored with the numbers, accurate or not, pretty much being framed as all that matters. This trivialises our democracy and obscures the importance of critical thinking and crucially, stifles informed choices regarding policies in influencing the public’s voting decisions. 

Roger Pielke Jr, professor of Technology Policy Research at the University of Colorado, says: Rather than trying to see the future, political science might serve us better by helping citizens to create that future by clarifying the choices we face and their possible consequences for policy.”

“In treating politics like a sporting event, we diminish the partisanship, the choices, and the fundamental values that lie at the core of politics. I fear that data journalists have diminished our politics.” 

When political opinion polls and the media appear to support one political party over another, there can be little doubt that this is intended to have some influence on the psychology of voters, because it’s akin to declaring election winners before the election is actually held. It works rather like a self-fulfilling prophecy. This is based on the bandwaggon propaganda technique. The basic idea behind the bandwagon approach is to appeal to the conformist tendency of the public, and the need to feel a part of wider society; to feel included.  The message the propagandist puts forward is that “everyone” or “most people”are doing/voting/behaving like this, or that almost “everyone” supports this or that person/cause. 

So bandwaggon propaganda is based on individuals rallying to the perceived majority opinion, because of a fairly widespread psychological need for feeling we are part of a social ingroup, and a general tendency towards normative compliance and social conformity.

And at a time when the strategically engineered and toxic social divisions of political outgrouping is widespread and affecting citizens’ fundamental sense of identity and self worth, this type of insidious call for a normative compliance and artificial consensus creates a false sense of security for some. 

Bandwaggon techniques work much better when the public is unaware that professional manipulators are at work.

We know that political opinion polls are certainly not always an accurate reflection of public opinion. Samples of the population selected to participate may be biased. For example, asking Daily Mail readers who they will vote for will almost certainly produce a majority right wing set of responses. However, if you ask the same question on Twitter, you are much more likely to get a Labour majority.

In the UK, some of the major polls cited widely in the media are run by:

  • Survation, pollster to The Mail on SundayDaily MirrorDaily Record and Sky News. They say: “Survation also have an active strategy and campaign advisory business helping clients better understand customers & members, appreciate & help shape public opinion. We help our clients improve customer engagement and effectiveness of campaigns – be they charitable, political or commercial.” 
  • ComRes, retained pollster for the BBC and The Independent. It says on their site: ComRes provides specialist research and insight to support reputation management, public policy and communications. For more than a decade we have used the latest developments in market and opinion research to inform strategies, change behaviours and define debates.
  • Ipsos MORI (formerly MORI). Ipsos MORI’s Social Research Institute works extensively for the government of the United Kingdom, looking at public attitudes to key public services, and so informing social policy. Issues such as identity, social cohesion, loyalty, physical capital and the impact of place on attitudes are all key themes of the Institute’s work. The company also specialises in mass media, brand loyalty, marketing and advertising research.
  • YouGov. – Stephan Shakespeare, the firm’s founder and CEO from 2010, once stood as a Conservative candidate for Colchester; he was also a Conservative Party pollster. The other founder, and CEO until 2010, is Nadhim Zahawi a British Conservative Party politician who has been the Member of Parliament (MP) for Stratford-on-Avon since 2010.
  • ICM. They have this to say: Understanding choice means you know how your audience feels, thinks and behaves. And how you can change that. We help influence choice in three areas. How do you energise your brand and communications? How do you improve your customers’ experience of you? How do you understand and influence citizens?  
  • Populus, official The Times’ pollster. They say“Our Reputation & Strategy team works with the boards of global companies and public institutions to help them understand, influence, and improve their reputations. We are specialists in reputation. We understand why it matters, how to measure it, what drives it, who influences it, how to align it with existing activity, and what you should do to improve it.”
  • TNS-BMRB. TNS changed their name to Kantar Public UK: a leading agency providing research and consultancy to UK policymakers and contracted to work for the government. The company is structured around specific areas of marketing expertise: Brand & Communication; Innovation & Product Development; Retail & Shopper; Customer Experience; Employee Engagement; Qualitative; Automotive; and Political & Social.

The bandwagon effect is part of a larger group of cognitive biases or errors in thinking that influence the judgements and decisions that people make. Cognitive biases are often designed to help people think and reason more quickly – “mental shortcuts” – but they often introduce miscalculations and mistakes. These cognitive biases are being manipulated by behavioural economists, the government, polling companies and the media.

Individuals may highly influenced by the pressure and norms exerted by groups. When it seems like the majority of the group is doing a certain thing, not doing that thing becomes increasingly difficult. The bandwagon effect is essentially the manipulation of a type of groupthink process The government know this and are designing communications strategies which play to this heuristic.

All of the polling  companies are commissioned and operate within a taken-for-granted neoliberal context, supporting various actors within the “global market place” paradigm, including governments, and therefore have a distinct ideological leaning and very clearly defined economic interests in maintaining the status quo.

“Behavioural economics shows that people don’t want to challenge the status quo. So if we see a poll telling us ‘what the majority thinks’, we will have a tendency to follow the herd.” Crawford Hollingworth, founder, The Behavioural Architects.

fake 2

 


 

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A motion of no confidence in the government is just the start of a wider process

The Press Association has provided this helpful guide to the motion of no-confidence, tabled by Jeremy Corbyn in an attempt to bring about a general election. The vote is scheduled to be held tomorrow afternoon.

It is the first time the procedure has been used under the provisions of the Fixed Term Parliaments Act, passed by the coalition government under David Cameron.

This is how it will work:

Mr Corbyn will move the motion tabled in his name as Leader of the Opposition and will speak first in the debate scheduled for Wednesday afternoon.

The Prime Minister will then speak for the government and at the end of proceedings at 7pm, MPs will vote.

If the government wins there will not be a general election and ministers will carry on in office.

If the government loses, the Act states there must be an “early” election unless the government can regain the confidence of the House by winning a confidence vote within 14 days.

During that two-week period there is no statutory limit on how many times a confidence motion can be brought forward and voted on.

In the course of that period the opposition may seek to form alliances within the Commons to demonstrate that they are the party most likely to command the confidence of the House and therefore should be given the opportunity to form a government.


The shadow international trade secretary Barry Gardiner has already suggested that the PM could face a series of confidence votes in the coming weeks.

Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, has said the SNP supports Jeremy Corbyn’s confidence motion. Describing the vote as “a defeat of historic proportions for the prime minister and her government”, Sturgeon said:

It has been crystal clear for months that the prime minister’s approach was heading for a crushing defeat. Instead of facing up to that fact, she wasted valuable time with her postponement of the meaningful vote in December. There is no more time to waste.

It’s almost certain that all of the other opposition parties will support the motion. But the DUP have already stated that they will support the government tomorrow, which was expected.

Here are the figures for how the parties voted on Theresa May’s deal:

 

You can sign the petition (here) to register your own no confidence in Theresa May’s government, and demand a general election.


 

My work is unfunded and I don’t make any money from it. This is a pay as you like site. If you wish you can support me by making a one-off donation or a monthly contribution. This will help me continue to research and write independent, insightful and informative articles, and to continue to provide support others who are affected by the welfare ‘reforms’. 

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Jeremy Corbyn tables motion of no confidence in the government

Image result for jeremy Corbyn

I have just received the following email:

Sue, this country needs a proper government

Jeremy Corbyn

Dear Sue,

Theresa May’s Brexit deal has just been defeated.

The government is in chaos. The country is in crisis. This can’t go on.

The country needs an election. That’s why tonight I tabled a vote of no confidence in Theresa May and her hopeless government.

But the Tories are getting ready too. Right now their millionaire donors will be reaching for their cheque books.

We’re relying on people like you to help fight and win.

Your donation will give the country the government it desperately needs. Will you help? 

An election is coming, and your support will help to win it. Please, donate now.

Thank you.

Jeremy Corbyn
Leader of the Labour Party


I’ve chipped in my last £3, for now. 

Update

So, Theresa May is facing a no-confidence vote that could bring down her government after MPs rejected her Brexit blueprint by a record 230 votes – an historic defeat.

Jeremy Corbyn said he had put forward a confidence motion in the aftermath of  May’s crushing Commons defeat, with the dramatic debate scheduled for Wednesday. 

Parliament finally delivered its verdict on the prime minister’s withdrawal agreement after months of debate as hundreds of Leave and Remain protesters gathered outside parliament to express their anger.

The EU president says UK remaining is only option ‘if a deal is impossible, and no one wants no deal’.

Interesting times…


 

My work is unfunded and I don’t make any money from it. This is a pay as you like site. If you wish you can support me by making a one-off donation or a monthly contribution. This will help me continue to research and write independent, insightful and informative articles, and to continue to provide support others who are affected by the welfare ‘reforms’. 

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Everyone matters: it’s time to vote for our lives – vote Labour

430847_149933881824335_1645102229_n (1)I published an article earlier this month from Debbie Abrahams and added a short piece by myself: Anyone worried about protecting the welfare state should concentrate on kicking out the Tories.

Benefits and Work published a very good article this week: Vote for your life – “dramatic”, “life-changing” cuts are coming, I have  reproduced the most salient parts of it here for those who don’t have access to their site. I’ve also added a few links with information.

“Dramatic” and “life-changing” benefits cuts will be imposed if the Tories are running the country after 7 May, Iain Duncan Smith has warned.

They could include taxing DLA, PIP and AA, axeing contribution-based ESA and JSA, cutting the work-related activity component of ESA to 50p, cutting carers allowance numbers by 40%, and making people pay the first 10% of their housing benefit.

For many, these will be life-threatening cuts, rather than life-changing ones.

But claimants are in a position to prevent them happening.

And it won’t take a miracle.

In fact, just an additional 5% turnout by working age claimants could have a dramatic and life-changing effect on Iain Duncan Smith and his plans instead.

But a higher turnout won’t happen by itself.  Many of the major charities and disability organisations have been scared into silence by the Lobbying Act. And the media has little interest in benefits cuts, other than to applaud them as a good thing.

So it looks like it’s up to ordinary claimants to make sure as many other claimants as possible understand the threat they are facing.

Dramatic cuts
Iain Duncan Smith told Andrew Marr last week he didn’t become a minister to make “cheese-paring” cuts. Instead he has ‘dramatic’ and ‘life-changing’ plans for claimants.

And the tool for those dramatic changes is £12 billion of cuts to benefits in the space of just two years.

So far, we only know where £2 billion of the cuts will come from – a freeze on working age benefits. But the Conservatives are refusing to say where the other savings will be made.

Hit list
A document leaked to the BBC, however, set out some of the cuts the Conservative party are considering, including:

  • Taxing DLA, PIP and AA.
  • Abolishing contribution based ESA and JSA entirely, so that only claimants who pass a means test can claim these benefits.
  • Cutting the number of people getting carer’s allowance by 40%.
  • Limiting child benefit to the first two children.

There are other proposed cuts too, including replacing industrial injuries benefits with an insurance policy for employers, regional benefit caps and changes to council tax.

Not enough cuts
But all of this will still not be enough.

According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS):

“If all of these were implemented, the total saving would be likely to fall well short of the missing £10 billion per year that the Conservatives intend to find by 2017–18”

So, what else might be in the firing line?

Housing benefit and ESA cuts
We know that pensioners benefits are protected. And JSA costs such a tiny amount compared to other benefits that further cuts there would make little difference.

Cuts to housing benefit are one possibility that the IFS have highlighted, however, as this makes up a large and growing proportion of the benefits bill.

The IFS have estimated that making everyone pay the first 10% of their housing benefit would save £2.5 billion over two years.

Another extremely strong contender is to cut the work-related activity component (WRAC) of ESA to just 50 pence.

We know that the Conservatives are keen to slash the WRAC, because they’ve considered doing it before.

Cutting the WRAC wouldn’t save huge amounts, probably less than £1 billion a year.

But combined with cuts to housing benefit and all the other cuts listed above, it would probably be enough.

What you can do
Is this all nothing more than unnecessarily distressing speculation? After all, we don’t know what cuts will be made until – and unless – the Tories are elected.

But by then it will be too late. As Andrew Marr said in his interview with Iain Duncan Smith, if the Conservatives won’t tell us which benefits will be cut, sick and disabled claimants will have to expect the worst:

“What I’m saying to you is if I was on welfare, if I was on disability benefit and I was told that you were taking £12 billion out of the budget, I would really need to know before I voted was I going to be hit. Or if I didn’t know that, I’d have to be assume that I was going to be hit.”

Iain Duncan Smith, Osborne and Cameron have all now said no details of the cuts will be given before the election. So there’s no time to lose.

Clearly, the most important thing is to make sure you are registered to vote and then actually vote for a candidate who can keep the Tories out, if that’s possible, in your constituency.

But there’s more.

Above all, alert other claimants and carers to the dramatic threat they face – because many people still have no idea how huge £12 billion in cuts in two years really is.

And then try to persuade them that voting isn’t a waste of time. Because it is no longer true that all the parties are the same.

Here at Benefits and Work we have no trust for either of the major parties. But Labour, regardless of your political preferences, don’t drool at the thought of cutting welfare in the way that the Tories do.

And the £7 billion savings Labour say they plan to make are very much smaller than the Conservative cuts. Even if every single pound Labour saved was from cutting benefits, instead of from other measures such as raising taxes from the wealthy, it would still amount to just over half the benefits cuts the Tories have guaranteed.

[To clarify, Labour have stated they will not be cutting benefits, but they will address the overall costs to the welfare budget, tackling high private sector rent, repealing the bedroom tax, reducing costs such as private contracts within the Depatment of Work and Pensions, for example. See: We can reduce the Welfare Budget by billions: simply get rid of Iain Duncan Smith. Kitty]

You can make a difference
And don’t imagine that your voice can’t make a difference.

Bar chart:  Tory Majority 333, claimant count 6840 Lancaster Fleetwood

This is a very close election so far.

There will be many seats where the winner’s majority is in the low hundreds, some where it will be less than a hundred. Even a 5% additional turnout by working age claimants – amounting to perhaps 400 voters in many constituencies – could make the difference between Labour and the Conservatives being the largest party.

If you can convince a handful of people to vote and to talk to other claimants, you could genuinely help to change the course of this election.

Remember, you’re not trying to persuade hard-faced, right wing tabloid readers that cutting benefits is wrong. That undoubtedly would be a waste of time.

You’re talking to people who already know how painful the Coalition benefits cuts have been – because they’ve been hit by them.

You just have to persuade them that it’s not time to despair.

It’s time to fight back.

It’s time to vote for your life.

Related

Rising ESA sanctions: punishing the vulnerable for being vulnerable

As predicted, Mandatory Review has effectively destroyed independent Tribunals

Government under fire for massaging unemployment figures via benefit sanctions from Commons Select Committee

Osborne’s razor, smoke and mirrors

Osborne’s Autumn statement reflects the Tory ambition to reduce State provision to rubble

Follow the Money: Tory Ideology is all about handouts to the wealthy that are funded by the poor

Thanks to Robert Livingstone for the excellent memes.