a weekly blog for all interested in professional communications issues

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

A story you won't read in the media

There is an adage among political professionals that while polls may not matter, trends in polls do. The current trend in polls is that they are trend less.

One week the Tories are ahead of the Liberals by 11 points. A little over a week later, another poll indicated their lead over the Grits has shrunk to just two points.

Whether this is the result of a volatile electorate or ambivalence about all politicians in general might be hard to determine. Certainly it explains why no party seems eager for a fall election.

So how come we don't read or hear much about polling trends? The answer is that since most media outlets commission their own political polling, they don't want to publish anything that might cast doubt on content they paid for or highlight what their competitors might be saying.

Some might call this simple business logic. Others might call it a conflict of interest.

In recent years, before and during elections, we have seen several polls that stood out because their conclusions have been quite different from the pack. Sometimes they stood out because they were first to spot an emerging trend. But most times they were simply wrong.

Political types privately dismiss erroneous polls as rogue or, in some cases, as push polls-- when questions have been tactically orchestrated to elicit a desired response.

The media tend not to touch talk like that even if it involves a competitor's poll just as GM won't criticize one of Ford's cars for fear of feeding public doubt about an entire industry.

But the media are in the business of alerting their audiences to trends as well as new and sudden developments. If one bank posts a loss while the rest are turning in profits that departure from an industry trend is reported. It is called context.

Context is as important as fact except, of course, when it comes to reporting the findings of a poll commissioned by one's employer.

In another gripe, media tend to report polls in plain vanilla terms of winners and losers. But nothing else that might point to any sort of trend.

For example, most pollsters ask decided voters what their second choice would be. Second choices are rarely reported in the media.

To knowing eyes, a party that is rising as a second choice may be on the verge of assuming the lead in coming weeks. Or it could mean the support of the leading party is soft.

This is one are where the public should be demanding more from the media and a higher standard of reporting.

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