Posts Tagged ‘polls’

Why Daily Express readers are idiots

Saturday, October 4, 2008

The Daily Express is, as anyone with any news sense knows, a joke newspaper, but it is still worth buying if you wish to read:

a) unbridled speculation about Diana, Princess of Wales,
b) lies about Madeleine McCann, or
c) invitations to take part in the most one-sided polls since Charles King claimed to have won the 1927 Liberian presidential election with 16 times as many votes as the number of registered voters.

The last of these is a particularly rich seam, as shown by my friend T, whose research on the matter was published briefly in a national newspaper but, regrettably, has no online presence. No longer.

Express polls are both pointless and stupid. Pointless because the result to every question is obvious if you know the prejudices of the Express readership, and stupid because the only people not to realise this are the suckers who pay the 25p premium-rate tariff to cast their telephone vote.

But they are also fascinating. The questions are posed using language that make it clear how readers are meant to vote. Sometimes this is subtle (“Should all violent video games be banned?”) but mostly it is obvious (“Do MPs deserve their massive perks?”). All of its polls yield percentage results in at least the 90s and some are unanimous (“Do we let too many immigrants into this country?”) but just how loudly the answer rings forth depends not so much on the topic under discussion as whether the obvious answer is “yes” or “no”.

Most of the time, the obvious answer is “yes” – “Are you fed up with Britain’s traditions being axed?” or “Does Europe have too much control over Britain?”. Occasionally, however, the intended response is “no” – “Should failed asylum seekers get handouts from Britain?” or “Should nurses have to turn beds to face Mecca?”.

When the answer is “no”, the results tend to be more equivocal than when the answer is “yes”, a finding which nicely buoys a theory called the Acquiescence Effect (Kunda et al, 1993), which predicts that people prefer to agree with a position than dispute it.

Thus the lowest majority among 40 polls analysed was 91 per cent, not because it was a contentious question – “Is it fair to make us work until we drop?” – but because some people voted “yes” by mistake simply because they thought they were agreeing with the newspaper.

But that’s enough from me. The real treasure here is the questions themselves. Clink on the link below to see them (along with the results) in all their biased glory.