Yesterday, an email arrived in my inbox from the Labour Party’s 2017 campaign manager, asking one question: Who was I planning to vote for in the upcoming general election?
With the election only 158 days away, the email said, Labour needed to direct their limited resources to the right places.
I am not interested in analyzing how my answer would have affected the allocation of Labour’s “limited resources”- that is not the point here- my main concern is how polling is taking center stage in the way politics is being conducted in most developed countries including our own.
Remember how John Key reserved a special thank-you for the National pollster David Farrar during his 2014 election victory speech?
Key knew Farrar was instrumental in shaping the National Party’s policy direction so that it remained popular with their supporters- often at the expense of New Zealand’s long-term interests.
The result has been catastrophic inactions in many areas leading to housing crisis, environmental degradation, increasing poverty, widening inequality and worsening financial instability.
Opposition parties do the same. They use opinion polls to attract votes, putting power before conviction.
Great leaders are supposed to shape popular opinion, not become slaves to it.
They are supposed to lead the country for the long-term wellbeing of all citizens, not for the short-term gains that secure their power.
I wonder, for instance, if the Waitangi Tribunal would have existed or its powers ever extended, if those in government at the time, had a way of assessing the true extent of the popular opposition to it.
The success of Brexit in the UK and Donald Trump in the US showed the folly of political polling but was not enough to secure its demise.
Yesterday, the UK Prime Minister Theresa May made a U-turn on her promise not to call a snap election. She did this for one simple reason: the latest poll put the Tories on a comfortable 21 points ahead of Labour, giving them the greatest lead while in government since 1983.
If that is not a perfect example of opinion polls directing politics then I don’t know what is.
Focus groups and opinion polls exist, not to strengthen our democracy, but to help politicians gain and maintain power by playing strategical games and by framing political messages in a language that carries the widest appeal.
This type of politicking encourages the public to view politics through a narrow prism of rhetoric and theatre that is devoid of essence and analysis.
So, is there a way of changing this?
The obvious way to promote a more meaningful political debate is through the mainstream media, but given the media’s focus on clickbait journalism, that is just wishful thinking.
But what if we all sabotaged political polling by never answering the questions correctly?
If these polls turn out to be consistently wrong then maybe the politicians are forced to rely less on populisms and more on doing the right thing.
We need to tell politicians that taking the lazy route of appealing to people’s prejudices and misconceptions are not acceptable options.
Almost all the major political parties are busy formulating clever ways to “emotionally connect” with the voters. We need to say: Thanks but no thanks.
Appealing to the voters’ emotions, rather than their heads, is exactly what is wrong with politics today. Just think John Key, Brexit and Trump!
Good politicking is about demonstrating, clearly, how policies are actually going to make meaningful differences to the citizens’ wellbeing.
So, let’s encourage good politicking by getting rid of the bad. Let’s sabotage opinion polls.