Sunday, November 13, 2005

Greasy polls

You may remember that earlier in the week, the Sun ran a poll claiming 90% support for the 90 day detention period. This was done through that reliable measure of public opinion, the phone-in poll. I trust that I don't need to explain to you, my faithful readers, what a load of cobblers phone-in and internet polls generally are - Bob Worcester describes these (often profitable) exercises as 'voodoo polls'? Self-selecting and wonderfully easy to fix. However, when Sion Simon claims that he had not met a single person in his constituency who didn't support the 90 days, I worried a little. Perhaps Sion should get out more.

[UPDATE] Hat tip to Unity at Talk Politics for his reference to this dissection of a Sky News/YouGov poll which guides the reader to take a particular, pro-detention position through obviously slanted questions (not that dissimilar to Charles Clarke's highly dodgy internet poll last week). I will note that Sky News is stabled in the same place as the Sun. Even with those dodgy questions, 90-day detention only secured 72% support - over a quarter of voters didn't back it, with that figure rising to 32% in a Populous poll for the Times, which asked a straight question about the 90-day limit. I was a little disappointed that Anthony Wells defended the dodgy nature of the YouGov poll in his blog, but then he is now a YouGov correspondent, so perhaps that isn't a surprise. The Sky poll was conducted over the weekend BEFORE the vote and before the massive publicity around the vote really kicked off, as indeed was the Times poll.

The Guardian have published a REAL poll in association with ICM, which indicates that only around 20% of the sample supported the 90-day period. 28 days doesn't even command a majority - only 46% of the sample backed that detention period. This survey was carried out on Thursday (after the debate) using a sample of around 500 people (I don't tend to like national polls with sample sizes under 1000, but the margin of error doesn't allow for the figures to conceal 90% support).

[UPDATE] Looking at the raw ICM data, things aren't quite so clear-cut. The questions are more to do with the political tactics of the government. 20% back the government sticking to what it believes to be right, 29% would support a compromise and only 18% reckon that 28 days is too long. From that, I suspect that my earlier comments were a little rash, but I still don't see an argument for 90% support in any of these polls and it seems a reasonable assumption to identify support of around 46% for a period of 28 days or less.

Let's flash back four years to a piece by the late Hugo Young on the US response to 9/11 for a reminder about surrendering liberty and a meeting between John Ashcroft (then US Attorney General) and David Blunkett (a now-forgotten Home Secretary).
Once in place, the act will be impossible to shift. Arguments from security are like that. There's always another hypothesis to guard against. That's what justice ministers are in office to assert. The hard rightist and once-soft old labourist are fellow spirits, hungry for power in the name of a security that piously throws to the jailers the freedom it's supposed to be defending.

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