Claims emerge of opinion poll rigging


By Barry Tucker                    31 August, 2013

Evidence has emerged that at least some opinion polls are rigged. In one case, a journalist is alleged to have skewed his story to suit the agenda of his boss.

Earlier this week mining millionaire Clive Palmer said he gave large amounts of money to polling companies when he was a director of Queensland’s Liberal National Party (LNP*).

The Murdoch owned The Australian’s online edition quoted Mr Palmer as saying: “When I was a former party director there were polling companies that I used to give large donations to and they’d write the results for them [polls],” he said. This quote is not accurate. A transcript shows Mr Palmer was interrupted and The Australian’s journalist completed his remark for him.

The paper was reporting on Mr Palmer’s appearance on ABC TV’s Lateline on Tuesday night, 27 August. The link above takes you to a video replay and a transcript.

This is the exchange from the transcript of the Lateline interview:

“EMMA ALBERICI: In 11 days time you expect to win as many as 15 seats at the election, what gives you that confidence given the latest Channel seven ReachTEL poll has you winning no seats at all?

CLIVE PALMER: ReachTEL never have you winning anything. When I was former party director there were polling companies I used to give large donations to and they would write …

EMMA ALBERICI: Are you saying the polling’s rigged?

CLIVE PALMER: Of course the polling’s rigged. Rupert Murdoch owns Galaxy** poll and Newspoll and the media tries to set the agenda and determines the result of an election before it’s been held. That’s not a democracy, it’s up to the people.”

In today’s online magazine Crikey, senior journalist Andrew Crook wrote that Murdoch’s The Daily Telegraph has been caught out “spinning” the result of a Galaxy poll “designed to sledge Labor’s National Broadband Network” (NBN). Mr Crook did not say who had caught out Galaxy. Presumably it is himself.***

Mr Crook also points out that the poll was financed by listed virtual office company Servcorp, but this is not declared in the Telegraph story on the poll’s findings. Mr Crook also mentions that Servcorp has donated more than $1 million to the federal Liberal Coalition (the Opposition parties), although he states these donations do not appear in the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) website. Cash donations to political parties have to be declared to the AEC and stories are emerging that donations totalling many millions have not been reported.

Labor watcher and biographer Bob Ellis has been running a series of articles on his blog and in online magazine Independent Australia (IA), claiming polls are being rigged. Mr Ellis and supporters also conduct small flash polling in limited areas. In an IA article published yesterday, Mr Ellis reported on a conversation he had with an unnamed Newspoll employee.

The story begins with a segment from the Lateline interview referred to above. Scroll down for the Newspoll conversation.

See also: Can news media influence election outcome?

* The Liberal National Party (LNP) is the Queensland version of National Party of Australia (the Nationals), the coalition partner of the Liberal/National federal Opposition.

 ** I am not sure that Murdoch owns Galaxy Research. Wikipedia says its poll results are published in Murdoch newspapers:  Herald-Sun, Courier-Mail and The Daily Telegraph. Newspoll data are published in The Australian.

*** On 4 October, 2007, Crikey’s Peter Brent reported on polling, under the headline: Forget the election contest, look at the pollsters

Update, 21 March, 2014

I have read a few academic articles that have wrestled with the question of what, if anything, drives the opinion polls. It’s a struggle that usually ends in an unsatisfying draw, the learned “judges” being unable to decide the matter.

On Monday, 17 March, 2014, I tweeted the following:

My tweet

Blogger and former Liberal party insider Paula Matthewson took up the issue with an article in The Hoopla the following day. In a brief piece, Ms Matthewson did what the academics and researchers have not been able to do. It’s simple psychology stupid. And a fair bit of logic.