Thursday, October 06, 2005

Stella Says…Polls Can Be So Temperamental

(Originally published in the Kaieteur News on 06 Oct 2005)

I was a participant in a recent poll at an event that was largely attended by journalists, political science junkies and historians (I am a little bit of all of these). The man we all went to hear started his lecture by polling the audience on their political views.

His first question was, “How many of you voted for George W. Bush in the last election”? Out of about 2,000 attendees, only three people timidly raised their hands. The speaker then asked, “How many of you think the war in Iraq was a wise and conscience decision”? Again, the same three people raised their hands again.

Then the man asked, “How many of you voted for John Kerry in the last election”? The room was filled with a sea of hands. Then he asked, “How many of you think the decision to invade Iraq was probably not the wisest move to make”? Again, waves of hands rolled through the audience.

At face value, a poll such as this would provoke one to question how on earth Bush ever got back into the White House. However, it is necessary to understand that the attendees at this particular event, though it was just a book signing, were most likely Democrats, which would explain the overwhelming disapproval of the current US administration.

If the same questions were asked in almost any church in America, the results would probably be just as disproportionate – but in the opposite direction. This is why I say polls are so temperamental. Yes, I took statistics in college and know there are mathematical equations and scientific methods used to gather, sort and dissect this data, but I also know that ever poll is subject to human error and partiality. This is why a stated margin of error usually follows the results of every poll.

Which brings us to the recent polls in Guyana. Politicians need a way to gauge the people – they want to discover the political temperature of the country. Polls are certainly vogue nowadays and there is just no way getting around that fact. I just have to wonder about the reliability factor though.

How can a poll possibly foresee a future that has yet to be decided? In fact, I would surmise that many Guyanese are still in the decision making process, so how can a poll know the results of next year’s election when the people still haven’t made up their minds?

Everyone has their own opinion about a matter and that is the purpose of a poll, to find out what that opinion is and if necessary, sway that opinion to favour the interested parties. For example, Freddie’s column yesterday was on many things: Of shoes and ships and sealing wax -- Of cabbages and kings --And why the sea is boiling hot --And whether pigs have wings (Okay, he didn’t talk about all of that, but it sure seemed like it).

After reading his column, if I took a poll and asked, “Do you think Freddie will indeed find God”? – Each person’s response would be based on several factors like religious views and the interpretation of Freddie’s column.

Further, even the interpretation of the final result is in the eye of the beholder. Those who want Freddie to find God will seek to interpret the results in a manner fitting their desires. Those who never want Freddie to find God will find ways to interpret the results in an entirely different way than the first group. And of course, there are those who would like the results to reflect neither heaven nor hell for Freddie.

In the recent political polls, the margin of error leaves enough space for pretty much anyone to swoop in and win the hearts of the people. This is what I hope happens. Not that I want emotions to take precedence over sound reasoning in the election booths, I would just like to see someone who truly cares about Guyana and her people win the election next year. I don’t care who that person is – as long as his/her focus is the people for the entire term in office.

Meanwhile, let’s test my theory on polls. I will present a question and anyone who wants to respond can do so through my email at the end of this column. Sometime next week I will let everyone know the results.

Here’s the question:

Should Smart and Sharp Robert Persaud ever vacate his post as Information Liaison to the President, who do you think should replace him?

a) Peeping Tom
b) Freddie Kissoon
c) Dem Boys

Feel free to vote as often as you like for as many candidates as you like. No scientific methods will be applied to the poll since I am not very scientific. In fact, we’re going to be lucky if I can simply count the responses without messing it up, because math is not my strong point either. Boy, it sure is good that I can write.

Email: stellasays[at]

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