MARK TEXTOR'S CAMPAIGN DIARY: Foie gras politics and the force-feeding of polls to the public

Photo: David Silverman/ Getty Images / File

If you are an unfortunate goose in France you may have a pipe rammed down your throat three times a day and force-fed fat. Your liver would then swell to such a grotesque size that it would be in danger of rupturing.

You would be kept in a dark shed, covered in shit. And why? So your engorged liver could be ripped out to make the fine foie gras Pâté favoured by the food commentariat.

Like these innocent geese who are force-fed animal by-products and kept in a dark place to sate the narrow market of those who have a fetish for such things, we are now the geese being force fed the polling by-product of campaigns to sate the media.

This is a western democratic sickness. As my business partner Sir Lynton Crosby noted at a post-election forum after the 2015 UK ballot, there were more than 600 polls published in the two years leading up to the election.

As reported in The Australian he observed: “When you look at the proportion of the percentage of time of news coverage devoted to the process of an election versus the issues of an election, it was well approaching 70 per cent in the UK where people were talking about the process of the election.”

My analysis would put Australian “process” percentage at round the same proportion.

And the geese parallels don’t end there.

Data obtained from Emeritus Professor Murray Goot of Macquarie University, show that in the UK, from the dissolution of parliament to election day there was a remarkable 3.5 polls per day published and force fed to voters. The same analysis shows that in Australia in 2013, despite having a significantly smaller voting population, there was an equally remarkable 3.2 polls per day from the proroguing of Parliament to election day.

Whilst this number includes some state polling and a flurry of marginal seat polls published towards the end of the campaign, the frequency is still remarkable. It’s set out in this table.

Polls conducted from the date Parliament was pro-rogued (5 August) until Election Day (7 September) 2013

Hundreds of polls will have been published since the last election and by the end of this campaign. And will the public be any wiser because of these? No, because like the process that produced foie gras, it’s the poor geese that get covered in shit. As my business partner points out: “If you think a campaign should be about ideas and communication with voters to give them a sense of empowerment and understanding of issues, then I think we really had to question the role that they [the polls] started to play in [campaigns].”

When you have this incredible frequency and focus on published polls it is the polls and their (usually small) vote movements that become the most frequent story rather then the issues. So we are none the wiser about the nature of issues in the world outside because all we are fed is the fat off published polls – the vote movement.

One solution is for more published pollsters to follow the guidelines recommended by WAPOR (the World Association for Public Opinion Research). They say: “As good practice in conducting pre election polls, researchers should: … measure key variables such as … reasons for party choice or attitudes on issues or other aspects of the campaign. Such polls will have greater political and social value if they do not confine themselves only to measuring voting intention but also explore the reasons for party choice and opinions on important campaign issues”, or indeed, journalists feasting on a menu of topics beyond the foie gras of polls or campaign dynamics.

Mark Textor is co-founder of campaign strategy firm Crosby|Textor, which advises the Turnbull government. He also chairs the Amy Gillett foundation. You can follow him on Twitter.

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