Political polling makes pissweak news

How do you do your job when every week you get a report on how much people like you? Because that’s what this constant polling about preferred prime minister is about: likeability. It has to be, because political reporting is all about personality and not substance, so how would you know if a leader is doing a good job?

These polls from Newspoll (News Ltd generating its own news) and Herald-Nielsen (Fairfax generating its own news) and Essential Media (Channel 10 generating its own news) are driving me mad. We’re not in an election campaign so what’s the point of weekly updates about whether people would vote for Labor if Kevin Rudd was in charge? Or the Coalition if Malcolm Turnbull was in charge? Seriously, what is the actual point of asking people these questions at this time? It makes just as much sense as asking people if they’d like a million bucks, and then making the results front page news (mind you, news.com.au and dailytelegraph.com.au would run that story because wah-hey, it’s wacky and zany and light-hearted). Let the parties do their own polling on these questions and sort it out amongst themselves. The only time these constant questions about leadership would be relevant is if someone was challenging the leader, or if one of the leaders was grossly incompetent. And as much as I dislike Tony Abbott, he’s not incompetent. Grossly opportunistic and mean-spirited, sure. But not grossly incompetent.

Before you have a go at me about censoring the news and/or withholding information from the audience, ask yourself this: How important is it, two years out from an election, to have weekly updates of voting intentions? Sure, chuck the info in at the end of another political story, but the polling shouldn’t be the only story. There is only so much space in the newspapers and bulletins for political news and every time news editors run these meaningless stories, we – their audience – miss out on something important or useful or relevant.

Political journalists are obsessed with the Gillard/Rudd story and the Gillard/Abbott story because they think it makes them insiders, like they know all the gossip, but it’s pretty meaningless as far as real news goes. I believe that news should be useful, otherwise it might as well be Home and Away or Angry Birds. The shit that’s laughably called serious political journalism is not useful. Focussing on the personalities and not the substance of policy and debate means that when the next election is held – and you know we’re in for weekly popularity polling for the next two years – we’ll just be voting on which leader we like the best, and not which party’s ideas are best for the country (yeah, yeah, I know I’m an idealist). And it will be all the MSM’s fault.

17 responses to “Political polling makes pissweak news

  1. If either party actually stood for something and gave out detail on policy, perhaps there’d be something worth writing about??!?

    Tis true the constant polling is overkill though.

    • There are lots of people beavering away (I just wanted to say beavering), doing interesting and also shitty work, but we’ll never hear about any of it while journos keep asking about Rudd. And if the journos started reporting the interesting and shitty stuff being done, then we’d have less of the carry-on that we’ve got at the moment.

  2. I agree with almost everything here, but I actually DO think that Abbott is incompetent – I don’t think he is an incompetent political opportunist, but I think he is a incompetent LOTO, and I think he is incompetent leader of his party. And here is a good article which you may well have already read which says a lot for me without me having to think too much…!
    http://andrewelder.blogspot.com/2011/06/advertise-your-own-irrelevance-2-tony.html

    Anyway.
    On idealism, wouldn’t it be nice to see policies looked at in detail, with maybe some interviews or quotes from people directly affected in the field, rather than politicians whose job is to sell or attack them?
    Wouldn’t it be nice to see ‘the opposition says’ balanced by ‘the independents say’ and ‘the government says’ and then perhaps ‘people assigned the job of actually delivering the services affected by this policy say’….?

    Sorry about this comment being VAST but here is a passage from a Failed Estate article, which I LOVED…
    “You want some story ideas Mr ABC editor? Assign someone to find out who funds the IPA (whose legions of swatty young fogish libertarians you feature so regularly). Do a piece on what is likely to come out of the government’s media convergence review. Investigate how much is our Afghan commitment costing us and ask where is the national interest here? Write a piece on the return on investment in the resource industry right now and compare with what’s happening in manufacturing and tourism. Then compare the tax takes. How many alternative energy start-ups have upped stumps for California or Europe because of this country’s dithering over climate change action? Get a CEO on the phone. What about getting you digital mapping people employed on an interactive graphic showing where the boat people are coming from and how insignificant their numbers are in proportion to the overall immigrant intake. Those are real stories that take effort and research skills and which don’t fall into your lap. Journalists write stories like those. Typists do what you’re doing – recycling Opposition press releases and making up doodles.”
    http://thefailedestate.blogspot.com/2011/06/picture-is-worth-thousand-words-literal.html

    • You know, one of the reasons I quit my last job was because I kept saying over and over and over again that quotes from the minister and the shadow minister does not make a balanced story because of course they are going to disagree. That we should be interviewing experts, and people affected by the policy. Apparently that makes me a crap journalist and a pain in the arse.

      LOVE the Failed Estate quote, by the way.

      • Mr Denmore has also said in one of his blogposts that in ‘the good old days’ (I don’t think he used that expression) that if your first reaction to a news story was ‘Well he/she WOULD say that, wouldn’t they?”, the story got spiked.
        Almost ALL new stories, particularly political churnalism, get that response! Oh, the Opposition thinks that lower Labor polling is because they suck? Well, well well. Stop the presses.
        I have long thought that it would be nice to have fewer journos and polis on Q and A as well, and have more people with interesting industry-of-whatever-sort viewpoints. And less Pyne. (Although as far as writers go, I will always make an exception for Waleed Aly because I love listening to him. Did you read his Quarterly Essay, ‘What’s Right?” really good. Gave me and Mum the uncomfortable feeling we should be calling ourselves Conservatives.)
        I get to read the QE for free as Mum and Dad subscribe.
        Sorry, rambling.

        • I said the same thing to ManFriend last night, about QandA. Politicians have plenty of opportunity to have their say, and since they don’t really answer the questions from the audience, it’s a waste of time.

      • Oh, and I MEANT to say, no that makes you a REAL journalist. Aren’t they SUPPOSED to be PsITA?

    • David Fawcett

      “wouldn’t it be nice to see policies looked at in detail, with maybe some interviews or quotes from people directly affected in the field, rather than politicians whose job is to sell or attack them?”

      I’m working on it! Currently building an open government website to do just that, post up policy ideas, vote them up, down and undecided and provide reasons as to why you thought that as well as supply arguments for against and alternatives to the initial proposition. It will do more than that too of course but I don’t want to bore you.

      I hope it will be a fairly powerful tool by the time I’m finished but the trick is making it all user friendly and easy to use. May quite a lot of headway on that front. I’ll let you know when/if it’s ready for testing.

    • Those are all stories I would read.

  3. David Fawcett

    You aren’t wrong and if they want to do constant polling then there are ways to make it more effective. For example polling on specific policy initiatives (sans the name of the party pushing them) rather just on the popularity contest.

    What I always wonder is how these polls are done and who is paying for them!

    • I responded to a market research questionnaire once, and pestered the questioner to tell me who had commissioned the poll, and he told me that some business groups and political parties are exempt from disclosure. Uh huh.
      And the questions!
      “Do you think your area is heading in the right direction?”
      To which they got the reply, ‘What a stupid question. What does it even mean? Do I like my neighbours? Do I think the local council is doing a good job? Do i think that the state government is doing a good job? What does it even MEAN???”
      And ‘Do you think that Jim Lloyd, [during the Howard government, and he was also transport minister for some time, which makes the state of the F3 even more laughable] member for Robertson, is doing a good job campaigning for the Canberra to be sunk off the coast for a artificial reef?”
      ‘WELL’, says I, ‘Considering that it was awarded to Melbourne this morning, no I don’t!”
      “Oh’ said the questioner. ‘Yes, I’ve had a number of THAT response…”
      ‘Do you think Jim Lloyd, Member for Robertson, is doing a good job campaigning for a new highschool for Kariong?”
      ‘WELL! Considering that Kariong has been asking for a highschool for over ten years and doesn’t have one, NO!”
      ‘Go on, you can tell me – it was the Liberals that commissioned this study wasn’t it?”
      “I can’t tell you that.”

      (I think Kariong might have one now, but that was years ago.)

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