Possums Pollytics

Politics, elections and piffle plinking

Polls – More than horserace commentary.

Posted by Possum Comitatus on August 12, 2008

This was me in Crickey yesterday.

If you were to look at the betting markets for the NT election last week, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the ALP had a greater chance of being abducted by the latest outbreak of NT UFO’s than they had of being beaten by the CLP. Yet, with no major pollster running pre-election surveys in the Territory, should we be at all surprised that the markets got it so wrong in terms of the chance of Labor retaining government?

As much as political polling is scorned as reducing important political issues down to little more than horse race commentary, it fulfills one fundamentally important role – it stops people talking shit.

From politicians to columnists, from reporters to your average Joe – political polling encourages all but the learned types at The Australian to keep it in their pants.

With no major polls in the Territory election, information about the election itself was dominated by party propaganda on the one hand and political commentators staring deeply into their navels on the other – usually finding little more than lint as a result, but lint dressed up as profundity none the less. Without polling information, election campaign analysis becomes an exercise in either wishful thinking or what ought to happen — and as we’ve seen in the Territory, theories on what ought to happen were well formed, plentiful, but mostly wrong. There is no substitute for the type of empirical reality that only polling can provide.

It’s a pretty simple rule – you can’t really analyse what you don’t really know.

What makes betting markets valuable is their capacity to aggregate all available sources of information to predict a result, but without polling information anchoring the market to some semblance of reality, without that knowledge of what people are actually thinking on the ground, the betting markets were left drifting in the breeze, ostensibly being guided by lint powered column inches telling us that Labor was a shoe in because, well, that’s what ought to happen.

So should we really be surprised that without political polls running in the Territory campaign, the markets were so out of whack with the result? While the markets may have gotten the end result right, the magnitude of the victory will probably come down to a few hundred votes – hardly the landslide that was predicted, and certainly not justifying 1/14 odds that some markets were offering.

Good information makes good markets, and there is no better information than good, independent polling. It provides far more than fodder for horse race political commentary, it provides certainty and knowledge and evidence for observable reality. And at the end of the day, isn’t observable reality what all good political commentary should be about?

Elsewhere: Cross posted at Larvatus Prodeo


4 Responses to “Polls – More than horserace commentary.”

  1. Steve 1 said

    The NT election result reminds me alot of the late 1960’s election result in Great Britain when Labour was expected to win, but as voting is voluntary, elections are held mid-week and it rained, the expected Labour voters didn’t turn out and the Conservatives won. It seems that the expectations of a strong Labor win in NT coupled with ambivalence towards the Government meant there was an extremely low turn out. I would venture to say that if a more normal turn out had occurred, the swing against the Government and the number of seats lostr would have been more within expectations. I think the biggest lesson for the Labor Government is that one should never misconstrue politeness for accceptance. Just because the general public isn’t baying for your head, it doesn’t mean they love you. It goes to show that the voting public can punish arrogance in a number of ways.

  2. J-D said

    1970 would be very late in the 1960s.

  3. rabitoh said


    Sorry I have nothing econometric to contribute Poss.

  4. Rates Analyst said

    Coneceivably you could try an dlink this with an asset bubble. It has the same kind of groupthink, uncritical analysis that gets eventually revealed as being worth nothing.

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