A poll result I find hard to believe (two updates)

Nearly a week ago, I argued, in relation to the equal marriage survey that “most people will either respond straight away or not at all.” That was supported by an Essential poll, taken from Wednesday to Friday of the first week in which 9 per cent of those polled said they’d already responded. Since the first surveys were mailed out to rural areas on Monday, that looked like a rapid response. But the most recent Newspoll, conducted from last Friday to Monday reported only a 15 per cent response rate, even though nearly all those polled would have received the ballot. This didn’t reflect apathy or a boycott – the vast majority said they would definitely respond.

I don’t have any good reason to think Newspoll is drastically wrong on such a straightforward question, but I also can’t understand the result. Perhaps this is another example of the (apparently spurious) Pauline Kael fallacy, but everyone I know has already voted (mostly, though not exclusively, Yes). I’d appreciate any insights on this.

Update Essential has a poll out with 36 per cent saying they have already responded, 72 per cent of those saying Yes. No details yet on when the sample was taken, but it must overlap pretty closely with Newspoll. That’s a bigger difference between polls than I can recall seeing on any topic.

Further update Peter Brent in Inside Story quotes* leaked internal polling from the Yes side, reporting that 65 per cent of those polled had already returned their surveys. He describes this as “flabbergasting”, but it’s in line with my expectations. Still, the puzzle of how polls asking a simple factual question could yield such radically different answers remains unresolved. He makes the point that there’s always a reason for a leak, but this obviously isn’t what the Yes campaign would want to leak, since it implies that Yes has already won, or nearly so.

* Brent doesn’t give a link, but I dound the story here.

34 thoughts on “A poll result I find hard to believe (two updates)

  1. My survey form is around the house somewhere. I’ll probably get round to voting YES, much as I’d love to see Turnbull hobbled by a close NO result out of a very low response. If not before, equality will come after the Coalition loses office.

  2. “Yes” actually hobbles the LNP more than “No”; if you insist on blocking a conscience vote, blow 122m on a pointless poll and then insist on voting your own conscience when the poll comes back with the answer you don’t like even in your own electorate… you’re just a piece of utter human garbage, aren’t you, a rotting conglomeration of entitlement, resentment, and selfishness. Having hard numbers on exactly how terrible LNP parliamentarians are as “human beings” won’t work in turnbull’s or the LNP’s favour. Just keep that pot boiling.

  3. The result of this stupid governance-avoiding poll will show how awful this country actually is. There’s so much back-slapping about how we’re so warm and welcoming and laid-back. Truth is we’re stupid, backward and selfish. FFS I saw “Straight lives matter” on a banner! These people lie awake at night worrying that there might be a spark of human happiness flickering somewhere out in the dark that must be stamped out. Head-butting is too good for them.

  4. Most people follow the “lemming principle”. They wait to see what will be the likely outcome then vote according to their nature. The Stubborn ones will always follow the “battler”. The bragger will follow the favourite. The haters will follow social media trolls/or shock jock DJs. The still undecided will either, not vote at all but later claim they voted for the winner, or, deliberately lose their survey form. Freud was right when he said we make decisions based on our emotional response, but justify those same decisions using some fabrication of the truth.

  5. It might be that Essential counted those who filled in the form but hadn’t posted it yet while Newspoll counted those who filled in the form and had posted it.

    I filled in and posted mine immediately because I knew if I didn’t I’d misplace it or accidentally throw it out.

  6. My gut feel is participation will be low. Talking to some people of my parents generation (mostly blue collar self employed tradie types), many simply said they threw theirs in the bin and had no time nor interest in participating – some saying this was a giant waste of money and time. I expect this to be common place for many who don’t have a skin in the game.

  7. @Darragh

    That’s also inconsistent with the poll result. Most people said they hadn’t responded but would definitely or probably do so.

    My prior belief was that most people would either respond rapidly or bin the letter immediately. But the anecdotal data in this thread suggests otherwise and the polls are all over the place.

  8. Greg McKenzie :The haters will follow social media trolls/or shock jock DJs.

    Except, of course, that the most influential shock jock in the country has come out (sic) strongly in favour of marriage equality. That’s a bigger blow to the “No” than the much more publicised headbutt was to the “Yes”.

  9. Meanwhile many people enrolled to vote or updated their enrolment details… when the next compulsory vote for a federal election is held, many of them will vote against the coalition, is my guess. An unintended and probably unwelcome consequence of the conservative insistence on a survey rather than a parliamentary vote. Those new voters will be there regardless of the survey outcome.

  10. To give the ER results a bit of context check out these numbers from the same poll.

    “A substantial minority believe that –
    Heaven and hell both exist as destinations after life. (40%)
    Angels and demons are active in the world. (39%)
    Ghosts exist and can influence their will on the living. (35%)
    Extra-terrestrials have visited the earth. (34%)
    The story of creation in the book of Genesis is a true account of the first man and woman. (34%)”

  11. @John Quiggin
    Well presuming these numbers are a fair representation of Australians then:
    When someone says “God made Adam and Eve not Adam and Steve’ [and that has been said frequently around the net and so on recently] then there is a strong chance they really believe such.
    That is impossible to argue with.

    Just as worrying were these numbers:

    21% [9% ‘strongly”] belief climate change is a hoax perpetrated by scientists.
    15% believe vibrations from wind farms cause long term health damage.
    14% believe vaccines can cause autism.
    Small minorities maybe but each represents millions of Adult Australians.

    Houston we have a problem, several in fact.
    What causes these and what needs to be done?

  12. @fred

    On this kind of issue, I’m an 80 per cent full kind of guy. It’s nice to Know that Bolt and Abbott are (relative to the population as a whole) crazier than creationists.

  13. We didn’t receive ours at all (we have a lock on the mailbox to prevent tampering with our mail) so we requested replacements. Hope it’s not endemic for our area which voted strongly green / labor at the last election

  14. I thought the results of the Q, that has been subsequently misreported, was to do with support of the postal plebiscite not SSM.

  15. Another frightener from News Poll “Gay marriage could cost Coalition government, Galaxy Research poll shows”

    This is all going to end in tears, for the No camp.

  16. yesterday i had yet another call “this is a prerecorded blah poll for blah such and such”

    as normal i terminated (expletive deleted)unanswered the unsolicited intrusion.

    sometimes i think it would be handy to know what percentage the ones who refused to respond is of the entire number contacted.

    i mean the results broadcast only represent the people who answered, not the whole number of people contacted.

    they never give the entire picture.

  17. “this obviously isn’t what the Yes campaign would want to leak, since it implies that Yes has already won, or nearly so”

    Unless they think the No campaign will see the data, realise that resistance is futile and give up, while the Yes vote will be buoyed, and as the Americans say, run up the score.

  18. I am inclined to think that the core of people really angry about same-sex marriage is small, and there is a fairly large group who just quietly can’t be bothered.

    FWIW our bunch of elite coffee-sipping gentrifiers in Lakemba have yet to have the rainbow “YES” flag out front burnt and we’ve all posted our surveys back.

    My vague impression is that there are a lot of older people who want to vote no but are unwilling to have a fight with their adult kids on the issue, so when the kids grab them and say “have you filled out the survey? No? Then let’s do that right now”… they say “yes”. That’s been my observation, anyway. Social pressure not to be an arsehole is a powerful thing, and the not-anonymous nature of the thing does make it more vulnerable.

    I suspect this also drives phone survey responses, who’s going to say “don’t care, won’t bother filling it out” to someone who has rung them specially to ask about the survey?

  19. My sons, 21 and 18 have both said that they will get around to it, ……….. maybe. WTF Dad, if this government cant see the obvious need for equality and use the power that they already have, well then what’s the point.
    DA in #3 has pretty much hit the nail on the head.

  20. we certainly are having an overdue conversation/debate/rant /whinge to the fact that what the religiously intense call (with relevant it-is-written texts (chapter & verse)) abominations, are actually human beings and quite often family members.

    the collapse of the unregulated market in blackmail and extortion must be giving the beneficiaries of this market a severe case of the peeves.

  21. I just got a call in my home landline.

    Ring, ring


    “Hi, this is Senator Corey Bernardi from”


    I should have known it would be him. I never get calls on my landline any more. Even the marketers and surveys call on the mobile.

    If the premise of this thread is correct, Bernardi is too late with his robo calls.

  22. I finally got around to posting my yes vote. Maybe a lot of people are just lazy procrastinators with muted good intentions and general wish to live and let live. That’s the category I would put myself in. I don’t see that there’s any mystery in the response progress. After incompetence, laziness must explain a lot.

  23. “The theories that I (and others) helped develop explained why unfettered markets often not only do not lead to social justice, but do not even produce efficient outcomes.” – Joseph Stiglitz.

    I think Stiglitz would support J.Q.’s general position. We know who Stiglitz is. Who is Stephen D. Williamson?

    Williamson writes – “The tools of modern finance and macroeconomics are not the instruments of conservative elements in society, serving only to bludgeon the working class. These in fact are the tools of science, and as such they can be used effectively by liberals and conservatives alike to make the world a better place. Misrepresenting the tools of science as the products of some vast conspiracy is as anti-intellectual an activity as the promotion of ‘intelligent design’ as science, or the dismissal of informed scientific views on climate change.”

    The claim that the tools of modern finance and (market fundamentalist) macroeconomics are scientific tools, rather than ideological tools, is risible. Williamson’s denials indicate exactly what IS happening. The tools of modern finance and market fundamentalist style macroeconomics ARE used to bludgeon the working class. This is precisely their purpose: to reduce the wage share of the economy, to increase the profit share of the economy, to increase the wealth and power of a tiny elite and to reduce the rest of the population to poverty and helplessness.

  24. @Mr MIT

    The link to Stephen D Williamson’s review of Prof Quiggin’s book “Zombie Economomics” does not fit the topic of this thread. Given Williamson’s (unpublished, I take it) review is now published on JQ’s blog, I take the liberty of saying a few words.

    There is only 1 point I agree with Williamson. It is his critique of using ‘irrationality’ as a plug in assumption for phenomenon that is not understood (‘we cannot make sense of it’ as he aptly put it).

    Williamson seems to have totally misunderstood JQ’s book.

    IMHO, JQ’s book starts with empirical observations on the history of institutional changes (‘policies’ that entered legislation primarily in the Anglo-Saxon segment of the global economy) during the period leading up to the GFC and traces these to economic beliefs (the named categories), which were indeed empirically verifiably used to promote the institutional changes.

    Williamson critique assumes that JQ’s book is a critique of the academic literature during the said period and then proceeds to ‘prove’ JQ to be wrong.

    But Williamson’s treatment of the academic literature is totally unsatisfactory.

    1. Williamson’s treatment of the ‘efficient market hypothesis’ is a whitewash. He fails to acknowledge the Fama-Fisher-Jensen original efficient market hypothesis which clearly is defined in terms of the information that is supposed to be reflected in prices. It was this hypothesis which generated theoretical research under the heading fully revealing rational expectations equilibria (eg Grossman 1981, Hellwig 1980, Laffont 1985), using mathematical economics methods familiar in general equilibrium theory. The outcome, roughly speaking: the hypothesis is nonsense.

    Williamson uses the term arbitrage pricing theory, where an ‘equilibrium’ is characterised as the absence of profits from trade. This corresponds to the empirical methods used by the originators of the efficient market hypothesis to test their hypothesis’. Volumes of publications, done by their students followed, all of them overlooking the possibility that absence of profits from trade guarantees neither that all available relevant information is reflected in the prices nor too much information is reflected – resulting in the intellectual confusion of containing an implicit definition of what is ‘relevant’ (profit is the only relevant variable). Unfortunately, this intellectual confusion gained traction in practice because practitioners, in contrast to theoreticians such as those named above, tend to get impressed by numbers in papers that purport to contain empirical tests.

    2. It is unfortunate that Williamson refers to the Black and Scholes option pricing model as the example of arbitrage pricing. It is indeed an example where arbitrage pricing is used in the derivation. However, the most obvious question arising from studying this model is: Why do we need options if they can only be priced under conditions where they are superfluous?

    3. Williamson fails to explain how the Black and Scholes option pricing model is relevant regarding the efficient market hypothesis.

    4. What happens when the Black and Scholes option pricing model is used by practitioners who use past price data on the underlying securities?

    5. Williamson’s treatment of securitisation of debt (collatoralised debt obligations) is totally unacceptable because he fails to mention the extraordinarily strong assumptions regarding continuous trading to make any sense (ie to be rational in his sense) of the idea of applying a version of Markowitz risk diversification theory (of equity securities) to debt securities. Nothing has been learned, it seems, from the rather taxing works of theoreticians.

    6. SGE has a representative agent. This micro-economic foundation is unsatisfactory for practical purposes in the world we live in because markets are incomplete and hence the trick of MRS – price for all not represented agents no longer works. (see Lindahl equlibrium).

    7. Williamson mentions general equilibrium theory. There is a belief version and an analytical version. The latter gives great support for the importance of wealth distribution being not too unequal (minimum wealth condition). The support is no more than the logical requirement to make sense of the notion of ‘freedom of choice’.

    8. Finally and of interest to me, Williamson considers the USA to consist of two economies. I agree with him on this point. It is of interest to me because of my theoretical model of a partially segmented economy with multinational producers. However, I am perplexed when Williamson then jumps to talking about ‘countries’ and making comparisons between ‘countries’.

    My critique of Williamson’s critique is of course open to a long list of further critiques. What is the point?

    It is quite clear to me that the difficult but thorough work of theoreticians since the 1950s has been ignored in the policy area. Williamson not excluded. JQ has used a different approach, an approach that is accessible to policy makers and quite understandable to those who have lived through the epoch while studying and working in the not easily accessible theoretical literature in mathematical economics. JQ did not claim his book is a literature review but rather a policy review with emphasis being given to ‘successful’ economic beliefs, ie those which were adopted. I have come to this conclusion after querying explicitly or in my head only what JQ means with ‘mainstream economics’.

  25. Thanks Ernestine. Since you’ve taken the trouble to respond to this threadjacking, I’ll leave your comment up and the one from “Mr MIT”, who, I imagine, has never been nearer to MIT than when his application to do a PhD there was rejected.

    It’s surprising that anyone on Williamson’s side would want to revisit this debate, which made the pages of the New York Times, not in a good way for him. Krugman has some amusing tangential remarks, but the link to Noah Smith is really funny. My own response, invoking Pauli is here.

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