Online Poll Shenanigans

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Who's messing with the VOCM Question of the Day?

January 20, 2012 - No matter how you feel about the Muskrat Falls project, one thing is certain: it has become a hot political potato.

That was demonstrated by the massive turnout to the Harris Centre presentation this week, by Dr. Wade Locke. Every seat was full, people were standing at the back, and more were directed into overflow rooms nearby.

The talk radio lines are also crackling with debate about the issue, and Muskrat Falls is making headlines in the news pretty much every day.

But there is no better indicator of the importance of this issue than the VOCM Question of the Day. That is, the manipulation of the Question of the Day.

It’s not a scientific poll, of course, and should not be taken seriously even on a good day.

The question from yesterday, January 19, had not been changed up to 11 am today, so the votes kept coming in all morning. (They switched to a new question just after 11 am.) But this one was most definitely being manipulated, by both sides in this discussion.

The question was “Do you agree with economist Dr. Wade Locke that Muskrat Falls is the best option for the province’s future power needs?”

The result sounds legitimate enough. As of 10:56 am, 49 percent said “yes,” and 49 percent “no,” with one percent being “not sure”. (There’s no explanation of what happened to the other one percent.) 

However, the number of votes closed at 66,346. Yes, sixty-six thousand clicks. That is just nutty. On a normal day, the poll gets anywhere from 1200 to 2000 participants. It would not be understatement to call 66,000 clicks an illegitimate result. 

I have written about this in the past; about how you can disable cookies in your web browser and keep on clicking that “vote” button all day, and how unidentified networks of political partisans work to manipulate poll results on certain issues. (To my eternal shame, I actually told readers how to do this a couple of years ago, and the flood of people clicking that day actually shut down the VOCM server. Ooops. Point made, I suppose.)

Back then, the “winning” poll result was always the Williams government, with votes in the tens of thousands for certain, politically-sensitive questions. No one can say for sure if the voting was coordinated from the top, but it was certainly a partisan effort.

In this case, it’s not as easy to identify which partisans are at work. Yes, the trained PC monkeys are probably clicking “yes,” because their party is firmly behind Muskrat Falls. But the Liberals and NDP are soft in their opposition. (Asking questions is not the same as saying no to the project.)

In this case, I think several people who oppose the project are actively clicking away, but in isolation. I don’t think they’re working in collusion, as part of an organized effort, but working together they are, to manipulate the vote. (And if I’m wrong, would someone from this secret cabal please get in touch?)

Either way, it renders the result meaningless. Online polls are not reliable indicators of public opinion, but, in cases like this, they’re just laughable.

If anything, I think the actual percentage of public support is considerably higher than 50 percent. But I don’t think that makes the project a good one. I think it indicates that people are willing to accept the assurances of government and Nalcor, that Muskrat Falls is necessary, that it is our best option, and that it will mean cheaper electricity for rate payers in Newfoundland and Labrador.

I do not accept those assurances at all. There are too many challenging questions being asked, by credible, respected individuals. But that is grist for a future blog…

In the meantime, don’t trust what you see in the online polls. 

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