I never dreamt that ‘my world’ would have been so messed up with idiotic behaviour and responses. I still believe humans overflow with goodness and enough common-sense to make sensible choices. But with each national General Election that I have followed and can participate in (except for the most recent Dutch election) I end up being disappointed with the choices the majority voters make. Is this how democracy should be and work like? If my world used to be labelled ‘banana republic’, I leave to your imagination a suitable descriptor for GB – that mythic paragon of all the best virtues that the former colonies and rest of the world lacked! My choice descriptor will be too coarse for this public space.
What I am interested in, though, is the way the public is being manipulated by media and the polling gurus and think tanks at elections and other times. Yes, you have read correctly – manipulated. Some readers may know that argumentum ad populum is the Latin expression for the idea that because many people believe something to be true, it is true. Really? Often referred to as the ‘bandwagon effect’, the world of business and marketing locate this as the attempt to seduce/lure people (they use persuade) to buy their products by giving the impression or claiming that they have a large clientele out there ready to buy.
Drawing on this marketing strategy, politicians also deploy mechanisms to sell their political agenda and policies. And one of their favourite ways of doing just this is to convince large groups of people that the rest of the population supports them and their policies. Take a closer look at our televised evening news and note how the slaves of political parties manipulate their stats – and coming across as believing their own lies. And, polling becomes a choice tool to such end.
Polls, of course, are never value free however much those engineering them would wish us to believe. Common sense (a rare and valued gift these days) would suggest that when polls and stats suggest that most people favour a candidate or policy it does several things: pushes those who disagree into a marginal corner (how dare you say or think otherwise?) even demonising them; pressures people into a feeling they are irrelevant and does not matter; and forces an agenda that all needs to follow. One needs to ask: what’s the purpose of polls: to convince those that disagree that they are out of touch? To impact us rather than reflect our intentions?
But let us suppose the intentions are generally well-meaning: the fact of the herd-mentality or band-wagon effect cannot be downplayed. It is so easy to buy into the prevailing popular view. The reality is that polls, in my view, are unable to capture the complexity of people’s opinions/views. And, while as tool, polling may serve helpful purposes we must remember that it is merely a tool and must not be confused with democracy. Its mis(use) to determine public policy and manipulate the will of the population should not be underestimated. Polls and associated probabilities do become self-fulfilling prophecies that create designed unawareness and encourage denial. Britain is suffering from it!
A commentator (Rick Perlstein) observed that “polling only works in a country without a depressed, frightened populace”, that is, “where the public trusts authorities enough to tell them the truth without fear of retribution”. The current level of anxiety and worry around in the UK, Europe and across so many other countries makes you wonder about the agenda, purpose and roll of polls. Being suspicious of polls is a necessary and subversive act.
© jagessar June 29, 2017