Opinion polling might be used as a tool to measure the temperature of the electorate at various points during an electoral cycle, but Redbridge Group director Kos Samaras warns there is a danger in treating the numbers as being definitive.
That is because there is a cohort in the community that will insist on being invisible to pollsters because they refuse to participate in exercises seeking their political views.
“Trying to get the most disengaged person to participate in a poll is near impossible. That undecided vote in a poll may not be the group of people that actually decide the outcome,” Samaras said.
“The outcome could actually be decided by people who we as pollsters cannot survey.”
Samaras said one example of the practical impact of non-participation was the Victorian election victory secured by premier Daniel Andrews in 2018, when polls were pointing to a 53% win when the actual result wound up being 57% in Andrews’ favour.
“Most published polls got it wrong by 4%. It wasn’t just 1%-or2% like it was in 2019. It was massive,” he said.
“Because there is a group of people out there that just don’t care about politics, and they won’t participate in a political survey. You might be able to get them into focus groups because you pay them.”
Samaras said polling needs to be viewed through the lens of being a tool for the assessment of sentiment at a point in time and that it does not necessarily have the objective of predicting a result as it is sometimes used in the media.
“The polling that we do is a tool. When we do political polling, the objective is not to predict the future. The objective is to provide the client with the ability to move that needle. In fact, we want to see those numbers change because what we are providing is intelligence, reconnaissance,” he said.
“We are a reconnaissance tool in the political world. Our job is to provide that reconnaissance, that intelligence, so the client can then allocate resources, change messaging and focus on moving that needle.”
A trend Samaras said is unstoppable is the growth in the vote that goes to the minor parties, and this is evident in the polling.
“I think the erosion of the two-party system is well and truly underway. The political landscape is going to be fragmented at both a federal and state level more so than ever before,” Samaras said.