Context matters: polling questions and responses

Thank you Essential. This organisation runs polling and market research, with Crikey running their stuff regularly. However unlike much public polling, they have some great little innovations. This week they have provided an excellent insight into how every poll should be treated within the context it was asked.

Q. Do you think the following pensions and benefits are too high, too low or about right? (Source: Essential Report 28 January 2014)

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The question is exactly the same, however 500 people chose from general responses to the question while 500 people chose from more specific responses, which included dollar amounts for the various welfare options.

This changed the results significantly. The adequacy of the aged pension (“about right”) rises from 25 per cent to 35 per cent when more information is provided. While obviously a majority still see the pension as “too low” (52 per cent), a substantial difference is generated by providing more information.

This pattern is repeated for unemployment benefits and the parenting payment. I think this would be well received by those advocating for raising the rate of unemployment benefits. As more people are aware of the actual level of support provided ($250/week), support for increasing this amount may be more likely to increase. Interestingly the numbers regarding disability support do not shift nearly as much as the other three. 

These differences are important. They show the context in which polling and market research occurs matters a great deal. Given the impact the messaging and media around polling can have on shaping public opinion, it would be encouraging to see more rigour in this field.

I applaud Essential and their clients for taking the extra time (and money) to showcase these differences. As we live in a society in which market research and political polling are only going to become more important over time, examples like this show how important the context is for public opinion. 


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