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Saturday, February 17, 2007

PAP bans Mirrors

PAP Bans Mirrors

The recent law passed by the PAP to ban the publication of opinion polls during General Elections defy logic. It strains our credulity to hear the ostensible reasons given by the PAP.

According to the PAP, polls during election periods are bad because they can create a herd mentality whereby voters would simply vote what most others are voting for.

Actually, they haven't made their reasons very clear because no reason for the ban can sound intelligent enough when you reflect on it for just a second. The media, which is supposed to think and agitate on our behalf, or at the very least, inform us, didn't offer any analysis or discussion of the pros and cons. Informing, by the way, doesn't mean simply printing what the PAP said about the ban.

Why should the PAP be afraid of opinion polls? For example, if voters can be swayed to vote for what others are voting for, wouldn't that benefit the PAP because in the last GE, they had over 60% of the cast votes? Presumably, if the voters haven't changed their minds in the short few years (or are less fearful or more embittered now), the majority would not only vote PAP, they would say so when polled in the opinion polls, thereby influencing all readers of the polls to vote, herd-like, for the PAP. (Also, more people dare to say they're pro-PAP than pro-opposition, so opinion polls would likely be PAP-biased).

Or have the PAP's very own secret opinion polls told them that they cannot count on 60% now-- that the long expected uprising of the people is at hand, that will, if not overthrow the PAP, at least put the fear of the people in them, thereby allowing them less leeway to ride roughshod over the wishes and best interests of the people?

I, for one, believe that an organisation as rich and savvy as the PAP keeps extremely close tabs on the people including through opinion polls. This may explain why they were able to, in the last GE, know that Cheng San was the troubled GRC and put all their biggest guns there plus all their most serious threats of HDB flats (non)upgrading. The result was they won by a slight margin. Thus, they have their own private opinion polls to help them strategise and plan tactics but would deny their impecunious opponents and the public the same benefit.

Thus, this herd-like thing, where voters vote as most others vote, is dangerous to the PAP only if they have lost the mandate of the people, though not yet the votes and the elections, which may soon be coming. Is that what their secret opinion polls have told them and is that the real reason for the ban?

The other PAP reason doesn't hold water any better.

The PAP said that opinion polls are defective because they can be inaccurate. Now, this is true, amazingly for a PAP statement. But the logic for a ban is again faulty. By this I mean that an inaccurate opinion poll can be as bad for the opposition as it can be for the PAP. For example, an inaccurate opinion poll can point to an opposition vote harvest of 60% when in fact, it is 40% but it can very well be the PAP instead of the opposition in that survey. Inaccuracy can go either way.

Add to this the further point that voters may well react to a opinion poll in very different ways. Voters do not always vote herd-like for the majority sentiment. They may well vote the very opposite. For example, if a fence-sitter reads that an opinion poll shows that the opposition will have 60% of the vote, he may well vote PAP. Or he may not vote at all. Or he may spoil his vote. In short, a opinion poll is just one of many factors in his voting decision. And since it is a reality, he should be allowed to take that reality into consideration for his vote. Banning a truth or a reality or a fact isn't a very intelligent thing to do and makes not only the PAP look stupid, it makes us, the voters, look stupid because it implies that we are capricious with our votes or that we are not intelligent enough to vote wisely, or that we are unthinking cows that move like herds.

Another point about inaccuracy is that the PAP doesn't understand the science of polling. True, polling sometimes cannot predict to the nearest 1% the result of the election but to say that it cannot predict to within a few percent is false. We all know that opinion polls are not 100% exact but that doesn't mean that they are so inexact that they are useless. Opinion polls are accurate enough for almost all purposes. They may not be exact but they are indicative enough of the trends and outcomes, except in the most equal of contests. As general indications, they are highly accurate.

What seems to be inaccuracies in the polling is often the changing opinions of those polled. Often, they don't make up their minds until the very last days of the voting. That is the main reason why polls are not as accurate as they can be in predicting winners and losers and their percentages.

Furthermore, opinion polls are indispensable in a democracy, which I forget that we are not. Democracies are supposed to reflect majority sentiment and not to depart too far from the people's wishes especially on the crucial matter of who governs them. Therefore, opinion polls are a referendum on the government's record. If the PAP has governed well, it should have no fear of a referendum on its rule, through an opinion poll. (If it thinks a particular opinion poll is rigged to its disadvantage, it can always commission another, hopefully objective, poll). All major democracies allow opinion polls and treat them as invaluable indicators of their failings and successes. If the PAP refuses even to have this little indication of the people's wishes, then what hope have we for the PAP to respect our wishes on all other important matters?

Finally, opinion polls of the voters is like a mirror. Now, mirrors are not 100% accurate because they have little imperfections either in the glass or the silvering. And some mirrors are more accurate than others. But to refuse to use mirrors on the grounds that they are not 100% accurate is stupid. The real reason why someone refuses to look in the mirror is that they are afraid of what they will see.

Incidentally, I have always been puzzled why there are so few pictures of our PAP leaders in the newspapers. Unlike other countries' newspapers, which frequently publishes pictures of their leaders, our newspapers don't. At first, I thought it was sheer laziness. But it couldn't be because press photographers are present for all public occasions and interviews. Then, too, there are always flattering archive pictures that can easily be used.

Now, I conclude that the reason why no pictures of our PAP leaders are displayed is because they appear better in print without. In print, they sound intelligent and even personable. So, with constant exposure in print form, we form a picture of them as possessing good-looking, intelligent-looking, expressive faces. The reality is that many of them look like ordinary Ah Bengs or even like shifty, accused persons in the Subordinate Courts. Thus, no pictures in the nation's press because they look better in print than in person.

Thus also, no opinion polls because the PAP would look bad in this mirror of public opinion.

And that, is the real reason why the PAP has banned all mirrors in this little fairytale kingdom of ours.

For those who would like to read a discussion on the methodology of polling, see http://www.gallup.com/poll/faq/faq000101.asp

Singapore Mirror