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Saturday, February 17, 2007

RH: How to conduct cheap, accurate Political Polls

From: Robert Ho (ho3@pacific.net.sg)
Subject: RH: How to conduct cheap, accurate political polls
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Newsgroups: soc.culture.singapore
Date: 2004-04-29 05:31:23 PST

From: Robert Ho (ho3@pacific.net.sg)
Subject: RH: Oppositionists should do polls, a powerful weapon
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Newsgroups: soc.culture.singapore
Date: 2004-03-28 11:15:01 PST


1. Perhaps the most surprising 80th birthday present Lee Kuan Yew
received was that a Yahoo poll proved that a majority of Singaporeans
wanted him to go. Of the 6,834 votes received in the poll conducted by Internet portal Yahoo Singapore, 44 percent said Lee should retire
immediately while another 9 percent said he should quit soon.

2. That Yahoo poll changed Singapore's political history. Stung by
this outright rejection by a people he thought he had brainwashed into deifying him, mostly through his absolute and total control of the media and every word or image produced thereby, LKY fought back.

3. In the weeks and months that followed, LKY suddenly became high
profile. I do not read the Straits Times or any Singapore news site
here in London, but I was aware through soc.culture.singapore that LKY had suddenly become very high profile. His elaborate, personally
administered 'breaking of the head' of Captain Ryan Goh is a case in
point. His other, less thuggish, comeback ploys also broke into the
often inane chatter of this newsgroup so much so I became aware of the presence, once again, of a man whom I thought had retired and awaiting his death.

4. Thus, that Yahoo poll galvanised LKY into action and put paid to
his playacting of being the retired 'goalkeeper' keeping the goal safe with his safe pair of hands while allowing his team to run about the field. With a shock, LKY realised that he had been so long 'out of sight' that he was 'out of mind' of Singaporeans, especially the new generation. With unaccustomed dismay, he realised that he could no longer afford to play the role of grand patriarch and must,
henceforth, instil fear in Singaporeans all over again, a fear many
had forgotten. Having ruled by fear all his life, it was entirely
predictable and about the only way he knew. Unfortunately, times have
changed. The old methods no longer work.

5. Could a mere Yahoo poll do all that? Certainly. The PAP is an
extremely savvy gang. I believe that the PAP do very frequent polls in secret. The Straits Times, for one, has a Research Department that may conduct frequent polls, which are probably not published, unless they are flattering to the PAP. Thus, the PAP probably keep close tabs on issues and this allows them to stay on top of events. In General Elections, for example, they display an uncanny knowledge of which constituencies are close calls and which are safe and deploy all their big guns accordingly. Such knowledge probably comes from secret polls.

6. It would not be difficult to conduct such polls and keep them
accurate as well as secret. For example, how many respondents do you
think are needed before a poll can become accurate? For the answer,
let me quote from the Gallup website:

"Surprisingly, however, once the survey sample gets to a size of 500,
600, 700 or more, there are fewer and fewer accuracy gains which come
from increasing the sample size. Gallup and other major organizations
use sample sizes of between 1,000 and 1,500 because they provide a
solid balance of accuracy against the increased economic cost of
larger and larger samples. If Gallup were to - quite expensively – use a sample of 4,000 randomly selected adults each time it did its poll, the increase in accuracy over and beyond a well-done sample of 1,000 would be minimal, and generally speaking, would not justify the
increase in cost." UNQUOTE.

In other words, a carefully and professionally done poll of just
500-1,000 respondents would be enough. This could not only be accurate but also secret because only these 1,000 or so would know they have been polled. And remember that the PAP has a huge warchest of many millions, plus constant cash inflows, [it gives to charity more than a million a year], so it can conduct many such accurate polls all the time.

7. Thus, the Opposition should also conduct polls. This is because
the PAP already knows the battleground well and the issues even
better, probably through accurate polls. This allows them to
strategise and plan more effectively. However, the important point is
that polls should be conducted professionally. Due to the usually
small sample size of a 1,000 or so, such polling can be sabotaged or
render meaningless or even inaccurate or counterproductive by the
numerous PAP supporters who, as we have witnessed, often hack into
Oppositionists' computers and websites and delete or deface them.

8. The people hired to poll can also be a problem. There are PAP
compliant staff everywhere [I have personally witnessed Reuters
journalists who wrote that only a few hundreds attended SDP rallies
when I personally saw thousands]. And polls can be rigged, like
elections and referendums can be rigged, by simply slanting the
questions [read the Gallup website given below].

9. However, having said all that, I don't think Oppositionists can
afford frequent polls. Maybe all Oppositionists can pool their money
together for one or two important polls near Election Day. This would
certainly help. If professional organisations like Gallup can poll on
its own and sell the results to media, this would be ideal.

10. There is also the cheap alternative of Internet polls. Now, this
is totally unprofessional. These can be totally skewed by PAP
supporters. They are inherently inaccurate. But they CAN give an idea
of the issues people would vote for and what their leanings are. And
they are so easy to set up any website can simply copy and paste the
code to have one on their website. Depending on what is the issue
polled and how genuinely respondents respond, these cheap polls can
give an indication of how issues are being seen by the people. If
nothing else, polls do give the readers a sense that their opinions
count, that they can articulate an opinion -- without having their
heads broken by LKY or his other thugs.

11. However, polls are mirrors and they reflect perhaps too well and
too accurately. They can disadvantage the Opposition as well as help
them. For example, the Yahoo poll told LKY he needed to re-establish
his credentials all over again. That he needed to re-instil fear all
over again. That he needed to brainwash the people again that he is
responsible for all of Singapore's successes [and none of its
failures]. That without him, Singapore would be nothing. That his way
is the only way. So, that Yahoo poll may have done a disservice to the Opposition, although I think the advantages outweighed the bad.

In the final analysis, mirrors do not lie. Whether you look good or
not is not the fault of the mirror. It is the truth. And, if nothing
else, the people and voters are entitled to the truth, which would set them free.


From: Robert Ho (ho3@pacific.net.sg)
This is the only article in this thread
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Newsgroups: soc.culture.singapore, soc.culture.malaysia
Date: 2002-06-05 20:22:08 PST

letter to sfd 29 august, 2001

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/help/FAQs/poll1.asp

Singapore Mirror



1. Sorry to have you read through all the above before coming to my
newer post today. [You may be smart enought to jump straight to this
section]. However, the above is necessary to set the background for
this new addition. Often, when I post a thought or longish article, I
sometimes have additional thoughts or ideas days later that I can then append on to the original post. This is one of these times.

2. I have just read MadCow's postings and threads, "Subject: WP
Online Poll...." and have followed the 21 threads there. If I may
summarise, MadCow dearly wants to use polls to divine the feelings of
the people, which is a wonderful thing since the people's feelings
have never been recognised by the PAP as important enough to sway
policies, although they probably do cater to it in election months.

The problem is how to use polls to divine the people's will without
paying big monies [which no Opposition party has]. I have a

3. First, get Gallup or any other very professional polling
organisation to find the 500-1,000 [see above Quote from Gallup] poll
respondents who would accurately represent the voting public [or
whatever publics you want to poll]. This will cost some money, which
cannot be avoided. BUT YOU NEED ONLY PAY ONCE.

4. The idea is, to get Gallup to reveal the respondents' identities,
TIME. In other words, you only have to professionally and
scientifically collect a truly representative and random sample once
and thereafter, continue to contact these same respondents for
subsequent polls. It should be reasonably accurate, in fact, far more
accurate than any Internet polls.

5. The main inaccuracies, I think, would be that this sample of
people, being polled more than once, may develop an inclination, one
way or another, other than what they would vote for as a truly random
sample. In other words, if they know that they are often polled by the Workers Party, they may incline to influencing for or against the poll questions instead of answering truthfully. Or subconsciously. This need not be a big inaccuracy if the WP keeps its identity secret in the polling. Even if its identity is known, its polling may still be pretty accurate. I don't think any such inaccuracy arising will be
significant. In any case, it will still be much more accurate than
Internet polls, which is all the Opposition can afford now or in the

Another inaccuracy will be that if Gallup is not conducting the
subsequent polls, the questions asked [and this is important] may not
be framed neutrally enough to elicit an accurate response. Meaning
that poorly framed questions can skew the results significantly. This
can be avoided by asking Gallup or a professional polling organisation to vet the questions, for a small fee. Or, WP can read up on the mechanics of polling and thereby become good enough to frame good questions and hence receive pretty accurate results.

6. Thus, this 'permanent' sample group can be polled again and again
and each time, the poll results will be pretty accurate, much more so
than Internet polling. And this will be very cheap, since only the
initial sample need be put together professionally. You could even do
continuing surveys with this permanent group. Or tracking surveys in
which you track how the respondents change their views through the
months or years or after specific events of importance.

7. You would need to 'buy' the identities of this permanent group
from Gallup. It should not cost much, especially if Gallup does the
first or original survey. Subsequently, you would reach this permanent group by mail, fax or telephone, etc. Or whatever means that Gallup advises as being more accurate.

8. So, MadCow, you are doing a good job by trying to divine
Singaporeans' feelings and wishes through Internet polls. Now, if the
WP can put together this permanent group for multiple surveys, it will be a cheap way to fairly accurately take the pulse of the nation.
Scientific surveys are crucial in winning votes and understanding how
voters will vote or feel about issues. If the WP and other
Oppositionists are to go beyond walkabouts, party newsletters and
talking to people, important as these are, scientific surveys can help you focus on real issues and policies positions to win votes and
hopefully, elections.

9. Another suggestion. If the WP can get itself a permanent group for multiple surveys, and the other parties, especially the SDP, can also do likewise, you could inter-check each other's groups by occasionally doing identical surveys to see if the results match. Or come close enough. This is cheap and simple.

10. And lastly, if the WP and SDP are in politics to stay, they must
understand and cleverly use such surveys and polls. Not only to divine the voters' feelings and wishes, but also to publish such surveys to influence politics and events. The PAP is known to be fearful of polls, which is why it never publishes any, even though it probably conducts polls frequently, having unlimited monies to do so. And Oppositionists can learn to do scientific polls. It is not too
difficult although sometimes its methodologies may seem a little
arcane. Become expert in polling. Then you will know which way the
winds are blowing and how best to trim your sails to the wind and
reach your destination.

Robert Ho
29 Apr 04
UK 1317 Singapore 2017


From: Robert Ho (ho3@pacific.net.sg)
This is the only article in this thread
View: Original Format
Newsgroups: soc.culture.singapore, soc.culture.malaysia
Date: 2002-06-05 19:54:56 PST

letter to sfd july 17, 2001

PAP afraid of truth

The General Election is coming. We all know that. Not that soon
however, because the Electoral Boundaries Review Committee hasn't met
yet -- to plot against the Opposition as is usual. This, it is
expected to do yet again by increasing the number of Group
Representation Constituencies, thereby reducing the number of Single
Member Constituencies where Opposition candidates have the most
chance. It will probably also increase the size of many GRCs from 4 or 5 Members to the current maximum 6 or even more, thereby making it
difficult for the Opposition to field enough candidates befitting the

Also, with the PAP bagging a world first in that Singapore is the
first country in Asia, in this period, to go into a recession, the PAP is obviously in no hurry, hoping that a quick upturn in the US economy will dig us out of it. Or at least, if other countries in the region also follow suit, then the PAP would seem absolved of mismanagement of the economy http://www.sfdonline.org/Link%20Pages/Link%20Folders/01Pf/awsj130701.html
and setting wrong strategic economic directions because we are not
alone in recession. As is usual, there will be the grand tactic for
this GE. In the last, it was the carrot/stick or bribe/threat of
upgrading of our HDB flats and precincts. By counting the votes by
precinct, the PAP made it clear that it was indeed possible to know
how each precinct voted, whether for the PAP or Opposition. If
Opposition, that precinct stood to lose all priority for municipal
upgrading. It worked. The PAP's percentage of votes, which had been
declining, went up.

Whether the PAP is ingenious enough to come up with another potent
'winner' like upgrading is in doubt. They are many things, but
ingenious they are not. They have plodding reputations, richly
deserved. So, unless they surprise us, they will probably continue to
use upgrading as the grand tactic, while fighting dirty in a rearguard manner as its concomitant. Dirty tactics would include branding Mr James Gomez as a drink driver, which stretched a little, can become alcohol abuser or even alcoholic or even perhaps a reckless driver who imperils others -- remember how longtime PAP senior minister and President Devan Nair was branded an alcoholic? Or Dr Chee Soon Juan branded a cheat and a liar? Or Mr Tang Liang Hong branded a "anti-Christian, Chinese chauvinist". (By branding Mr Tang as anti-Christian, the PAP thus cost him the Christian vote. By branding him a Chinese chauvinist, they cost him the non-Chinese vote. Actually, branding an opponent anti-Singapore, as is sometimes done, is even better because that costs the opponent all the votes!).

PAP tactics are crude but effective and many Singaporeans are still
unaware of how they work. But the GE this time may hinge on the
Internet. In the last GE, not many of us had pcs. This time around,
about half of Singapore households have a pc. The PAP recognises this
threat to their total domination of information and predictably, there are moves afoot to curb Opposition use of the Internet. Already, we hear talk from Lee Kuan Yew's heir apparent son that the Opposition must be prevented from spreading 'lies and rumours' because it would be 'impossible' to rectify that in a GE, given that the Internet travels at the speed of light.

However, that is, of course, not the whole story. The more complete
story is that the PAP has all the whole panoply of a vast arsenal of
publicity machines at its disposal that can disseminate and propagate
the PAP's views or rebuttals even faster than the Internet. How so?
Consider this. The PAP has absolute, total control over every print
and broadcast media in Singapore. Through its control of all the major Internet, print and broadcast media, it can put out its case or
rebuttals within a mere hour or two through TV, radio, Internet and
even print. The last one may be a bit slower, but since there are
afternoon papers as well as morning broadsheets, meaning 2 print runs
a day, even the print media is able to publish rebuttals within half a day. As for TV, radio and Internet, it is even faster. Assuming that someone puts out a 'vicious lie' or 'rumour' in the morning, in just a few hours, the afternoon papers would print the PAP's rebuttals. Even faster, the radio stations, online newspapers and the TV stations would broadcast the rebuttals and more, almost as soon as they receive them. And by next morning, the venerable Straits Times and Lianhe Zaobao would have the whole thing sewn up conclusively. End of 'vicious lies'. End of 'rumour'. Killed even before most Singaporeans can even hear it.

Thus, what the PAP is afraid of is not so much 'lies and rumours' as
the truth. Lies and rumours can always be quickly or even instantly
rebutted, especially if you have total control of the media, but the
truth is another, more troubling matter. For example, the Young PAP
had a very lively Forum. And naturally, since the PAP is unpopular (as any objective survey like a Gallup Poll would show) and even hated, this Forum attracted a lot of anti-PAP posters who posted their hate in Young PAP. Result, the Forum was shut down. Even the small army of PAP surfers whose job it is to surf all the websites for local politics and whose job it is to post rebuttals could not cope with the volume of hate postings. Similarly, the new PAP site began life without even a Forum for visitors to debate issues. It would have been an embarrassment and a natural magnet for anti-PAP vehement postings.

A few years ago, Dr Chee Soon Juan of the Singapore Democratic Party
produced a short, modest little low-budget political video. It was
banned, the reason given being that a video with the inherent
possibilities of music, sound and visual effects could be more
persuasive than cold print and therefore should not be part of
political discourse. (Actually, this is not quite true. In the hands
of a good writer, print can be emotional to an extent a poorly
produced video is not). The irony is that that video was so modest an
attempt that the PAP, with its unlimited war chest, could have
produced a whole series of far better productions and given them away
for free or little cost, thereby overwhelming Dr Chee's little
production. That the PAP is fabulously rich can be seen in the fact
that every year, the PAP gives away several millions to various
causes. This probably represents only the interest, and not the
principal amount, in the PAP's kitty; or its investment revenue, not
the total size of its funds. Thus, the PAP could have countered the
SDP's little video with Steven Spielberg productions and George Lucas
effects, if they wanted, with full orchestral scores.

But they preferred to ban political videos because they had no need of videos, having the entire print and broadcast and now, Internet media, industries spewing their propaganda. Thus, the new Internet gag rules will probably ban videos or moving images, music and flashy effects. Maybe even biodata because the new generation of Oppositionists like Mr James Gomez and Dr Chee Soon Juan are very well qualified. Better, in fact, than most PAP ministers. Also, the PAP had long branded, successfully, all Oppositionists as charlatans and thieves, so biodata that proves the contrary would destroy this long-term branding exercise. All these pathetic efforts to roll back the forces of change and the Internet will fail, of course. For example, if SFD and other websites are blocked, and it is too difficult to change host servers or takes too long, new articles can simply be emailed to group email lists or direct to email recipients. Or the new articles can simply be posted on soc.culture.singapore, which is unlikely to be blocked or shut down.

The beauty of the Internet is that already, mechanisms exist for
propagation of alternative news and articles, albeit, only to those
who frequent the right sites and stay in contact with each other. In a GE, many more people will turn to the Internet than usual. They will seek out what they want to know and nothing can stop them. To
conclude, perhaps it can be added that the whole exercise of gagging
the Internet is not so much to prevent falsehoods as to prevent
truths. There is in addition, the whole edifice of the PAP institution being so fossilised. Every institution, given enough time, develops a rigidity in the joints like a decrepit old person. The thinking runs along channelled grooves. The actions become replays of past performances. The instincts of habit suppress creative impulses. The PAP had long lost any ability to think and anticipate. It remains trapped in the present without any guiding visions of the future. Thus it is better for us to begin the process of renewal of Singapore by whittling down the PAP's dominance. The GE, not that soon, but not that far, will be a good start.



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