The latest polls
Our punditry is dominated by statements like ‘on this issue, the people want XYZ’, even though most of the time the people making such statements have no possible way of knowing what the people want. Opinion polls are one way of finding out what the public broadly believes on major issues. One positive trend of the past couple of years is that both major newspapers in the country — Daily Star and Prothom Alo — have been doing regular, statistically sound opinion polls.
The latest polls are in. Here is Prothom Alo’s, but I’m going to mainly discuss the Daily Star’s — I know more about the latter’s pollsters, and the former editorialises its findings, which I don’t like. Both surveys show that the AL government is losing popularity. But that’s not unexpected. More unexpected (and definitely surprising at least for me) is how popular the government remains after two years in office. I take it as an affirmation of my view that pundits (particularly emigre pundits) should be more humble and cautious in claiming to speak on the public’s behalf.
That said, it’s also important to recognise that no poll is a 100% accurate guide of public opinion. In the DS poll, for example, 53% said they voted for AL in the last election, while 20% admitted to voting for BNP. In the election, however, AL got only 49% vote, against BNP’s 33%. Clearly some BNP voters are not admitting to supporting the party two years ago, while some non-AL voters are falsely claiming their vote. Clearly some people are trying to give the ‘right’ answer, and not the ‘true’ one.
This kind of thing happens overseas too. In the US, minority candidates often seem to have larger support in polls than what they actually get on the election day — you see, the average person doesn’t like to be seen as a racist, and thus tell the pollsters the ‘right’ answer. Similarly, Richard Nixon and Maggie Thatcher had poor approval ratings, even though both won comfortable re-elections — again, people were embarrassed about supporting them.
It is possible that something similar is going on here. It may be that AL is less popular than the polls suggest. Fortunately, we have even a better way of discovering what the public feels — municipal elections will tell us about both the government’s popularity and the polls’ credibility.
Over the fold, some comments, focusing on the findings at odds with my priors.
Why do I say the government is more popular than I thought? According to the DS-Nielsen poll, about two-fifths (given margins of error, I’ll quote the results in fractions) would vote for AL if the election were held in December, against just a fifth for BNP. A quarter declined to respond. Unless four in five of this last category breaks for BNP, this poll suggests that AL would have won a comfortable victory.
Supporting the voting intention result is the right-track/wrong-track result — half the respondents thought the country was moving in the right direction, compared with a third who chose wrong. Both are statistically unchanged from six months ago.
I wasn’t surprised to see the responses on the economy or inflation. But the fact that only a tenth believe power and gas should be the government’s top priority is a surprise (two-fifths chose price inflation). Perhaps this is because two-fifths believe the government has taken sufficient initiatives (up from a fifth from six months ago).
I was also surprised to see that over half believe law and order has improved. In fact, in every survey since the government came to power, over half said the law and order situation had improved. Clearly, the alarmist newspaper headlines about lawlessness is missing something big.
Finally, according to the poll, about half believe that the government’s transit policy with India will benefit Bangladesh. If the opposition wants to make an issue out of it, then it has to do a much better job than what has been done so far.