Poll Dancer by Keith Ng

Morality is Not Statistical...

...but if it was, at least it should be statistics from a proper sample, not like the Sunday Star Times' "Great Morality Debate", which is trying to pass off a self-selected sample of conservatives brought there under some 1960s conception of "morality" as a "survey" that represents "us".

They tell us to trust them, saying that:

...by crunching the numbers and comparing the demographic patterns of respondents against those of the general population, we were able to conclude that those who took part were roughly representative of the general population, with some exceptions.

One of those exceptions, being, for example, that 17% of respondents were United Future voters. (This is from the print version. The online version omits this.)

Dude, that's not an exception. A 5% under-representation in the 35-45 age bracket, now that's an exception. A 1000% over-representation (M&F's rolling poll put UF at 1.77%) of moral conservatives in a survey about moral conservatism is an invalidating, systematic fuckedupness on the scale of having an ass for a face.

To say that the survey is "roughly representative of the general population", or that it bears any semblance to the the general population at all, is nothing short of a plain, bald-faced lie.

'All in all', concludes Phoenix Research's David Fougere, 'the 10,000 survey participants are not too different from the profiles of all New Zealanders.' (Print version.)

17% UF voters; 1000% over-representation; comprising nearly a fifth of the total sample. "Not too different"? Argggh, this is making my Vulcan blood boil!!

And despite saying that Wellingtonians were much more liberal, they don't do a breakdown of the respondents by geography. And most strikingly, they don't mention the age of respondents at all. Gee, you think that age might have something to do with attitudes towards sex and sexuality?

They use a loaded term like "morality" and ask whether "morality" is important, and then when people who think "morality" is important are the only ones who can be arsed writing in, they consider this to be a "finding"? No, dipshit, it's called a coverage error.

Did I mention that the "survey" was conducted by Phoenix Research? The online version quotes from Fougere extensively, but neglects to mention that his firm was the one that conducted the research. Oops. I was going to link to Phoneyx Research, but now I'm concerned that some people will actually *want* to commission this kind of shit. Can I suggest that, if you want a rigged survey, that you just make it up? It'll have just as much credibility, but it'll be a lot cheaper.

But, to be fair, there was one useful piece of information in there (no, seriously, there was) - the Maori Party respondents were relatively liberal, perhaps indicating that their support base is younger/more educated/more urban than previously thought. Yep, that's quite possibly the only piece of worthwhile information to come from that survey.

I feel a bit bad about bashing the SST after Helen Bain was nice enough to devote a few column inches to my leaders' debate coverage in the sidebar on her blog story, and after Simon Pound was really scathing towards her in his Agenda spot yesterday (and nice towards me). But this whole "Great Morality Debate" thing is really low. It's worthless as research, atrociously dishonest as their major election project, and the coverage they're giving to it is damaging to the public discourse.

On top of that, the whole idea of a survey on morality designed to sway the polity is repugnant to start off with. If 80% of New Zealanders think that homosexuality is bad, should we therefore ban it?

Morality is not statistical.

[Ouu, my article on the Asian vote is finally out in this week's Listener. Go buy a copy and check it out! (More on the issue next week.)

Also coming soon: Dr Michael Cullen! Watch this space...]