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Old 2012-09-14, 01:38 PM   [Ignore Me] #1
Lieutenant General
Influence of continuous polls: should polling be banned during election campaigns?

This is an actuality topic in our country currently after the elections of last wednesday. But in general, it's a bit of a moral question. I'll first detail the events that sparked the debate in the quote below. You can skip the quote if you want though.

Prior to the dutch elections of 12 september this year, every day new polls were conducted to see if anything changed on a day to day basis. The media initially turned it into a contest of who was going to be prime minister: either Roemer, leader of the SP (Socialist Party) or Rutte, current prime minister and leader of the VVD (Liberals).

The result was a surge in polling popularity of both, each good for around 30-36 seats each in the polls (SP had 15, VVD 31).

Due to this, both Roemer and Rutte entered the campaign relatively late, while most of the other, semi-large and mediocre parties already started their campaigns. One of the first debates was won by Samson, the leader of the Labour Party (PvdA). Meanwhile, Roemer lost a lot of credit internationally due to euroskeptic remarks. Samson then got hailed as the actual next contester of Rutte by the media after he rose 4 seats in polls at the cost of Roemer. From then on, polls indicated that Roemer lost seats on a daily basis and at the end of the elections, the neck-on-neck race between Roemer and Rutte, ended in a neck-on-neck race between Samson and Rutte.

After the elections, with 20 parties participating, SP stayed at 15 seats, VVD surged to 41 and PvdA rose to 38. Most of the mediocre other parties (most around 10-25 seats) lost tremendously: CDA and PVV lost around 8 seats each, the Greens lost 6 and the D66 won 2 seats. Some minor parties stayed or debuted at either 2 or 3 seats, several parties got no votes as expected. The smaller parties got next to no screentime, certainly not in any major debates. Hell, some of the largest mediocre parties wern't represented at all times! A phenomenon you're probably well-known with. However, it's kinda new for us that media create debates with the pretense of showcasing just the potential prime minister's, rather than any fraction leader. With the idea that determining that what the elections are about. If you repeat it often enough, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, not?

As such, the media bias and need for an "spectacular vote race" and the overdose of polls together pretty much determined the course of the elections and caused a lot of strategic voting to occur (to make one party the largest in order to not have the other be the largest). That would otherwise never have happened en mass, because it's tradition people vote for the party they actually are in tune with, rather than against a party they dislike. Usualy we're looking at three parties being required for a majority.

The funny thing of course, DUE to this strategic voting, these two large, but very polarised parties (socialists and liberals) now have to form a coalition. Think of your most left wing Dems and moderate Reps having to work together because there's no other really viable options, unless you're looking at coalitions of 5 to 6 parties.

Probably they will need a third and maybe even a fourth party though: though they have enough seats in parliament with just the VVD and PvdA to form a majority, they don't have enough seats in the senate.

After the elections and the smoke cleared, the media were caught by surprise by how the polls had instigated exagerated strategic voting. They admitted their guilt in steering the elections a bit too much by focusing too hard on just two "arbitrary" candidates. So the question is, should polling be banned a few weeks right before the elections to let people not be driven by fear emotions ("I like that guy less, so will vote against him"), but by personal preference ("I like that guy best, so will vote for him")?

If it is banned for polling agencies to conduct polls during elections, this could be seen as a form of censoring and violating the free news acquisition rights of the media. Atm, the only one pushing for it is Roemer, since he suffered most of it, even though they did not lose an actual seat, they did lose 21 virtual polling seats, making him appear as the main loser of this campaign. In reality they did equally well as last year. Funny how things go.

However, not banning could be seen as allowing to steer voting behaviour by the media. Especially if poorly executed polls can be used (this has been the case on at least one occassion when just 17 internet voters determined who won a minor tv-debate, but it was presented as a general opinion). In that sense, not banning could be an infringement on the self-determination of voters because they'd feel pressured to act to prevent a poll from becoming reality.

Another thing would be screen time. Should screentime be completely fairly distributed among parties? Even if there are 20 parties and even in the most optimistic polls they wouldn't get any votes? Is it fair to focus on just the largest four at the time based on a somewhat random poll?

Personally, I'd say it's fine if they poll, though IMO they should just wait with publishing the results of the entire or at least the climax of the campaign till after the elections and only use it for research purposes, not for the sake of pretending there's news. That is the fairest way for all politicians to make their case. Of course that's not fun for the media, but it's IMO not their job to tell people how others are voting or what the strategic consequence of their vote would be (read: might be, too often presented as "likely fact"). Their point is to critique and check politicians and make sure the populace is informed enough of a political party's stance to pass judgment.
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