What an unprecedented shitsack of a year it’s been. Brexit continues to bumble onward like a drunk aimlessly searching for his house keys in a neighbour’s garden, we have a bequiffed satsuma in the White House brazenly goading the world towards nuclear war and we have terror attacks of all varieties occurring with alarming regularity.
It’s both bewildering and terrifying in equal measure but, for all the political instability it’s caused, perhaps the most striking result is the way the populace was polarised – venomously so.
Naturally, such a confusing zeitgeist is going to leave people understandably baffled and, as is the usual reaction from the perplexed and scared, comfort is sought…and what could be more comforting than a binary vote on Twitter?
Hell, the President of Dubiously Free World reaches for this particular comfort blanket during his 2,478 weak moments each day.
See? Even the Commander in Chief needs a shot to his fragile ego every now and again. Though given how his self esteem seems to be perpetually teetering upon a cliff edge, perhaps it’s a good job he didn’t stumble across a similar poll that ran shortly after.
So that settles that right?
Well no, obviously not. As much as I celebrate Oliver’s victory over Donald I begrudgingly have to concede that, owing to my non-entity status, my sample size was fairly pathetic and it likely didn’t travel far beyond my own Twitter echo chamber.
As far as polls go it was pretty worthless but. as luck would have it, a seemingly worthy survey reared its head the following day – Brexit being the subject in question. Given how its arrival was heralded by the likes of Nigel Farage and his cabal of chancers, I figured it must be worth a look.
First of all, holy shit! 20,000 people? Sampling both Remain AND Leave voters? With a Hard Brexit emerging victorious? Perhaps I have been living in my own sealed echo chamber, studiously avoiding the pro-Brexit reality around me. The referendum campaign was bitter, spiteful and divisive, effectively tearing the country in two. Could it be possible that a conflict I expected to drag on for aeons had healed its wounds without me so much as noticing?
I mean hell, even self proclaimed Remainer Owen Jones held it aloft as a victory for Brexit being the will of the people.
Must be pretty resounding right? Well, let’s take a look shall we?
This allegedly definitive poll was carried out by the London School of Economics and Oxford University with Buzzfeed being the first to bring their findings to prominence. However, upon perusing, things seemed rather dubious right off the bat.
First of all, remember how it was claimed that this was a 20,000 strong poll?
Turns out that this was not only untrue, but also laughably inaccurate. The sample size was actually much, much lower.
So there you have it, it was actually a 3,000 strong poll. Whether the mistake originated from Buzzfeed, Westmonster or that obnoxious windbag from your local drinking pit is ultimately besides the point. Whoever fucked up the result remains the same – the sample size, originally put forward as an extra stamp of credibility, has now been cut to less than a quarter of its previously reported size.
So what of the actual questions put towards the participants you ask? Well, let’s see how Buzzfeed summed up the results:
Again, they’re going with the “Even Remainers favour a Hard Brexit” narrative that the jokers at Westmonster also latched onto but there’s one very interesting detail that they attempted to sneak through in the above paragraph. Specifically – “…when the British public are asked in detail what they want from the negotiations…”
Hmmm, curious. Let’s look into this further and see what the questions actually were. Again, these are all snatched from the previously linked Buzzfeed article:
Now, the eagle eyed amongst you will have noticed something. Something very important that seems to have been airbrushed out of every single summary various partisan outlets have put out there.
There’s no option to remain. None whatsoever.
The heading of the final chart from the rather exhaustive picture montage I’ve just subjected you to gives the game away: “When forced to plan Brexit…”
Short of being a resounding indication of Remainers abandoning their previous pro-EU principles and shacking up with the most anti-EU version of Brexit possible, what the survey actually indicates is that: when forced to plan Brexit without any option for Remain on the table, Remainers occasionally find common ground with the hardline Brexiters.
Even Professor Sara Hobolt, one of the authors of this survey, concludes as such:
So what have we learnt? Effectively that people will always find a way to massage data in order to suit their agenda. Nothing groundbreaking – it’s been happening as long as human beings have come equipped with a brain. But nevertheless, I felt compelled to dip my toe into the world of data accumulation once again with a somewhat more simplistic poll:
Oh wow. Remain won a resounding victory AND the poll had a significantly larger sample size than its LSE equivalent. I mean sure, the vast majority of my followers are likely to be pro remain but, while there’s no real method of proving either way, for the 24 hours it ran it got passed around by Remainers and Leavers alike so the sample wasn’t necessarily imbalanced.
So what of this? Can I claim this fairly tongue in cheek poll as a victory for Remain? I could try I suppose but, for reasons alluded to previously, there’s no way to guarantee an unbiased sample and ultimately the whole exercise was pointless. The only real way to gauge the current ‘will of the people’ is to have a 2nd ref on a final deal which, again, seemed resoundingly popular when put to the very same Twitter polls that I’ve just this moment discredited.
As a final point, there was one particular gem that Buzzfeed managed to glean from all this – that the public in general don’t especially understand the issues they were voting on. Whether this is while participating in a survey or casting their vote in the EU referendum – despite it being heresy to the committed Brexiteer, it turns out the “will of the people” contains copious amounts of cognitive dissonance.
At the end of the day, polls are effectively worthless. Yes, if enough of a sample is obtained they can be indicative of the common feeling but, ultimately, it’s only representative of a specific microcosm of the electorate. The previous EU referendum was over a year ago now and won based on a campaign containing more fiction than The Wizard of Oz. If you accept that people are capable of changing their minds you also accept that the ‘will of the people’ is transient. You can conduct dubious polls and surveys until the end of your days but, if we as an electorate really value the ‘will of the people’, we simply must have another referendum on the final deal – including an option for remain.
You Brexiteers wanted “control”? There’s your control. Vote on the final terms and prove that the ‘will of the people’ is as you claim.
But watch out, rumour has it that the McBrexit with fries is currently more popular than your beloved Hard Brexit.Follow @grahamlithgow