Banning opinion polls in the runup to elections is not the solution

In many other parts of the world, when there is a problem people will seek a decent solution. But not here. Faced with a problem, Greeks are more likely to propose a ban.

This scenario played out again after the exit polls failed miserably in forecasting the results of Sunday’s municipal and regional elections – a failure that sent government officials to hell and back.

Some critics were quick to question whether we really need opinion polls. The answer, of course, is easy. If you are not interested in the findings of opinion polls, then all you need to do is to ignore them. In fact, this appears to be what a growing number of Greeks are doing.

But the good reactionary Greek is not just concerned about himself, but also about the greater good. As a result, a number of pundits criticized Interior Minister Yiannis Michelakis’s decision to lift a ban on the publication of public surveys in the 15 days before an election.

In this case, of course, the problem did not concern the polls carried out over the last couple of weeks – some of which proved to be very accurate – but the exit poll on the eve of the actual vote.

Speaking on Mega TV earlier this week, Michelakis was apologetic. There are, he said, good arguments in favor of both lifting the ban as well as keeping it. He said that pollsters may make mistakes, but at least they put their name on the surveys. Banning polls, on the other hand, would lead to a black market of sorts. There are a lot of numbers going around whose providence is unknown. “Particularly now with the Internet,” the conservative minister warned.

That’s all right. However, the fact that Michelakis made no mention of the anti-democratic and unconstitutional character of such a ban is a sign of the importance that the country’s political officials attach to the freedom of speech.

We should not be unfair to Michelakis. Disregard of this fundamental right cuts across political parties. Such bans were introduced by PASOK (2003) as well as New Democracy (2009) – the posturing is not alien to the Greek left, which only seems to believe in the freedom of its own expression.

The biggest problem with a ban on opinion polls is that it goes against the Constitution. According to Article 14: “The press is free. Censorship and all other preventive measures are prohibited.” Banning opinion polls would be a preventive measure that would clearly run against the law.

Some critics might say, “Yes, but opinion polls influence voters ahead of the ballot.” This may be true, but this “influence” cannot be scientifically assessed and verified.

Someone might be prompted to go and vote because he read that his party of choice is lagging behind in opinion polls; a different person might be disappointed and stay at home for exactly the same reason.

Furthermore, voters are influenced – positively or negatively – by a whole range of other factors, such as newspaper articles and candidates’ TV appearances. Should we also ban these as well to make sure they do not have an effect on voters? And having said that, perhaps we should also extend the ban throughout the four-year term, not just in the runup to the vote.

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