OPINION

Manipulating public opinion

A week ahead of the official ban on the publication of opinion polls, one can see an obvious pressure aimed at «eliminating» the differences between the two main parties and at trimming the margin separating clear front-runners New Democracy from ruling PASOK. The vast majority of public surveys give the conservative opposition a very small lead, within the margin of error. As a result, the public is bracing for a neck-and-neck election race – with all this implies for the psychology of the contestants. There is a widespread impression that most pollsters have recently embarked on fulfilling an agenda. It is hard to believe that the companies have kept to the letter of the law, braving the heavy snowstorm to question the specified samples. In other words, there is great distrust, which is fully justified. Justified reservations also stem from the character and the nature of most pollsters. Many of them have connections to the State, they are dependent on state funds, and they are related to – no less dependent – advertising firms, or else they are party advisers. As is often the case, interests become entangled, scientific standards are compromised, independence is lost, and there is a clear risk of manipulative behavior resulting. The phenomenon, albeit on a smaller scale, is reminiscent of what happened when international auditing firms began to provide investment services. The credibility of auditing was undermined and was gradually identified with the interests of their employer – until they both collapsed like a house of cards. Greece’s public opinion firms suffer from similar syndromes. Their connections have long forced them to forsake their independence, and their judgment must be questioned. All these issues would be of secondary importance if their work did not have a direct impact on public opinion. This is even more the case in the current election period, where much is at stake and the role of public survey companies can be critical. Given that their task is to measure the trends of public opinion, they must be independent and free from conflicting interests which tempt them to influence or manipulate voter behavior.