Heeding the alarm bells

Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan used to say that, at every editorial meeting, everyone had an opinion but only the poll analyst had the facts. Here in Greece, we have seen a lot of skepticism over the past few days, especially when the polls do not reflect the view that each individual critic has of the world. Once it was opposition party PASOK that doubted the polls, not ruling New Democracy. The reasons are obvious. Of course a poll is not an electoral race. It is merely a snapshot of a particular moment showing how things stand just then. These things can change, but to do so, the polls needs to be studied. One number alone does not say very much – it is only useful to fuel excitement or despair, usually on television – but a combination of findings, coupled with results from past polls, can give a pretty good picture of the current situation. The poll published by Kathimerini and broadcast on Skai last week sent shock waves through certain journalistic and political circles. So much so, in fact, that the ruling party’s political strategists wondered in a nonpaper what had changed since September. This is hardly surprising, as PASOK’s stock had shot up by 7.5 percent. But the shock was the same when the same company conducted polls in 2000, 2004 and 2007, only it was PASOK refuting the numbers back then. One minute they were concerned with the number of people polled, then it was the statistical parameters, etc, etc. Then came the elections, and the findings were verified. The funny thing is that verification was never an issue. Polls highlight a problem, but they also suggest a solution. Advice, such as «Don’t believe the numbers,» simply confirms them. There are many ways for a government to lose an election and the most sure-fire way is denial of reality. Opinion polls operate a lot like alarm bells and some want to silence them because they’re disturbing their stupor. For those people, though, it will be a very rude awakening indeed.

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