Sunday, September 09, 2007

Perceptions are everything

It is very common to find that any poll that finds answers which some violently disagree with is attacked for invalidity. This is the case for the findings that show public support for moving towards nuclear energy produced by Opinion Leader Research (OLR) who are under fire from environmental groups and the Guardian newspaper. The document which will inform consultation is claimed to be stacked with "pro-Nuclear opinion masquerading as fact" and so Guido argues this is simply push-polling and an attempt to produce the answers the government wants rather than having an open consultation.

Now we would normally not attack a research organisation, they are founded on the principles of gathering data that reflects the opinions and attitudes of a representative sample of a given population at the time of asking the question. Polling and research is a scientific process designed to find answers not support for an answer; so why is OLR accused so easily.

OLR is part of Chime Communications PLC, an organisation known for public relations and its association with Lord Tim Bell and the Bell-Pottinger group. On the front page there is a quote from Lord bell, whose long association with political campaigning makes him one of the few recognised experts in the area of winning elections, the quote reads:
"Perceptions are real. If you are playing to win they have to be favourable. Your ability to persuade people to listen to you, understand what you are saying, and support you, will determine whether you win or lose"
This suggest that unethical practices are allowed in the course of achieving victory, we know that research findings can create a bandwagon effect; where the reporting of a fact such as 80% of people favour nuclear energy may convince doubters that they are in a minority and should rethink their position. It is a common PR tool to use spin to nurse statistics to favour the organisation; and in the US push polling, the use of loaded questions to solicit the right response is common at election times.

None of these practices are directly attributed to Chime however, but the fact that there is an association between OLR and Chime is sufficient to cast doubts on the validity of the research. This is compounded by the fact that there are a number of government aides who have or do work within OLR and Chime, so they are seen as being partisan as well. The PR Industry is mistrusted, particularly when it becomes involved in politics, hence perhaps such associations should not be exploited by a government seeking credible data on a highly controversial topic. Unless of course Brown's opponents are correct and this is the use of research to sell an idea, a popular tool of government for many years. Perceptions are everything, why don't Brown's PR experts (including wife Sarah of Hobsbawm Macaulay Communications) give him better advice.

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