A YouGov poll out today suggests that a large majority of Britons wish to make COVID booster injections mandatory. One would think that is a fairly surprising change in views in a democracy. But also out today is a video including input from a doctor who actually took the poll.
When she took the poll, she answered the first question, on whether she would be anxious to be in a room with the unvaccinated, with a stong negative. As she replied along similarly “anti-vaxx” lines (Merriam-Webster new definition!) she found that she was in a large majority. So the complete reversal in the published poll results was especially surprising.
Somebody reported (maybe the same doctor, or maybe another) that they had taken the poll a second time, answering the first question strongly positive, and so on (I assume she did not return the completed poll), finding that once more she was in a large majority. The indications are strong that YouGov took only the half of the poll they preferred to publish – and history suggests this will inform government policy.
Other YouGov panellists have said that, since they completed the first polls they were sent on their political and social views, they have never been asked to participate in a real poll. All is not as it seems in “public opinion.”
Unethical? Of course – but not if your your mind-set is the same as that which sets up a Behavioural Insights Team to nudge public opinion in the direction which your technocratic elite believes to be the only correct one, as HM Government has been doing for as decade, but especially in the past two years. In that case, why not rope opinion polls into the process of changing minds, rather than assessing their views?
But Jacques Ellul saw many years ago that the whole concept of “public opinion” is fraudulent. To quote my own precis in Seeing Through Smoke (in case it encourages you to read it):
One of Ellul’s key insights in relation to this is that the very concept of “public opinion” is a product of the shift to a propaganda-based society. To put it another way, public opinion is actually no-one’s opinion, but is the functional outcome of propaganda. The propagandizers themselves do not believe in the public opinion; rather they are concerned only to produce the desired effect on behaviour, and tend (like Blair’s spin-doctors) to become increasingly contemptuous of their ideological basis.
Applying that at its simplest to more honest polls that YouGov is turning out to generate, a society beset with propaganda whether from state, media, or advertising will, to the degree the propaganda is successful, parrot it when their opinion is asked. In that case the danger is that the government itself will forget that it manufactured “public opinion,” and will execute policy based on lies they themselves created.
Once the polls themselves are co-opted as propaganda, though, things rapidly get worse. The polls are in that case, as now, loaded in favour of those who are most susceptible to the propaganda, but are intended primarily for publication in order to put more PR pressure on the rest to change their minds, or at least to self-censor lest they be turned on by the crowd.
Meanwhile, the feedback into government remains a potent factor, especially in a representative democracy (as we used to be until the Covid Act) where the elected representatives, who also read the polls, will vote in Parliament according to the poll results whether they are desiring to serve the people or simply to preserve their jobs.
Someone, somewhere – such as Nadhim Zahawi, the former vaccines minister and current Education Secretary who founded YouGov, knows the true name of the game. Who else is in on it is a moot point – is Boris Johnson a puppetmaster, a controlled puppet, or just a useful idiot? But the way these things work, it would not surprise me if those who have cynically set up YouGov polls are themselves seduced into believing their rigged results, simply because the results agree with the policies they believe the world needs.
At the very least, leaders who regard the unvaccinated as dangerous racist right-wing Islamophobic (etc) vermin will be tempted to filter out their poisonous opinions and publish the views of the “real” people of Britain or America, or wherever.
It seems to me such things are inevitable in world in which, as we are seeing more and more each day, those in power are firmly committed to one truth, one view of the future, and one correct way to think. Any “public opinion” that disagrees with this is simply not ” public opinion. And as sure as eggs is eggs, the polls will therefore not represent it.
Needless to say, among this enlightened readership at least, government policy that depends on an elite cabal generating a Groupthink on major issues like COVID or climate change, and then interpreting or pretending that the echoes coming back from opinion polls mean universal assent, can only end in disaster.
For as Ellul also points out, propaganda of all sorts is eventually universally disbelieved by both governors and governed. Compliance becomes unwilling and increasingly grudging, and eventually a more-or-less unified public opinion does emerge, which is never reckoned in the polls until it suddenly bursts out in the destruction of the whole political apparatus.
We have seen the beginnings of that in violent protests against vaccine mandates across the world, and there is no reason to suppose the UK to think that differently. You can be sure that, when unprecedented hundreds of thousands are on the streets of European cities, any opinion poll that gives overwhelming support to totalitarian measures is telling you lies.
CORRECTION AND CLARIFICATION 1/12: It was a different doctor who took the YouGov survey twice. The first time she answered the first question as being unworried to share a room with unvaccinated friends, and then continuing in the same vein was being told that a large majority agreed with her. The second time she answered the first question as being worried by the unvaccinated, but after that gave the same replies as before, but was informed that only a small minority agreed with her.
The conclusion is the same: those who took the poll were sorted into two groups according to their first answer, and only the pro-restriction wing appeared in the published result.
But as an aside, what kind of opinion poll is it that biases your response by letting you know whether your views are popular or not before you post it?