Trust in surveys undermined, pollsters warn

PUBLISHED : Friday, 05 September, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 05 September, 2008, 12:00am

Response drops over exit poll fears

Pollsters warned yesterday that public trust in election surveys had been compromised, after recent controversy over the use of exit poll data.

A study project by Chinese University's Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies, which has been seeking people's voting preferences in Sunday's Legislative Council election since early last month, saw its response rate on Wednesday fall by about 10 per cent compared with Tuesday, after political parties and the media raised concerns over the use of exit poll results for canvassing purposes, and pan-democrats appealed to voters to decline exit poll interview requests.

'Last night when we conducted our telephone interviews, some people responded that they had been asked by political parties not to answer. Some even expressed doubts on our neutrality, asking us whether we would share the information with political parties,' the institute's associate director Timothy Wong Ka-ying said of the immediate effect of the controversy.

Regretting that pan-democrats had called for people to ignore exit pollsters' interview requests, Professor Wong said opinion polls should not be influenced by political rows.

Li Pang-kwong, director of the public governance programme at Lingnan University, said more voters might refuse to answer exit polls and some might even provide fake answers on Sunday, undermining the reliability of results.

Chinese University political scientist Ma Ngok said: 'The response rates of this year's election exit polls will certainly be affected, including those carried out by academic institutions. Until the Electoral Affairs Commission agrees to regulate exit polls, voters will think these polls are not neutral. If public mistrust persists, this will harm the reliability of polls in the long run.'

University of Hong Kong pollster Robert Chung Ting-yiu's plan to release exit poll data to five media organisations before voting closed triggered concerns over a possible effect on people's voting preferences in case of data leaks. However, he said yesterday that a short-term small reduction in survey response rates would be healthy if it was a result of raised awareness by the public.

'If public suspicion remains because of a lowering of professionalism by survey organisations, this is not something happening recently, but an effect accumulated in recent years,' Dr Chung said at a forum hosted by Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor.

The group's director, Law Yuk-kai, said its election observers would pay particular attention to any misleading interviewers on Sunday.

Three days before the election, the Registration and Electoral Office had not published information of organisations approved to conduct exit polls. The office said yesterday it would post results from all counting stations in the central media centre for the election, a day after political parties criticised it for intending to scrap the practice.