Dean released poll too early
Peter So and Simpson Cheung
The head of Baptist University's School of Communication has come under fire for releasing data from a popularity survey on chief executive candidates before the study was officially completed.
Professor Zhao Xinshu, who also heads the HongCOMM Survey Lab which conducted the study, issued on Friday preliminary results showing that the gap between front runner Leung Chun-ying and his rival Henry Tang Ying-yen had narrowed to 6.5 percentage points, from 12.9 percentage points in December.
This was based on a telephone survey of 836 people between January 9 and 11. But the survey ran until January 14, covering a total of 1,005 people, and put the support rate gap at 8.9 percentage points.
The lab went on to release the additional statistics on Tuesday.
Zhao, dean of the communication school, said he decided to release results early so he could get high media exposure before last weekend's presidential election in Taiwan.
'To be honest, I wanted the poll result to be covered by the media. Therefore I decided to release the results ahead of the presidential election,' said Zhao.
However, critics said the move was highly irregular in conducting surveys, and had confused and misled the public.
Professor Li Pang-kwong, director of the public governance programme at Lingnan University, said Zhao's decision also undermined the survey's credibility.
'They should have told the public that the survey was [ongoing]. Otherwise, the public cannot compare the poll results directly,' Li said, adding that the dean should have taken note of the Taiwanese election's schedule and timed the survey better.
Assistant Professor To Yiu-ming, from Baptist University's journalism department, said the premature release was misleading because the data exaggerated the margin by which support for Tang and Leung had narrowed.
'Either the decision was an ignorant one or it was motivated by some special reason. The researcher this time has made a serious mistake both technically and professionally,' To said.
However, Zhao dismissed the charges, saying his decision did not change the fact that the race between the two candidates became tighter.
'There was enough sample size for the poll on Friday and therefore we decided to release the result. It was not a matter of releasing the result earlier,' he said.
Zhao also denied any political pressure behind his decision, adding that the two releases came to a similar conclusion: The popularity gap had indeed narrowed. 'The sample size might have a bit of difference, but the results were similar.'
But To, a spokesman for the university's faculty and staff union, said he was worried the controversy could hurt the university's reputation. He urged the university's president, Professor Albert Chan Sun-chi, to launch an investigation into the incident.