Quality of exit polls worsening, Hong Kong pollster says

Head of HKU programme blames newcomers, political interference for lower professional standards

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 01 September, 2016, 1:26pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 01 September, 2016, 4:50pm

The quality of exit polls is being watered down by a slew of new competing entrants and political interference, an established Hong Kong pollster said.

Dr Robert Chung Ting-yiu, who heads the University of Hong Kong’s public opinion programme, also cited a lack of resources and general support from both the government and media for his institution’s decision to pull out of the Legislative Council election exit polls this Sunday.

The long-time provider of exit polls will not be collecting data for future academic research or real-time projections, but will instead run a “voluntary student project” at about 50 stations for this Sunday’s race.

Two Hong Kong TV stations to stop broadcasts of rolling poll results

“We had hoped to establish a good exit poll mechanism in Hong Kong. But after so many years, it seems to have failed. The government doesn’t respect professional exit polling development and is not willing to safeguard it,” Chung said in a Commercial Radio talk show.

He believed the ideal model would be the one adopted in the United States, where a few selected media outlets work with just one organisation that is allowed to conduct official exit polls inside stations.

This would help avoid voters being suspicious of whom they are providing data to or how it would be used – a prevalent problem in Hong Kong elections, Chung said.

Exit polls became controversial during Legco elections as early as 2008, when some polling organisations were accused of handing data over to political parties which then directed voters to candidate slates in danger of losing.

“To borrow a term from economics, bad money is driving out good money,” Chung said, referring to a key principle of Gresham’s law. “The government doesn’t think it’s a problem nor does it want to deal with it.”

Chung also said media organisations nowadays were less willing to provide financial backing for credible exit polling – a very expensive process – as they were now given free data from other so-called pollsters, but the accuracy of the information is not verified.

He was not optimistic that HKU would resume exit polls even on a smaller scale in the next Legco elections.

Meanwhile, Chung also defended its rolling poll, which was criticised last month by some political parties, whose candidates were shown as lagging, for its small sample size.

Chung said limited resources meant the sample size would be small at first and would get larger closer to polling day.