Are Suan Dusit Poll’s question biased in favour of the government and the likeability factor?
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Are Suan Dusit Poll’s question biased in favour of the government and the likeability factor?

The Bangkok Post on December 29, 2012:

The role of Mr Sukhum in organising the forums has drawn doubts from his critics and the public over whether forum proceedings will be unbiased. One criticism is that the latest findings of the Suan Dusit Poll have been viewed as allegedly having ”certain purposes” or were ”being done under orders from the political field”.

Many Suan Dusit Poll opinion surveys are regarded as being carried out to please the government, especially Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.

The poll results, according to observers, can help build a good image for the Yingluck government or at least draw favourable public attention to it.

A Suan Dusit Poll question about the end of the world, which became the talk of the town last week, was especially controversial. The pollsters asked sample groups of Thais that if the earth collapsed, who would be the person they would most want to survive. It was heavily attacked, especially in the social media, for being one of ”the most idiotic surveys”.

The Bangkok Post:

Veteran journalist Manich Sooksomchitra has resigned as acting chairman of Suan Dusit Rajabhat University’s council, saying he can no longer stand the university’s pro-government stance.

Suan Dusit Poll was biased in favour of the Pheu Thai government, which showed in the way it designed surveys, he said.

He was also upset by the university taking up an Interior Ministry assignment to organise 108 seminars nationwide to discuss the government’s charter rewrite proposal.

Mr Manich, a former president of the Thai Journalists Association, said he didn’t have any personal conflicts with anyone at Suan Dusit.

But I just can’t accept public opinion surveys which were carried out simply to please the people in power,” he said.

Suan Dusit Poll’s questions were not in line with the principles of public opinion survey practice.

He said he could not believe respondents were asked, for instance, which politicians they wanted to survive the prospect of a doomsday. The pollster gave them a list of politicians rather than leaving the question open-ended as it should have been.

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra emerged as the politician who most people wanted to survive doomsday.

BP: Look, it seems fine to raise the question of biased as the university is organising nationwide seminars – then again it seems preferable to have an outside entity organise the seminars than the Interior Ministry doing so themselves – but his major beef is not that, but a single poll.

That poll was a Suan Dusit Poll which surveyed 1,461 people between December 12-18, 2012. Below are the 4 questions:

Q1: What do you think of the news that the world will end on December 21, 2012?

A. Don’t believe it, not true/won’t happen, 83.62%

B. It is just a rumour spread to create news, 8.57%

C. There may be a natural incident that will occur or related to the solar universe, 7.81%

Q2: Do you believe December 21, 2012 will be the end of the world as per the reports?

A. Don’t believe, 92.45%

B. Believe partly (i.e maybe some solar event, but it won’t lead to the end of the world), 6.46%

C. Believe, 1.09%

Q3: If the end of the world is real, what do you pray for?

A. If there is a next life, I want to be born again in this family and with those I love, 58.04%

B. That myself and those I love are saved and we can build a new world, 31.16%

C. Hope there is no repeat, 10.8%

Q4: Out of 7 Thai politicians would you want to survive if the end of the world was true?

A. Yingluck, 32.35%

B. Abhisit,  19.48%

C. Thaksin, 12.86%

D. Chuan Leekpai,  10.66%

E. Chuwit, 9.92%

F. Chalerm,  9.19%

G. Banharn,  5.54%

BP: BP doesn’t usually take much interest in polls which are worded this way.

Reuters/Ipsos conducted a poll of 20 countries about the December 21 Mayan calendar prophecies so such a poll is hardly some bizarre practice limited to Suan Dusit. Now, of course, we don’t want a new poll each week asking people on their views on the end of the world, but a single poll on the end of the world is hardly a matter to get worked up about given such polls were also carried out in other countries.

Manich’s main frustration seems to be with Q4. First, that the poll singled out 7 politicians for people to choose from and it was not an open-ended question. BP would prefer it be open-ended, but does the choice of 7 names really favour the government? Three are from Puea Thai/affiliated with Puea Thai; two from the Democrats; one from a coalition partner, and another from a party in the opposition. We have 4 from the government side and 3 from the opposition. Given the results of the last election, the choice of the 7 politicians hardly seems unreasonable. It is not as though all 7 are from the government side and there is no one from the opposition for people to choose from. In fact, the 7 names are probably 7  of the most 10 popular politicians.

Second, he seems upset that a question was asked in the first place. In BP’s view, the question is clearly a likeability question. In the US in particular, many polls frequently ask questions about a candidates likeability, often known as the “beer test” question.

MSBNC video spot from April 30, 2012:

‘The Brew Factor’: Which candidate would you rather have a beer with?

MSNBC political analyst Richard Wolffe and marketing expert & journalist Goldie Taylor talk about the “it” factor, and whether personality is important when picking the next President.

NPR from September 2012:

There’s an old shorthand for likeability in politics: “Which candidate would you rather have a beer with?”

Polls show President Obama has been winning that likeability contest. And he’s been raising a lot of frosty mugs on the campaign trail, hoping to press his advantage over the teetotaling Mitt Romney.

ABC News from September 2012:

By a 13 point margin — 49-36 percent — registered voters polled by ABC News chose the president over Mitt Romney to nurse them back to health.

When asked who they thought “would make a more loyal friend,” the results were about the same. By a 50-36 percent count, respondents said Obama was more likely to stick with them through trying times.

As for suppertime, still more ugly numbers for Romney. Fifty-two percent of registered voters polled by ABC News said they’d rather have Obama visit their homes for dinner. Just 33 percent said they’d prefer Romney at the table.

But it’s not a total wipeout for the Republican. On what ABC News poll chief Gary Langer calls the most instructive question — which candidate they’d rather have “as the captain of a ship in a storm” — Romney loses to Obama, but by just three points, 46-43 percent.

USA Today from 2004:

At a prayer breakfast the morning after the third 1988 presidential debate in Los Angeles, Democratic candidate Michael Dukakis turned to Jesse Jackson and said, “Jesse, there’s a new word in the political lexicon — ‘likability.’

The befuddled Dukakis was responding to critics who said the rather wooden Massachusetts governor lost the debate because he failed to project “likability” in his face-off with then-Vice President George H.W. Bush.

Critics referred specifically to his mechanical response when asked if he would favor the death penalty if his wife were raped and murdered.

Dukakis never got it. He believed being hardworking, honest, knowledgeable, experienced and articulate were the main qualifications for president. What’s to like?

He lost, in large part, because he never connected on a personal level with most American voters. They found his dour, eat-your-peas personality hard to take.

Now, another son of Massachusetts, John Kerry, finds himself facing the likability hurdle as he runs for president. And a high one it is indeed.

President Bush, despite his many problems, strikes most of the American people as a pretty nice guy — the kind of guy they would feel comfortable with if he showed up at their front door. The more standoffish Kerry projects little warmth.

But for the most part, Bush is seen as the friendly neighbor next door. A new Pew Research Center Poll asked swing voters who comes off more as a “real person,” Bush or Kerry? Bush won, 56% to 38%.

BP: Although, some political scientists have cast doubt whether higher likeability translates into victory at the polls, questions on likeability are regularly asked by pollsters, particularly in the US.  For Manich to criticize Suan Dusit for asking a likeability question shows just little he actually knows about polling questions.  

It is one thing to say the questions are stupid and pointless – although BP does think you can discern some data on likeability of the various politicians from Q4 – but based on the poll cited, BP doesn’t see a case of bias…