Media Polls – The Hanson Effect

Posted on Mon 10/27/2008 by


After this election is done and dusted, there will be an awful lot of questions, and everybody will be questioning everything.

However, one question will be puzzling everybody, and that will be one about the pre election polls.

Now, the heading above, ‘The Hanson Effect’, will mean nothing to you, but here in Australia, it is the term that became quite well known after three elections, when media polls were so hopelessly out of sync with how the vote actually turned out.

Pauline Hanson was a minor politician and was selected to represent her Party at a Federal Election. She was running against a popular Labor Party member in a seat that was one of the safest for that party, and she was not even expected to run third, let alone get anywhere near winning. Prior to the election, she made some controversial statements, and when word got back to the Party who selected her to run in the seat, they disowned what she said, and then deselected her. The trouble with that was the papers for the election had already been drawn up, and nominations had long closed, so her party did not get to run a candidate, and she ended up running as an Independent. The things she said were blown out of all proportion by the media who called her every name under the sun, and she was expected to poll even lower than was the expectation when she was backed by the major Party. However, what she said actually was what the public had been waiting to hear, and it struck a chord with those voters in that electorate. She safely won the seat against all the odds, and entered the House of Representatives as an Independent.

(For background on Pauline Hanson, see these two posts.)

Whenever she spoke, the media made huge mileage, vilifying her, both politically, and personally. Every side of politics intensely distanced themselves from virtually everything she said, but her popularity increased. The fear amongst other politicians was so high that they changed the boundaries of the electorate she was in, making her base marginal, and at that next election she lost her seat in a close run thing, a three year momentary shooting star that burned out. The fear was that her popularity might increase and that, emboldened by that she might form her own Party and challenge the big two, so they were both united against her, probably the only time they have agreed on anything.

However, she had developed a widespread constituency throughout the community and she was persuaded to form her own political party, which she did while still a member of the Federal House of Representatives. That party under her own name, Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party, ran in the State election for the State of Queensland. In a bold move, her party nominated people in nearly every one of the 89 seats. As she was a member of the Federal Government, she could not also run for a State seat, but her party did run.

Prior to the election, there was a poll virtually every three days or so for the four week campaign. Every one of those polls said that she was marginalised at best, and that her party would not win one seat, and in fact would not even go close to winning a seat, as the two major parties machines were the consistent parties that the voters went for. The best polling that her party garnered for any of those polls in any place across the State was averaged at around 6%, with one seat actually as high as 10%. That then drew the media attention to that area and they labelled the region ‘redneck’, and numerous other names.

Election day came and in the wash up as the numbers rolled in, it was soon patently obvious that her party had indeed gained a good following. After numbers were counted, it worked out that her party had won 11 of the 89 seats, an absolutely astounding result for basically what was just a party of Independents with only a few policies. They were actually close to winning even more seats, resolved when the two major parties, bitter enemies at all other times, swapped preferences and the result saw them elected.

After the vote was counted, it was shown that her party had won 26% of the total number of votes cast in the State.

The answer is in the nature of the polls themselves. All sections of the media vilifies her personally, and by extrapolation, her party, and when the pollsters independently rang voters and asked their questions, they correctly noted the answers as given. When asked the question ‘Do you support Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party?’ the response was always ‘no’ in nearly every case. The problem was that the voters being polled were asked to give their opinion to another person, and the impression in nearly every case was that the voter did not want even the anonymous person on the other end of the phone to think of them in a negative way, so they gave the answer that they did.

However, on voting day, in the privacy of the polling booth, no one knows how you voted, so you mark your ballot without having a single other person knowing how you voted.

That was why her Party got the numbers it did, because even after the results were out, a further poll again produced the 6% number. Everyone who voted for her Party did so in private, yet when asked they said that they did not vote for her.

The media actually gave it a name. ‘The Hanson Effect’. It worked in a similar vein for a further State election in New South Wales and then again at a further Sate Election in Queensland, three years after that first when her party did so well. At each of those elections, here popularity was waning as the intense media pressure took its toll, and every political Party directed their voters away from the Party, which fragmented and then finally disintegrated.

So, the same applies in the US. People will be asked over the phone to give their voting intent to another person, and they will not risk that person thinking of them in disparaging terms, so they will give the safe answer. Hence the polls so far all seem to favour Obama, but when the results do come in, be prepared for the actual result result to differ markedly from what the polls might suggest before the vote.

That same effect will carry over to this US election in much the same manner as it did here in Australia. You won’t call it the Hanson Effect, but it will be the same.

In the privacy of the voting booth, no one knows how you cast your vote.

These are the questions that will be asked the most in the days following this momentous election.

The question on the mouths of everyone on the Monday morning was how had the polls got it so dramatically wrong.