Wednesday, December 05, 2007

"Free speech has it’s legal limits. That’s life."

So sez this guy.

(Yes, it's another Canada story, but nicely illustrative. Besides, Australia got way more boring now that the Liberals are out on their arses, and the biggest story out of Europe seems to be that the only people in France who AREN'T buying an iPhone are the ones on strike.)

Who is he? Well, he's John Wright, and he got his knickers in a twist about comments that this guy made, suggesting that his polling firm might be a in its methodology.

Here are the actual complaints:

But we do care more about other things…

“Just a note for those of you who aren’t up on your statistical theory, polls with a 1000 person sample have a margin of error (MOE) of roughly +/- 3.1%. Thus it is almost statistically impossible that Ipsos-Reid could be so far off the mark of every other polling firm merely by chance or coincidence. It other words, given the numbers, it’s almost statistically impossible that Ipsos’s recent methodology isn’t radically flawed.”…that is dafamatory and could be actionable.

“The whole problem, of course, is that polls do seem to influence voter behaviour, at least to some extent, and if the polling firms are getting things wrong due to faulty methodology, they could be really screwing us around (eg. pushing the country into another election soon, because the conservatives think they will get a majority).”…this is actionable as well…

And this too: “Two things about polls, first, look at who pays for them. Ipsos is not a public service utility-somebody pays the cheque. Two interesting things about that is that sometimes parties will hire them-but everything stays confidential (although parties usually do their own polling, the tories called me the other day).”

And this as well: “Just an update, most of these surveys at Ipsos seem to be sponsored by Global and Canwest, who are quite noticeably conservative. It’s a ‘family company’ and so its easy to see why this view is portrayed, the National Post is hardly a beacon of objectivity, and Canwest is commonly known as the ‘Fox’ of Canada. So there you go.”

So, folks, let’s not waste time and words on “freedom of the web” and anything that says we are trying to “intimidate you”…honestly, good political discourse is fun…but when this stuff gets said and is now posted and defacto endorsed by a national political party, it is over the line.
Fun part about this quotation is that it's from the complaint he wrote, so I assume that repeating his own complaint by way of illustration is kosher.

(Though I'm getting a distinct "I'll sue you in England!" vibe here.)

Now, is this actually defamatory? Sure doesn't seem like it. The early stuff is suggestive, perhaps, but it suggests is not that the methodology is malicious, but that it's "flawed". There's a world of difference there. Trying to sue over that would be roughly equivalent to Apple suing over complaints that pre-OSX macs crashed too often: that doesn't imply that Apple is deliberately screwing their consumers, but that they've made a faulty product. Apple didn't sue anybody over that because they'd be laughed out of court.

The other part, suggesting that Ipsos' ties to conservative-leaning Canwest-Global might have pushed them towards leading polls, is a little more questionable. Here's the thing, though: while free speech may have "legal limits", political speech almost always does not. And, yes, discussion of political polling is definitely political speech. If Ipsos-Reid IS cooking their polls, or even slightly misleading, that is of gigantic importance to Canadian democracy, far more so than whether or not, say, Nike is buying their shoes from particularly sketchy Indonesians. Yes, it is embarassing for Ipsos-Reid, but that's life too. I'm sure Mike Huckabee would love to sue the Huffington Post, but he can't do that either.

To me, without prejudice, this smells of SLAPP. It's abundantly simple these days to publish poll comparatives that can reach however many people care to pay attention, and the sort of variation in polling numbers that might be glossed over by media outlets that can (and do) commission firms like Ipsos-Reid are going to be hauled out and displayed in the bright light of day. All this sort of intimidation tactic (if that is what it is) can do is rip down the discussion to basic facts, but those facts remain; and the facts suggest that, for whatever reason, Ipsos-Reid's polling numbers are far out of line with every other national polling firm in Canada.

Oh, one other fact. Anybody who argues this:

Second, if you believe that the Green Party is at 14% nationally–ahead of the NDP–then please tell your friend the tooth fairy to drop by…it is just possible that the over representation in some of those polls are causing this; it’s also possible that some questions are put at the end or that the data weighting is not done like ours.
...needs to get his ass to Europe for a while. Or maybe Australia, where a small-"c" conservative government just got handed their walking papers because of green issues. Yes, Virginia, green issues matter.

Statements like this do more damage to your credibility than anything some Saskatchewan blogger says.

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