Confirmed cases

Polling Ethics: An Open Letter to Peter Wickham

Peter, it’s time to stop hiding.

For years, you’ve hopped from island to island and ‘prognosticated’ about who is going to win an election. In some cases, you’ve had an impact on the results. When the population hears that one side or another is winning, they are more likely to vote for that winning side out of a desire to ensure that they are on the ‘good side’ of the incoming government. This is an incredibly rational thing for people to do and a behaviour that is backed up by social science.

Now, I have no problem with you going into the media. I have no problem with you giving your opinion. We are a free Caribbean people and we are free to express our views. The problem I have is that you don’t disclose your paymasters.

The truth of the matter, here in Saint Lucia, is that you’ve worked for the SLP and the UWP. And the other truth of the matter is that whenever you are a paid operative of one side or another, your opinion is coloured by your paymasters. Polling numbers are indeed polling numbers, but interpretation of those polling numbers can be highly subjective and is quite problematic when you are being actively paid by one side which has an express and inherent desire to make itself look as good as possible.

In the United States, there is a non-partisan professional association called the American Association of Public Opinion Research (AAPOR). They have published a Code of Ethics for pollsters and opinion researchers. Within that code of ethics is a statement that pollsters should disclose who sponsored the poll when they report on the results for maximum transparency. AAPOR writes in their Code of Ethics, Standards of Disclosure section, “We will include the following items in any report of survey research results or make them available immediately upon release of that report: 1. Who sponsored the survey and who conducted it. If different from the sponsor, the original sources of funding will also be disclosed.”

Peter, you should follow this ethical standard. You have the power to increase transparency in the Caribbean region so that we, the people, can have full information and can make an informed opinion based on all of the facts. I certainly think you should continue to speak out. Your voice is welcome in the debate and I am a fervent believer in free speech. I simply ask that you acknowledge your obligations to the people you seek to inform by fully adhering to the AAPOR Code of Ethics. Then, together, we can build a more transparent Caribbean.
Herbert Joseph


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