Monthly Archives: February 2014

The role play of respondents. The Pantomime of Polls.

Used car, low mileage…contact your local, friendly Member of Parliament

I do think a lot of social opinion research misses a big point. We’re not supposed to love Politicians. It’s our role as voters to distrust them. We revel in it. That’s how we’re wired. Sure, we trudge off to the polling booth to vote for them. And of course we devote hours immersed in the news cycles each month following their every move. But trust them??

And such is the disconnect between many earnest poll questions and the realities of public opinion. Today a trusted colleague, a professional I greatly respect, tweeted over a link to a disturbing new poll. New polls are always disturbing. (They play a role too.)  The figures said that few of us trust either the Government or Market Researchers with their data. Maybe I’m just getting ho-hum about having my profession bagged in every latest disturbing study, but I wondered whether my colleagues had missed something in their research. 

For sure, it is one thing to know that only 30% of us trust our Governments with our data. (Frankly I’m surprised that it is that much.) But if the other 70% have some or serious distrust on the issue – do they actually give a damn about it?

In other words we are used to measuring the breadth of sentiment, but often we do little to measure the depth of sentiment. Have those 70% written to their MP about Privacy? Have they signed a petition? Shared an angry tweet? Marched down main street?

Polls going back for decades have demonstrated the fixed social role the public allocates politicians and us pollsters. We’re always down near the bottom of the trusted profession list: cellar-dwellers with our favorite bad guys: the used  car salesmen.  But these results are a role play; a social construct – they are part of our culture. So I’m no longer shocked or amused about who wears the bad hats in this public play.

In Pantomime we know there’s going to be a big bad wolf. I do think it is time to ask deeper questions that dig beneath these paradoxes:

  • If you distrust retailers (or car salespeople) – how come you still buy from them?
  • If you  ‘hate the media” how come you watch the news and TV for as many hours per week as in the 1970s?
  • If you distrust polls, how come you read them?

These are paradoxes that, were we to find some answers, would reveal a lot about the trade-offs and real values of the public we love to measure.

Who is she and why is she saying such horrible things?


In my country twitter was running hot this week over a suicide of a TV and Woman’s Mag celebrity. More to the point it was running hot about the commentaries ABOUT the suicide. One in particular received a particularly vitriolic reaction in the social media – it was by Herald columnist Deborah Hill-Cone who savaged the individual who committed suicide and, although claiming never to have met the victim, put forward a full diagnosis (age, fading beauty, lack of attention) as to why suicide was the answer. It was an insensitive, in fact odious piece of writing,

The reaction was swift and angry and by my count only two tweeters reacted positively to the piece (“on the money”) while the vast majority attacked the article and the writer.

Does Deborah Hill Cone have twitter? I’d like to tell her how wrong & terrible her post is. Id tell her respectfully, not like she has been.

“Today, I’m alive and she’s dead.” By Deborah Hill Cone. Unacceptable breach of humanity.

Wow. I don’t read the NZ Herald regularly, but Deborah Hill Cone‘s article today is just plain ghastly and abhorrent. One to miss for sure.

In which Deborah Hill Cone uses telepathy to work out what it was “that claimed Charlotte”.

Just read Deborah Hill Cone‘s article in NZ Herald. I wish I hadn’t. What a cruel, callous human being.

To Deborah Hill Cone of the @nzherald regarding her article on Charlotte Dawson – you are a disgusting human being

90 percent of the media are maggots, Debra Hill Cone climbed the top of that heap. #kickingsome1whentherdown

You get the drift. There were three reasons that people were so inflamed by the piece which was, at its most generous, judged to be ill-timed and unfortunately worded.

  1. The moral question of decency. Kicking somebody when they were only hours dead broke a cultural taboo.
  2. The fundamental inaccuracy of the column. How on earth could a columnist who had never met the victim even guess at what was or wasn’t going through the mind of the suicidal individual?
  3. The lack of authority of the writer. Put simply: who was she to judge?

This credibility or authenticity and authority is an important component of reputation. When I did a big desk study on reputation a few years ago I was struck by how we could be impressed by people even if we didn’t like their work. Madonna? Don’t like her music – but I admire her ability to work hard, to read the market and to constantly reinvent herself. She’s a trouper, and you can’t knock that. She has built up these bona fides over a 35 year career.  Quite a feat.

Or take Tupac Shakur, (above) a rap legend who didn’t have time to build up his bona fides. Yes, but he still spoke and sang with authority because of the depth of his experience. His time inside jail for example, or his life amidst the gangstas of LA. I disliked his music when it first came out, but nowadays, long after he was gunned down, I can finally appreciate the artistry, creativity and authenticity of his music. It took me 20 years to get here, while his fans have been loyal from the second he opened his mouth. They heard; they recognised his authority.

Newspaper columnists and media commentators can also build up their credibility. I’m thinking of Alastair Cook who, over decades, earned our trust. He had access to top subjects, but more than that, he demonstrated a deep fascination for the little telling details and the beautifully crafted sentence. I’m thinking of Chicago Trib columnist Mike Royko who, in his heyday of the 1970s, kept scratching below the layers of political, commercial and social bullshit to bring us true stories. They weren’t always big stories, but you could trust their veracity.

But this week’s minor blow up showed how, without established bona fides, a person’s reputation can easily collapse. I’ve often talked about “forgivability” as a factor of reputation, and this year have been puzzling over what it is that makes one action forgivable, or not. Why might we stay loyal to some brand, or sports star – even after they stumble – while at the same time why might we bay for blood the moment somebody, in this case a NZ Herald columnist, put a foot wrong.

The answer is trust. And trust is built up through credibility: through a solid track record that we can scrutinise and understand.

What an idiot. She doesn’t understand depression, and has a very skewed and narrow view on life. IDIOT.

what a great way to start an article “I know nothing about you, but …”

Deborah Hill Cone your piece says more about who you R than anything about Charlotte. Anything […more..] narcissistic than an Opinion Piece?

In the words of the tweet critics our author didn’t know the subject, didn’t know the victim and was basically engaged in an exercise of narcissism.  What was missing from the discussion were people defending her. There were no, “look, I think she raised a fair point…” or “give Deborah her due – she gets it right 95% of the time, I happen to disagree with her this time…”  None of that.

What Deborah Hill-Cone does in future is up to her. But if she wants to position herself as the columnist who speaks cruel truths, then she needs to build her bona fides with her public. It could be a long hard slog.