Plugging an information gap

Michael Haggett argues we need more regular opinion polling on Welsh issues

One thing I’ve particularly missed over the past few months has been the monthly opinion poll by YouGov commissioned by ITV Wales. Of course I can understand why ITV decided not to keep it up. The referendum on primary lawmaking powers and the Assembly elections were big events in the Welsh political calendar and they were enough to justify a month-by-month analysis of political opinion in the lead up period. But as a political junkie, I have to say that I’m suffering withdrawal symptoms and am in desperate need of a regular fix. I’d like to think I’m not alone.

It’s probably fair to say that there is a general consensus that Wales is not as well served as it could be in terms of either informing or measuring public opinion on social and political issues. From this report a few weeks ago, it seems likely that the Assembly’s Communities, Equality and Local Government Committee will launch an inquiry into the state of the Welsh media in September. This is long overdue and badly needed.

In this respect, it’s worth noting that it is newspapers that are largely responsible for commissioning opinion polls in the UK as a whole. However, in Wales — probably because we do not have a strong print media of our own — the broadcast media have had to step in to fill the gap. It was good while it lasted, and if it had proved to be sustainable on a long-term basis there wouldn’t now be a problem. But it wasn’t sustainable. Therefore we need to look seriously at other ways of filling that gap.

Over the past few years I’ve been following the situation in Catalonia and Euskadi, and these two countries provide us with examples of how this problem could be solved.

For example the Generalitat, the Government of Catalunya, has set up the Centre d’Estudis d’Opinió, which conducts a comprehensive survey of public opinion four times each year as the Baròmetre d’Opinió Política. The sample size is 2,500 and the survey covers a wide range of socio-political questions including what issues people consider most important, what media they use to obtain information, and their opinions of political parties. Euskadi produces a similar Eusko Barometro, but twice a year and with a sample size of 1,200. I particularly like the Catalan version, and would recommend that people look through the latest survey to see the range of questions asked. It is much more than, “If there were an election tomorrow, who would you vote for?” Cut and paste the text from the pdf into Google Translate if any of the questions are unclear. That’s what I do.

There is no reason why the Welsh Government should not use public money to set up something similar in Wales. It would serve a number of purposes: it would give everybody interested in politics and public policy a much better idea of how people in Wales see certain issues; it would help both political parties and other organizations to formulate better policies that are more relevant to what people in Wales want; and it would help stimulate a more informed public debate in the media.

Political debate in Wales is too shallow, often consisting of assertions made without any real grounds for support followed by knee-jerk reactions from all the usual suspects. Our media in Wales might well be weak, but perhaps the uncomfortable truth is that we’ve only got the media that our current level of public debate and involvement deserves. How can we expect our level of public debate to become more mature or our national media to grow stronger without giving them something much more solid to feed on?

Michael Haggett blogs regularly on Welsh matters here

8 thoughts on “Plugging an information gap

  1. In fact the situation in Wales is worsened by the “statistics” that we do see quoted in the press. Take this example in the Caerphilly Observer;

    It was a story covered in the Daily Post, Western Mail and on BBC Cymru. In this case the state does pay for the survey, via the Welsh Language Board but the WLBs standards of what constitutes a reliable survey are historically very low. In this case, although they pretend to have a Wales wide survey they have in fact only a sample of 125 from six schools. Worse still, they claim that non Welsh parents have no problem with sending children to Welsh Medium Schools. The survey recorded that EVERY ONE of those parents were concerned with their inability to help their children with homework.

  2. Sometimes surveys which are unreliable actually shape Government policy; this one for instance
    http://www.consumerfocus.org.uk/wales/publications/gwasaniaithau-consumers-and-the-welsh-language
    Was quoted in a Government document on Language policy. Of course it is misused and misquoted more frequently in the press;
    http://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/wales-news/2011/08/15/new-language-commissioner-must-name-and-shame-firms-91466-29235559/#ixzz1V5TC30rn

    Here we have The Welsh Language society claiming that the survey shows figures for the WHOLE of Wales, “A whopping 80%”. The survey infact was of less than 800 Welsh speakers only, balanced between fluent and non fluent. It showed that only 50% of the survey thought that Welsh language services were important to them PERSONALLY from the private sector. (57% from the Public sector)

    The most important statistic for gauging uptake of Welsh Language services was left out entirely; given a choice of answering the questionnaire in English or Welsh…..only 24% chose Welsh.

    These figures explain why even the best provider of Welsh Language services in the private sector, Dwr Cymru, has only a 6% uptake of its telephone services.

  3. Excellent example from the Catalan Generalitat. A range of opinion data on socio-economic issues (not just party polling) would be useful to the development of a Welsh democracy, and should be pursued by the Assembly Commission as part of their work.

  4. It’s no surprise to see that “Sion Jones” is telling lies. For anybody that is interested, the full data from first survey is here. As I noted here, the press release wasn’t as accurate as it should have been, but there’s nothing wrong with the survey itself. As we can all see, it certainly does not show “that EVERY ONE of those parents were concerned with their inability to help their children with homework.”

    That should give people an idea of the degree of trust that can be put on what he says in his third comment. There’s some truth there, just read the survey, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find he’s embellished it in his usual way.

  5. Well Michael Haggett time will tell since the WLB are due to respond to the complaint in the next few weeks.

    Question 3 shows that 82 parents responded to the question:

    3. Does that fact that you don’t speak Welsh affect you in assisting in your child’s Education?

    It is directed to non Welsh speakers, of which there are 81 in the (utterly pathetic) sample of 125. Since there was a “Yes” response of 82 and logically the rest are Welsh speakers only my comment that “EVERY ONE……was concerned about their inability to help with homework” was accurate.

    Perhaps MH would be more comfortable defending the indefensible over on “Syniadau” where he can censor out all opposition to his own dishonesty.

    Read; http://www.straightstatistics.org/article/welsh-language-board-disowns-survey-its-chair-extols

    I’m sure you would like to apologise for calling me a liar….repeatedly Michael.

  6. What the last comment from “Sion Jones” shows is that all survey information is open to interpretation. That is why, in relation to the survey for BYIG, I asked for the full information after I saw the Straight Statistics criticism, and updated the article on Syniadau when I got it to include a link to the full results of the survey. When I did so, I specifically criticised the press release for not accurately reflecting what the survey said. So I am certainly not “defending” the press release, in fact I did exactly the opposite. BYIG told me they were embarrassed by the press release, which they said had not been prepared by them and was released without being approved by them. I can well understand that, though obviously BYIG were at fault for putting the release on their website … but they did then remove it.

    However the inaccuracies in the press release do not invalidate the survey itself. All any survey can do is ask questions and record the answers given.

    As regards the specific question about whether not speaking Welsh affected the parent’s ability to assist in their child’s education, 66% said yes and 34% said no. As “Sion” has already noted, that number does not tally with the number who said they were a Welsh speaker, and in other questions people did not answer as exactly as they should have (for example some people gave more than one answer when only one was asked for) and there is a difference between answering no and not applicable. So it is far from clear that EVERY ONE of the parents who couldn’t speak Welsh answered yes; it is an assumption. But that said, it is not an unreasonable assumption, and I should not have have said it was an example of one of his lies. With hindsight, I think I was reacting more to the Straight Statistics article than to what was said in the comment here, where the allegation was that the press release said the opposite of what the survey found. I’ll repeat what I said on Syniadau:

    “Obviously, the fact that parents can’t themselves speak Welsh will affect their ability to help their children’s education, and that particular question was asked in the context of then asking about the support available to parents. But that’s not the same thing as saying it hinders their children’s education.”

    The Straight Statistics article was an example of twisting the truth to suit a particular agenda. And, as it happens, it was in fact guilty of the very same thing it was criticizing: it thought it could get away with “spinning” the story because the original survey was not available for people to check for themselves.

    I’ll leave it to others to decide whether I am dishonest or not. However the main reason why “Sion” has had comments removed from Syniadau is because—as I have explained to him on several occasions—he refuses to provide evidence to back up the figures he quotes to support his opinions. His usual practice is to include something which is true, but then to tell blatant lies (based on the information I do know where to find) supposedly backed up by figures which he refuses to substantiate.

    I don’t know whether the figures he quotes at the end of the third comment here are correct or not. But over the years I’ve learned to accept no figure he quotes without him providing evidence to back it up, so that the rest of us can see for ourselves whether it is correct and in what context it was given.

  7. Sorry seems to be the hardest word, does it not, Michael Haggertt? The problem is that you have invested too much in rubbishing the opinions of other people to properly scrutinise the evidence base of your own.

    When it comes to Polls (to return to the topic) Wales is poorly served, as you remark, but I reiterate that Government money does go into polling via such bodies as the Welsh Language Board or Consumer focus. What is missing is proper oversight. These two bodies are answerable to no one when it comes to the design and content of their polls.

    The problem is that when (in the case of the WLB) you invest £13.8 Million in a body and ask them to promote the Welsh Language and monitor the growth of Welsh speaking then those two tasks become interrelated. Polls and statistics are meant to give a snapshot of the TRUTH not act as a vindication of the actions of the body organising the poll or (even worse) become a tool of persuasion.

    This is not the first time that the WLB has been caught out…..virtually every poll it has run is suspect in one way or another but publicity is instant and the slow process of uncovering just how disingenuous they have been means that people like you can disseminate false information with impunity whilst censoring all informed criticism.

    Is this not reminiscent of the actions of Totalitarians everywhere?

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