#1 - JRL 7256
July 18, 2003
[translation from RIA Novosti for personal use only]
PRE-ELECTION RATINGS EVOKE NO TRUST
By Valery VYZHUTOVICH
Russia's Center for Public Opinion Studies (VTsIOM) published the results of its latest opinion polls a few days ago, which show that 27 percent of the electorate are prepared to vote for communists and 26 percent for United Russia.
So what? Even VTsIOM chief Yuri Levada is against blind trust in popularity ratings. "There is nothing unexpected or mysterious in ratings, but they are accompanied by much noise and misunderstanding. Why the interest among political scientists, political technologists and reporters in the results of opinion polls has been greater of late than their wish to understand how such figures appear and what they reflect? Why do they talk so much about ratings now when five months are left before the parliamentary elections and eight months before the presidential elections?
A la guerre comme a la guerre - combat operations, attacks, retreats, and secret weapons are all there. Each fights the way he can, but the main methods used are known. The crudest of them is rigging elections by "correcting" figures. Mark Urnov, board chairman of the Political Technologies Center and a well-known political scientist, reveals the mechanism of doing that: "One of the most widespread signs of swindle is when far-reaching conclusions are made about fluctuations in party ratings within false limits. For instance, a party that suddenly gets 6 percent in a rating instead of the usual 4 percent says for the whole country to hear that it is not a limit, because the party is the best and its rivals stand no chance to win, as their rating is one or two percent down. Experts see that it is cheating, but the voters don't." Anatoly Golov, director the Social Politics Institute, is even more categorical: "I may formulate only one principle of using honestly the results of opinion polls in an election campaign - show them to no one. Use them for local needs only, because otherwise either political interpretations or simply PR manipulations will begin."
Alexander Oslon, president of the Public Opinion Foundation, is of about the same view. "When experts are trying to draw conclusions on the basis of our figures, one is to take into account a few myths associated with this. First, a myth that a rating is an exact reflection of the reality. Second, a myth that the mood of the voters can be judged by two or three percent. On the other hand, the myth that public opinion polls are all incorrect is just as wrong as the myth that the whole population trusts them."