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German Elections and Samoan Sex Life · 2005-09-24

Eversince our recent federal elections here in Germany they beat the livin' jesus out of those opinion poll institutes. Well true, this time the surveys really were off track by at least five percent, concerning the poll leading conservative party CDU. Poll results that far away from actual election outcomes haven't been around in germany for decades.

Why is that? The opinion polling methods do have one thing in common. They not only extrapolate a sample to derive information about the whole. They put a whole lot of experience into it. Experience about how voters used to behave throughout decades. This time voters had other choices then they used to have. Of course this leads to a lack of accuracy. Take the emergence of the 'Left Party' which did influence the possible options of voters in the former west remarkably. Those who would vote for the Social Demokrats, mostly disillusioned by seven years of Social Democrat government, could vote further left for the first time, without being called a 'Stasi'. Since elections are won in the west, that option darkened the perspectives of the social democrats. But by what amount? Here you can see that opinion polling really works. The polls with respect to Left Party and Social Democats were quite precise.

Why did opinion polling fail so miserably on the conservative side of voters the spectrum? Because the permanent publishing of polling results during the election campaign induced an incentive to vote strategically on conservative voters. For a voter, who'd like to have a black-yellow-coalition, it could have seemed like a good idea to vote yellow this time. The polls said that black would win by a vast majority anyway. So, why not strengthen the market-liberal-tax-cut wing of the government to come. The results of the elections might propose that this strategy was common among conservative voters.

So, in the end the failure of this elections forcasts might well be the result of doing the forecast or to find a cute allegory: "Margaret Mead could never know the sexual mores of the Samoans — her very presence on the island distorted what she was there to observe" [Source]. This principle is often refered to as Goodhart's Law.

Peter Sloterdijk, a guy whose giftedness I doubt and who is often indroduced as a philosopher here in Germany, now demands, that opinion polls shall be banned during campaign periods. Maybe this time he is right. Though I don't know how Sloterdijk wants to enforce his ban.


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