The Art of Conversation is back after a nice Summer break.
These last few months turned out to have been quite eventful. In the UK, the Conservatives won an overall majority to become the sole party in government, after hundreds of polls predicted a hung parliament.
There has been a great deal of soul-searching among pollsters in the UK. The British Polling Council proved themselves to be masters of understatement: "The final opinion polls before the election were clearly not as accurate as we would like."
The enquiry is apparently ongoing but it is likely that the causes of the predictive failure go well beyond methodological tinkering. Surely there is some systemic failure, a fatal flaw in how we go about trying to predict future behaviour by simply asking people what they intend to do.
A great deal has already been written about this, but nothing as clear and well-argued as this article by
John Kearon. John demonstrated how it wasn't so much that people “defied the polls” as that polling "failed to predict the people".
The fatal flaw in polling is that it tries to measure how we'll vote based on our rational processing, our ‘System 2’ brain (Kahneman). But as behavioural science has shown, our decisions are driven by our instinctive ‘System 1’ brain, which deals in our experience and emotional impressions.
In other words, we vote, we choose, we behave, according to how we feel. At the time. A response to a question like how will you vote or will you buy this product is not a prediction but is a position.
But we all instinctively know this. Which makes the continuation of question-and-answer forms of market research all the more puzzling. And while opinion polls are the best known form of market research, they could not be further from what we do (in qualitative research).
But there is no room for complacency and qualitative research is very word-bound, over-dependent on interpreting what people say.
So we have undertaken an experiment. It was to carry out a research study using pictures (photographs) instead of slavishly following only what people say. We shall report on this shortly ...