Why are political opinion polls getting it wrong more often?

May 22nd, 2019 by Roger Darlington

It is my contention that, across the democratic world, opinion pollsters are finding it harder to forecast accurately how political parties will do in elections and, on occasions, are getting the overall result wrong. Opinion polling is a complex matter and different companies use different methodologies, but all pollsters have the same problems of reaching the right people to construct a representative sample and of tracking short-term changes in voting intention.

The most dramatic recent case of poor polling in Britain was the General Election of May 2015 when the polls had Labour and Conservative neck-and-neck but in fact the Conservatives did significantly better than Labour. I have blogged about why the polls got it wrong on that occasion.

Essentially the problem was that some voters are easier to contact than others. Polling is becoming more difficult because fewer homes have a landline, many people do not like to answer unsolicited calls, not everyone is on the Net, volunteers for online polling are somewhat self-selecting, older people are less likely to be contacted by pollsters but more likely to vote, and those who are busy with work are less likely to be available but often more conservative.

The most recent international example of the pollsters getting it wrong was in last week’s General Election in Australia. All the polls forecast a Labour victory but the Liberal-National coalition was returned to power. What went wrong in the polling process? It is too soon to be sure but one pollster has already offered some reflections.

I was struck particularly the observation: “the polls were actually an accurate reflection of where the public was at the start of the week, and there was a move to the government in the final days of the campaign … We always knew there was a large cohort of voters with extremely light engagement.”

I think that what we are seeing is more voter fluidity. Class used to be the major determinant of voting behaviour and class does not change quickly, but class seems no longer to be the dominant factor that it was. Voters seem to be more willing to change support from election to election and even, in the course of the campaign, from week to week and day to day.

In a way, this is healthy for a democracy. It means that voters are thinking about their choices and willing to be influenced by the campaigns of the parties. But it can mean that voters are less engaged with politics and likely to be influenced by ephemeral factors.

What do you think?

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The spellbinding voice and tragic life of the Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin

May 21st, 2019 by Roger Darlington

“Amazing Grace” is a newly-released documentary that few will see on the big screen but I was fortunate enough to catch at the cinema at the weekend.

“Amazing Grace” was the title of the best-selling album of the Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin. It was recorded over two nights in January 1972 at the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in Watts, Los Angeles and it was shot as a documentary by a crew led by Sydney Pollack.

In fact, owing to technical and legal problems, it has taken almost half a century and the mortgaging of his own home for music industry executive Alan Elliott to bring it to a cinematic release. There is no narration, no interviews, no artifice (except some brief split screens), grainy 16 mm film, just Franklin’s spellbinding voice as she belts out a succession classic gospel songs.

Aretha Franklin – who died only last summer – had a tragic life, some of which is revealed in this short biography.

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The growing success of the “John Wick” film franchise

May 19th, 2019 by Roger Darlington

First, there was “John Wick” [my review here]; this was followed by “John Wick: Chapter 2” [my review here]; and, now newly-released we have “John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum”.

The word ‘parabellum’ is Latin for ‘prepare for war’ and also a calibre of bullet so, even if you haven’t seen the previous two films in the franchise, as long as you understand the title of this movie, you’ll know what to expect. In fact, John Wick has now become a well-known action hero and the franchise has built up a growing following so viewers know exactly what to expect and they will not be disappointed. 

Like any successful entry in a popular franchise, you have all the elements of the original movie – most notably scene after scene of wonderfully staged and choreographed slaughter of anyone seeking to block or take out the eponymous and mythic hitman – with the return of some familiar characters, some new characters, a new location, a developing plot, and many more bodies. 

The story picks up just 45 minutes after the conclusion of the previous chapter and the pace is unrelenting. Mostly we’re still in New York but there is a foray to Casablanca. New characters include The Adjudicator from The High Table who serves up punishment on anyone who helps Wick (non-binary actor Asia Kate Dillon), a one-time colleague of Wick and accomplished assassin Sofia (an excellent Halle Berry), and an ultra-destructive team led by Zero (martial artist Mark Dacascos) whose two side-kicks are played by real-life champion kickboxers who starred in “The Raid” movies.

There is nothing subtle about a John Wick movie. It is always utterly over-the-top and at times knowingly comical but, for mindless entertainment of a certain sort, this is a franchise on a roll that deservedly will be around for a while longer. And, why not? We all need a bit of escapism sometimes. Oh, for the record, one estimate of this film’s body count is a record 167.

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Where now for South Africa?

May 18th, 2019 by Roger Darlington

South Africa has just had its sixth democratic general election and once more the African National Congress (ANC) won – but with a reduced share of the vote and a lower number of seats in the National Assembly.

Cyril Ramaphosa became president a year ago and faces formidable problems in reforming the ANC and reviving the country’s economy.

South Africa’s economy grew just 0.8% in 2018 and official unemployment hovers around 27% – and is over 50% among young people. Many voters were angry at failing services, high crime levels and a failure to act against corrupt officials.

You can read my updated guide to the South African political system here.

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Ever heard of the Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowships?

May 17th, 2019 by Roger Darlington

I was awarded one in 1980 to make a five-week study of the American telecommunications system.

Each year the categories of Fellowship change but every year they are no formal requirements for applicants.

If you’re interested, check out this year’s categories here.

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What is it like to visit the famous Peruvian site of Machu Picchu?

May 15th, 2019 by Roger Darlington

I really enjoy visiting new countries and have now managed to see a total of 73. Foreign travel is an opportunity to experience different cultures and visit wonderful locations. But I am aware that some popular tourist locations are now becoming overwhelmed.

Today there is a story in the “Guardian” about opposition the building of an airport near the site of Machu Picchu in Peru to enable more tourists to more easily visit this fabulous location.

I can understand why people what to see Machu Picchu but I am concerned at the impact of an airport at the suggested location. What is it like to visit this site? I was fortunate enough to go there 18 years ago and you can read my account here.

Posted in My life & thoughts, World current affairs | Comments (0)


A review of the sci-fi classic “2001: A Space Odyssey”

May 14th, 2019 by Roger Darlington

Directed, produced and co-written by the auteur Stanley Kubrick and five years in the making, this is a true film classic. The brilliant Kubrick created a number of classics in different genres and this science fiction work is among the very best in the genre. I have seen it four times now: the first on its original release at the cinema and the last as part of the current Kubrick season at the British Film Institute half a century after its initial release.

“2001” is a long work: two and a half hours. And it is a slow production with long stretches – starting with the first half hour at the Dawn of Man – featuring no dialogue. There are a limited number of characters, most of whom are somewhat robotic, and one of the ironies of the film is that the computer HAL 9000 in some respects comes over as the most human character in the story.

Yet the film is never less than mesmerising. Visually it is one of the most stunning cinematic works ever made with scene after scene beautifully composed like a painting or photograph with tremendous use of colour. Aurally it is one of the most memorable movies ever released with dramatic use of classical music from Richard Strauss and Johann Strauss plus modern sound from Aram Khachaturyan and Görgy Ligeti. Philosphically it is one of the most challenging – and opague – films in mainstream cinema: what are those four black monoliths and who is that star-child at the end?

The work started as a novella called “The Sentinel” by Arthur C Clarke who co-wrote the script for the film with Kubrick. Clarke subsequently wrote a series of four linked novels: “2001”, “2010”, “2061” and “3001”, all of which I have read amd which provide an more intelligible interpretation of Kubbrick’s film.

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Have you ever heard of the city of Potosi?

May 13th, 2019 by Roger Darlington

I am currently reading “A Little History Of The United States” by James West Davidson. In one of the very early chapters, he makes a mention of a place called Potosi located in what is now Bolivia.

When the Spanish conquered Latin America, they discovered a huge deposit of silver at Potosi which inconveniently is located at a breathless 13,420 feet above sea level. By 1600, more than 150,000 people worked there, making the city the largest settlement in North or South America, bigger than any city in Spain itself, and on a par with London of those days.

Yet most people have never of Potosi. I confess that neither had I until I went on a holiday in South America 18 years ago. We passed through the place on a road journey from Sucre to La Paz which was the toughest journey of my life.

As I recorded at the time: “When we had originally entered our bus, Jill [our guide] had warned us that the drivers – we had two – said the journey would last some 12 hours, but she indicated that she thought they were being cautious and it was more likely to be 10 hours. In fact, as we rolled up to our hotel in La Paz, it was 4.20 am and we had been on the road for an incredible head-splitting, teeth-chattering, bone-rattling, bladder-bursting, feet-freezing 13 and half hours. We almost had to be chipped out of our seats and fell straight into our beds.”

You can read about my journey here and you can learn more about Potosi here.

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What’s going on in Spanish politics with three general elections in just four years?

May 11th, 2019 by Roger Darlington

For four decades, the political institutions of Spain have been fought over by two major parties that reflected the Centre-Right/Centre-Left divisions in so much of European politics – a system known in Spain as “bipartidismo”. But chronic corruption in the political system and the economic crisis of recent years following the global downturn, which saw a double dip recesssion and unemployment peaking at 26%, has led to the perceived failure of the two establishment parties and given rise to tumultuous electoral change that is still working its way through the system.

Spain is a country deeply divided along several political clevages: Right-wing vs Left-wing, old parties vs new parties, centralist vs federalist. Consequently, the Spanish political landscape is in a state of profound flux and the general elections of December 2015, June 2016 and April 2019 – three polls in just four years – represented a major upset to the political establishment of the nation. 

After six months with a caretaker government between the first two of these elections, following the second election, there was a further period of 10 months with another caretaker government, before the People’s Party was allowed to form a minority administration which fell in June 2018. Now the most recent election has failed to return a party with an overall majority and coalition talks are in progress.

For an explanation of how the Spanish political system works and the result of the recent general election, check out my guide here.

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A review of the new rom-com “Long Shot”

May 10th, 2019 by Roger Darlington

In this politically-themed romantic comedy, Charlize Theron – a talented actress who is also gorgeous and here gets to wear to some great outfits – plays American politician and environmental campaigner Charlotte Field, a female Secretary of State who plans to run for President.

This is not such a long shot. After all, in real life, Hillary Clinton did that and, in the world of television, Elizabeth McCord is doing just that in the series “Madam Secretary” (the creator of this series was an excutive producer on the film). 

What is too long a shot is the idea that such a capable and beautiful woman with the highest of political aspirations could fall for a character like Fred Farsky, an overweight, bearded and crude journalist portrayed by Seth Rogan who has represented this typle of character so many times now.

And constant four-letter utterances plus dick jokes and an unforgiveable casual treatment of drug use may make the movie more appealling to a young audience but undermine what is less of a rom-com and more of a political satire.

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