Not Saussure

March 25, 2007

Divided by a common language

Filed under: Bloody Yanks, Foreigners, Opinion polls — notsaussure @ 1:18 pm

While I don’t, for the moment, want to discuss the substantive point about the EU, I think Tim Worstall rather misses the point here. A propos a remark by Will Hutton that ‘The varied languages hide just how very similar we all are’, Tim writes,

Given that we share roughly the same language and have even more in common (things like the basics of the legal system and so on) with those in New Zealand, Australia, Canada, the US and so on, this argument means that we should means that they are even less foreigners than the French or Swedes are.

I take this in a rather different way; to my mind, the fact that Americans — I’m not talking about Commonwealth countries here — speak English with a funny accent tends to make us forget they’re foreigners, and thus likely to be dissimilar to us in many ways — while we’re constantly reminded by the fact they speak a different language that the French, Swedes and whoever else have failed to draw first prize in life’s lottery.

If, for example, a survey of young men’s attitudes to women’s dress and modesty — a self-selecting survey, to be sure,and one conducted among a particular, though very sizeable, religious group — were made in Britain or any other EU country, and elicited replies such as (more…)


February 24, 2007

Who’d have thought it, eh?

Filed under: Opinion polls, press — notsaussure @ 10:05 pm

You could have knocked me down with a feather when I read this in The Guardian:

The gulf between parents and risk-taking teenagers is revealed in a unique Guardian/ICM poll which explores the realities of growing up in Britain today.

Teenagers drink, smoke, take more drugs and lose their virginity earlier than many of their parents believe, according to the results of the study.

Unfortunately the survey doesn’t reveal whether this is because of absent fathers or inequality.   Probably both.

Hat tip:  Fisking Central.

Technorati Tags: ,

December 11, 2006

Where angels fear to tread

Filed under: Blogroll, Opinion polls, Wingnuts — notsaussure @ 6:02 pm

I write this with some trepidation, for reasons that may become obvious. The background, in brief, is that a punch-up seems to have developed between Devil’s Kitchen and someone called Chad, who runs a site called UKIP Home. Chad’s taken exception to the fact that DK, despite having announced some time ago that he’s joined UKIP, is still as critical — and foul-mouthed — about UKIP when he thinks they’re in the wrong as is he of just about everyone else.

Most ticked off, is Chad, and is accusing the Devil of being a Tory stooge, in cahoots with Iain Dale and heaven knows what else. He’s implied that DK has hacked his site and is clearly no gentleman since he’s apparently started publishing DK’s real name. Rhetorically Speaking sums it up better than could I, as does the excellent Longrider, who has also proved himself infinitely more patient than ever would be with Chad’s jumping up and down in his comments column. Hence my trepidation.

I take the opportunity to remark briefly on the irony of someone accusing DK of seeking to undermine UKIP when, in fact, the fact he’s joined them has probably caused many people to take them rather more seriously, since underneath all the ranting and swearing he’s a very intelligent and thoughtful writer whom many people (including me, for what it’s worth) take seriously, despite disagreeing with much of what he says.

However, my main point was this dispute took me to UKIP Home to see what all the fuss was about. A bit of a waste of time; it apparently incorporates ‘the centre for progressive conservatism,’ which sounds to me about as good an idea as alcohol-free beer. Sort of reminded me of the type of chaps who actually joined the university Conservative Association because they were interested in party policy rather than some interesting speaker meetings, good parties and meeting some girls (very important consideration back when most Oxbridge colleges were still men only).

In a recent post, Chad discusses YouGov’s latest poll for the Telegraph and remarks,

Support for ‘others’ is now almost as big as support for the LibDems at a whopping 15%.

People really are turning away from the LibLabCon-sensus Westminster elite.

Surely the honest thing would be for pollsters to start listing UKIP properly instead of lumping it in with ‘other’?

That puzzled me, since I thought YouGov did give detailed breakdowns; consequently I went to their site and found the full poll results. Here we are, on the first page of the .pdf:

Headline Voting Intention
Con 37
Lab 32
Lib Dem 16
Other 15

Other Parties Voting Intention
Green 3
Respect 1
Veritas 0
Other 1

I seek to make no political point about the figures; it’s just I’m not particularly impressed by someone accusing others of dishonesty when what he really means is he can’t be arsed to look something up for himself.

Why, people might wonder, am I going on about it here rather than setting him right in his comments column? Because you have to register to post a comment. Nothing unusual about that, one might well say, and so there isn’t. But it’s a tad unusual, in my experience at least, to have to pay to register to comment on a political site.

And I’m buggered if I’m going to pay £2.50 to set someone straight who can’t be bothered to do their own research.

Incidentally, I notice that UKIP Home’s blogroll has Tim Worstall dowb as a ‘UKIP blog’. I know the excellent Mr W is not only a Pendant but a Proud member of the Euronihilist Community, but UKIP? That rather surprises me.

tag: , ,

October 25, 2006

Keeping a sense of perspective about Iraq deaths

Filed under: Iraq, Opinion polls, press — notsaussure @ 7:31 pm

The First Post has a piece, extracted from a longer article at Media Lens, about the way The Lancet study of civilian deaths in Iraq was pretty much buried by the British media; they have a telling statistic of their own:

A Media Lens database search of British newspapers (October 20) says it all. Our search found that the words ‘Jack Straw’ and ‘veil’ had been mentioned in 422 articles over the previous nine days. The words ‘Madonna’ and ‘adoption’ had been mentioned in 312 articles. The words ‘Iraq’ and ‘Lancet’ had been mentioned in just 53 articles across the entire British press.

The longer article provides an impressive list of statisticians and polling companies whose comments on the study’s methodology confirm that the only people who find it contentious are politicians who don’t want to believe the figure of 655,000 killed.    They also observe that these same politicians who complain about ‘extrapolating from small samples’ are perfectly happy to pay for polling companies to do just that (though when the figures go against them, of course ‘the only poll that matters is the one on election day’).

Or, as Daniel Davies put it in The Guardian,

There was a sample of 12,801 individuals in 1,849 households, in 47 geographical locations. That is a big sample, not a small one. The opinion polls from Mori and such which measure political support use a sample size of about 2,000 individuals, and they have a margin of error of +/- 3%. If Margaret Beckett looks at the Labour party’s rating in the polls, she presumably considers this to be reasonably reliable, so she should not contribute to public ignorance by allowing her department to disparage "small samples extrapolated to the whole country". […]

If a Mori poll puts the Labour party on 40% support, then we know that there is some inaccuracy in the poll, but we also know that there is basically zero chance that the true level of support is 2% or 96%, and for the Lancet survey to have delivered the results it did if the true body count is 60,000 would be about as improbable as this. Anyone who wants to dispute the important conclusion of the study has to be prepared to accuse the authors of fraud, and presumably to accept the legal consequences of doing so.

Technorati tags: , ,

October 17, 2006

Are you a selfish, uncaring bastard?

Filed under: environment, Opinion polls — notsaussure @ 4:10 pm

The Telegraph reports the publication of Predict and decide: Aviation, climate change and policy:

Dr Brenda Boardman, who oversaw the project, said: “The Government has to confront the contradictions in its policies.

“Unless the rate of growth in flights is curbed, the UK cannot fulfil its commitments on climate change.

“If Government wants to be confident about achieving its targets, it has to undertake demand management. Relying on technological fixes alone is totally unrealistic.”

The findings suggest that public awareness of these issues has grown steadily and support for restraining the growth in air travel now outweighs opposition, with a majority in favour of airlines paying for environmental damage, even if this means higher fares.

Commenting on this,

Jeff Gazzard of the Aviation Environment Federation said: “This isn’t the first time that serious academic research has highlighted the Government’s failure to control the climate change impacts of flying.

“These findings give the lie to politicians’ oft-repeated fallback that there are “no votes in taxing air travel. There clearly are.”

This surprised me, partly because I can remember the way that, thoughout the 1980s successive Labour politicians were mystified by the fact that opinion polls regularly showed considerable support for policies involving higher taxes to pay for better hospitals, schools and pensions and yet, when it came to a general election and Labour promised exactly that, people stubbornly voted for the Tories, who were promising them nothing of the sort.

Eventually, of course, people twigged to the fact that it’s one thing to ask someone in a face-to-face interview whether he’s prepared to pay a bit more for something seen as socially desirable. It’s quite another to get him to vote for it in the privacy of the polling booth. This type of question eventually became known as the ‘are you a selfish, uncaring bastard?’ question, because that’s what it was thought, in effect, to be asking punters, and fell into disrepute. That’s one of the reasons, I’m told, that parties use focus groups; you can elicit more truthful answers, or at least answers that’ll better predict voting behaviour, by asking more indirect questions.

Anyway, intrigued by the findings that there are, apparently votes to be had in taxing air travel, I took a look at the report, and the polls are even more misleading than I thought. We may, I think, set aside an online EU survey since it was completely self-selecting, and concentrate on the various UK polls. One of these asked people how much they agreed or disagreed with the following propositions:

a) People should be able to travel by plane as much as they like;
b) People should be able to travel by plane as much as they like, even if this harms the environment;
c) People should be able to travel by plane as much as they like, provided government acts to limit the harm done to the environment;
d) People should be able to travel by plane as much as they like, even if new terminals or runways are needed to meet the demand;
e) Building new terminals or runways to enable people to travel by plane as much as they like is acceptable if environmental costs are included in the cost of flights

The results aren’t that unexpected; most people agreed with the first proposition, disagreed when environmental costs were pointed out, and became rather keener on flying again if ‘government acts to limit the harm’ or ‘if environmental costs are included’ — though, significantly (but unsurprisingly) people are only happy with the environmental costs being included so long as they don’t add very much to the cost of the ticket.

All this, apparently, points to the importance of

framing questions of environmental and social policy in the context of the problems they are designed to address, and ensuring that people have the opportunity to reach informed opinions.

(or so that you get the answer you want, of course). That being the case, what can you make of the statement, of another survey — a face to face one this time — that

The study also provides further evidence that public opinion on policy has changed: across both groups, 68% agreed that “Protecting the environment should be given priority, even at the risk of slowing down economic growth in the air travel industry.”

other that that the wonder it is it wasn’t more than 68%?

I’m not disputing the idea that some sort of carbon tax on air tickets is probably necessary; I’ve not looked into the question, but the idea seems to make sense. I’m a bit worried, though, that two separate issues are being confused here — the idea that the polluter should pay for the cost of clearing up the damage done by air travel and the idea that we should discourage air travel by taxing it, regardless of how we spend the taxes thus raised. However, I very much dispute the idea there are votes to be had in it.

Let’s have a survey asking a question on the lines of ‘Are you prepared to see government put high enough taxes on your the cost of your air travel to discourage you and your family from traveling by air for your holidays, in order to avert environmental problems in the future rather than to give you any advantage now, while rich, selfish buggers (especially ones with 4x4s) and businessmen continue to swan about by air as much as they like?’ Then we’ll see. Until then, I think people would be most ill-advised to assume it’s an election-winner.

Technorati tags: , , ,

September 11, 2006

Well, they wouldn’t get the joke, would they?

Filed under: Foreigners, Opinion polls, press, UK — notsaussure @ 8:38 pm

The Telegraph reports:

They love our Royal family, our ancient traditions and our historic buildings. But if there is one thing the foreign tourist does not like, it is the character of the British people. Much as we may try to be welcoming, visitors from abroad remain distinctly unimpressed, according to the organisation responsible for promoting Britain overseas.

‘You have absolutely no sense of humour’: Italy rated us the second least funny people in the world


Fawlty TowersIn the eyes of the world, the British people – and in particular the English – are arrogant, unfriendly and have almost no sense of humour.

Research carried out by VisitBritain found that visitors from 35 different nations listed Britain a poor 16th overall on a list of countries likely to offer the most friendly welcome. And it is some of our nearest European neighbours who are particularly scathing about our national character.

The French had particular problems with the English – rather than the Scots and the Welsh – and were the least likely of any of the countries surveyed to visit the United Kingdom, despite their close proximity.

This exemplifies the problem, I think; if you’re British you’ll almost certainly find this story amusing, but few foreigners will quite understand why.

I’ve frequently confused Americans, in particular, by quoting Cecil Rhodes’ observation that ‘To be born English is to have won first prize in the lottery of life’ (though I usually alter it to ‘British’, to include the Anglo-Irish like myself in this); ‘do you really mean that or are you being ironic?’, they ask.

Both, of course, just as we all know that Flanders and Swann’s Song of Patriotic Prejudice is obviously a joke and also completely serious.
Who can disagree that

And all the world over, each nation’s the same
They’ve simply no notion of playing the game
They argue with umpires, they cheer when they’ve won
And they practice beforehand which ruins the fun!

The English, the English, the English are best
So up with the English and down with the rest.

It’s not that they’re wicked or naturally bad

It’s knowing they’re foreign that makes them so mad!


Interestingly, at least to me, a Russian friend of mine thinks it’s a brilliant song, because — according to him — Russians think about Russians and foreigners the same way. He wasn’t at all surprised to learn that Donald Swann was born in Llenlli to Russian parents.

Rather less amusingly, though, the survey also reveals

Many of the respondents surveyed were similarly unimpressed by Britain’s system of government, its record on human rights and its foreign policy stances. Tony Blair’s support for American foreign policy and the invasion of Iraq appeared to have damaged Britain’s standing.


September 6, 2006

Best defence against terrorism is a split with US, say voters

Filed under: Bloody Yanks, Community, Opinion polls, Politics, UK, usa — notsaussure @ 11:22 pm

From The Times

MOST people believe that the Blair Government’s foreign policy has increased significantly the risk of terrorist attacks and now want Britain to distance itself from America and set a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq, according to a poll for The Times.

The Populus poll was undertaken over the weekend as news came of the death of 14 British servicemen on board a crashed Nimrod aircraft in Afghanistan.


The results underline the unpopularity of Tony Blair’s Middle Eastern policy and how a majority of voters believe there is a direct connection with terrorist plots and attacks at home.

Nearly three quarters of the public (73 per cent) believe that “the British Government’s foreign policy, especially its support for the invasion of Iraq and refusal to demand an immediate ceasefire by Israel in the recent war against Hezbollah in Lebanon, has significantly increased the risk of terrorist attacks on Britain”.

Moreover, three fifths (62 per cent) agree that “in order to reduce the risk of future terrorist attacks on Britain the Government should change its foreign policy, in particular by distancing itself from America, being more critical of Israel and declaring a timetable for withdrawing from Iraq”. Women (66 per cent) and Liberal Democrat voters (74 per cent) agree with this view particularly strongly.


voters are also sympathetic to Muslim concerns. Just a half (52 per cent) believe that “even though there is no justification for terrorism, the British Government’s foreign policy, especially towards Iraq and the recent attacks on Lebanon by Israel, is anti-Muslim and it is understandable that many Muslims are offended by it”.

However, I wasn’t too sure what to make of this:

Nonetheless, a similar proportion of voters (63 per cent) believe that “Muslim extremists hate democracy and the Western way of life, and if Britain’s foreign policy were different they would find another excuse for their terrorist activities”. This is a widely held view, backed by two thirds of Labour and Tory voters, but only just over a half (53 per cent) of Lib Dems.

Sort of, ‘They’ve got good reason to be unhappy, but they’d hate us anyway’.

I think it’s because we’re got two questions bundled up in one there; how was someone to answer the question if he thought — which is an entirely reasonable view (since it’s pretty much mine) that there are clearly some Muslim extremists do hate democracy and the Western way of life — Abu Hamza, for example, even though he doesn’t hate it enough not to want to live here — but that they’d amount to very little if they weren’t able to exploit the far more widespread resentment about US policy in the Middle East and our support for it.

Blog at