The Problem With Polling

A piece by William Leith in today’s Financial Times discusses the growing consensus regarding the inadequacy of traditional polling (and marketing, and branding and design…) methods which are based on verbal or written questioning. The surprise outcome of the recent UK election has served to stimulate much soul searching regarding how the pollsters got the outcome wrong.

In the piece Leith quotes widely from the work of market research consultant Philip Graves who has stated that ““We are lousy witnesses to ourselves”. In recent works Graves has highlighted the well known say/feel gap, i.e. how the narrative which people rationally create to justify their choices does not reflect the actual subconscious drivers of those choices.

Graves is well known for advocating how in the world of “big data” our behaviour is tracked and monitored and quantified through gadgets and appliances, leading to databases which contain much information about our actions and motivations. He calls his new big data set “the Cube”. You can’t ask it questions, but it provides correlations between one piece of data and another.