There is a reasonable chance you have not engaged or heard of the ABC’ s latest pet project ‘Australia Talks’, especially, if like large swathes of the population, you rarely intersect with the national broadcaster — by choice or otherwise. But be that as it may, Auntie is giving its ‘voice of Australia’ project a fair hammering through all its platforms of late informing us that it is an accurate and unequivocal reflection of Australian society at large.
Now where might we have heard that before? As recently as this year’s federal election, their ABC ensured all who can stomach its self-adulated agenda-driven news and current affairs programs that its election analysis tool on voting intentions ‘Vote Compass’ had the election result nailed as a landslide to the Labor Party. The smugness this survey provided ABC political commentators at the time was palpable. After all, over 1.2million people had participated. How could such a large sample be so wrong? Indeed this is where we got the ‘climate change’ election slogan from as many respondents claimed it to be their most significant issue.
But here is the rub. A qualitative survey is beset by many confounding aberrations that have always meant such surveys are considered low-quality, if not junk science. Not least of these is how a question is framed along with whether a respondent is motivated by giving an answer they think the surveyor is seeking- confirmation bias. But most significant of all, and a flaw that will always lead to a skewed result is how a sample is gathered in the first instance.
In the Vote Compass instance 1.2 million-plus respondents from a population of approximately 25 million sounded like a good cross-section, but in reality it was simply an ABCophile cohort (from their roughly 10 per cent audience base), keen to get in behind their own propaganda machine.
Not content with the lessons learned from this fiasco, the ABC has leapt into the same trap once again, but this time matters are worse. The ‘Australia Talks’ survey of 54,ooo respondents was compiled by asking the motivated members of the ABC audience to send them their details via email. This was done mostly over the ABC local radio network across the nation. It was framed in the context of “we want you to tell us what you like and don’t like about the ABC and what we can do to improve”. The ABC then contacted those people to complete the survey. Such a cohort was, of course, a highly motivated group of ABCophiles generally seeking to please their master, even when suggesting shortfalls or improvements. It is an irrelevance, as the ABC seeks to emphasise, that this cohort once gathered was screened and stratified by its survey partners, Vox Pop Labs to balance for gender, race, age, locality and so forth. The fatal flaw was how the cohort was sampled in the first instance — a classic case of both sample and selection bias.
Sample and Selection bias renders a survey both internally and externally invalid. So take what you will from the ABC’s chest-beating over this survey, but you would be a fool to think it was broadly representative of Australian’s. And so just like ‘vote compass’ the ABC will continue to delude itself and its audience with a certain hubris of certainty it derives from this flawed survey.
However, one must ask, if the ABC can’t even be honest with itself, what hope do the rest of us have?
Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.