If a previously unknown astronomer announces the discovery of a major comet, major news outlets might be forgiven for not immediately running with the story. It could, of course, be another Hale-Bopp (or Deep Impact) or it could be dust on the lens. This is the problem the Slovak media faces with regard to a recent poll by a survey firm that has never before entered the party preference fray: AVVM, the Agency for Research on Public Opinion. Do media outlets pick up AVVM’s press release and run with it or do they wait for a second or third poll from this firm to see if it is doing good work. The answer is that they run with it (with the apparent exception, so far, of SME).
So what do we get from a poll by AVVM? Perhaps something, perhaps not. AVVM’s website is the simplest imaginable, an out-of-the box 4 page website (one of which is blank) with no logo or other distinguishing characteristics that would say “take me seriously.” On the other hand AVVM’s director Martin Palasek has worked previously (and maybe still does) for other firms. I will say this: AVVM certainly did a great job of getting out the news of its first poll. A quick search for the firm produces no records from any time before this week, but in the last two days the poll story has already been picked up by dozens of Slovakia’s news outlets. Before make any judgment about the firm itself, I will wait for first hand reports from those in the public opinion field in Slovakia who may know better.
If we cannot judge from the firm’s records, perhaps we can begin to judge the firm by its results. This is always difficult, of course, because we have no way of knowing that AVVM is not right and the others wrong. But to do this we at least need to put the AVVM numbers in context and array them against those of other firms whose accuracy we can judge (and whom we have judged in the past). The graphs below show individual polls and trendlines with the AVVM result in bright yellow. The conclusions:
- The poll’s results are well within the expected range for every party except the two largest, Smer and SDKU. For these AVVM shows a strikingly low figure for Smer (about 10% below the normal range, though in the same direction as the trendline) and a rather high figure for SDKU (about 15% above the normal range, for which there is no ready trendline justification. Of course anomalies for only two out of eight parties is rather normal for polls, and without a track record we have no way of judging whether these are outliers for the firm itself.
- The poll tends to show lower results than other polls for parties of the current coalition–its number for Smer is exceptionally low but its numbers for SNS and HZDS are on the low end of the range–and higher results for the Slovak parties of the opposition–its number for SDKU is exceptionally high and its number for KDH is on the high side of the range, while only its number for SaS is near the middle.
- The AVVM poll differs from the major polls in showing Most-Hid well ahead of SMK. Other polls show both low (Median) or both high (Polis) or MKP-SMK above Most-Hid (FOCUS, MVK)
- The AVVM poll also shows a surprisingly high result for the HZDS splinter AZEN (a result which I find unlikely) and for the revived SDL (again not likely to be translated into election results). This could account for the unexpectedly low levels of support for Smer, since these otherwise obscure parties lay in the same ideological space.
So who benefits from AVVM’s report this week (regardless of its accuracy)?
- Most-Hid, which here (and nowhere else) appears to be the only viable Hungarian party. If nothing else, this is a valuable antidote to the upcoming Median poll which, if the past is any guide, will show Most-Hid below the threshold (because of Median’s unusual questioning methods).
- Opponents of the current coalition. A poll showing Smer to be weak may help embolden the opposition. A continued weak poll showing for HZDS may add one more impression to an overall image that it will be unable to cross the threshold discourage its marginal voters from “wasting their vote.”
- The leaders of AZEN and SDL. These parties have little chance but this must make them feel as if they are close to a breakthrough.
So what to make of AVVM’s poll overall? It’s not absurd, not far off, but there’s also no reason to pay it much heed just yet. With any luck the party will publish a June poll so that we can compare it to final results and make a better evaluation. Until then I’m not adding it to my averages but I will keep track of it and give the firm an individual analysis.