OPINION POLLS are too often used to prove a point rather than to give an accurate reflection of public sentiment. Much depends on how a question is phrased, something pollsters are well aware of, and on the assumptions made. A survey about the Cyprus settlement efforts presented by Sigma TV yesterday was a perfect illustration of how polls are used to prove a point.
Sigma TV, for which the poll was conducted, belongs to the Dias media group which has always taken a hard line on the Cyprus problem and steadfastly opposed all attempts made for a settlement. It was therefore inevitable some of its questions would be loaded. It asked for instance, “are we on a correct or dangerous course as regards the Cyprus problem,” to which 46.1 per cent responded that we were on a dangerous course and 38.6 per cent on the correct one.
But the pollsters did not define what constituted the ‘dangerous’ and the ‘correct’ course. Was it dangerous that the two sides had not agreed on the basis for new talks, or was this the correct course? Or are we supposed to make assumptions as well to understand the result? As the media group which commissioned the survey is opposed to a settlement, should we assume that the ‘dangerous’ course is related to the efforts to start a new bout of talks that might lead to a deal? For some the dangerous course is the one that leads to permanent partition, but for others it is the correct one.
An even more loaded question was, “do you believe the dilemma would be posed that if we solve the Cyprus problem, we will save the economy?” To this 54.5 per cent answered ‘yes’ and 41.5 per cent ‘no’. This was an even more disingenuous question as the implication was that there was some devious scheme to blackmail Greek Cypriots into accepting a settlement in order to ‘save’ the economy. There would be no dilemma.
A settlement could help speed up the recovery of the economy, but people would still be free to make their own decision about a deal. In 2004 many people voted ‘no’ because they felt it was in their financial interests to do so, whereas now they may believe an agreement would better serve their interests. When people’s financial interests make them oppose a settlement it is legitimate, but when these interests make them in favour, they pose a ‘dilemma’.
Loaded questions about the ‘dangerous course’ being followed and the ‘dilemma’ we would face are what we should expect from the closet advocates of partition, who have never had the courage to commission a survey on the real dilemma – re-unification or partition?