UK Straw Poll offers misleading global warming headline

Wed, 2007-06-27 12:10Kevin Grandia
Kevin Grandia's picture

UK Straw Poll offers misleading global warming headline

I came across a surprising headline in the UK last night claiming that, “Three Quarters Believe Global Warming A 'Natural Occurrence.'” The “poll” was conducted by an UK publisher called Pocket Issue and their findings are in stark contrast to all of the polling data I have seen showing an ever-increasing number of people around the world convinced that global warming is caused by human activity, namely our reliance on burning fossil fuels, like oil, gas and coal, to produce energy.

In fact a recent BBC sponsored poll found that 66% of the British population believe that global warming is a result of human activity. The difference between this BBC poll and the Pocket Issue one is that while the BBC poll used a randomly selected cross-section of the British population, the Pocket Issue poll (find it here) used a “straw poll” method in which people simply go online and vote for their favored response. A random sample ensures that the opinions you are gathering are representative of a larger population (give or take a certain amount of error) and allows you to make claims about what that larger population's opinion is on a given subject.

In other words, if I randomly draw 1,200 people in the UK, call them and ask whether they believe global warming is caused by human activity, I can then make an inference on what the entire population of the United Kingdom believes (sorry for the simplicity to all the statisticians out there).

The Pocket Issue “poll” doesn't do this and the only conclusion that can be drawn from their online vote is that three-quarters of the 4,000 people who voted online believe that global warming is a natural occurrence. Even that conclusion is tenuous given the relative ease with which such online polls can be manipulated in favor of some tech-savvy voter's preferred outcome (i.e. I voted 5 times on the Pocket Issue poll).

Emma Hardcastle, the Pocket Issue publisher said in their press release that, “if 71% of people feel that Man has nothing to do with the recent change in our climate then those same people are not going to buy into any movement to reduce their carbon footprint. We need to make it clear that there is nothing natural about the significant rise in both carbon emissions and global temperatures since the industrial revolution. “

The punchline and Hardcastle's proposed solution for the all this apparent ignorance amongst the UK citizenry? Buy Pocket Issue's guide to global warming, of course: “Pocket Issue’s brief is to help people to understand the facts, encouraging them to click through to a carbon counter as a result,” Hardcastle states.

What Pocket Issue doesn't understand is that their misleading poll findings are now being picked up around the internet and being reported as evidence that people are not buying into global warming “hype” and “alarmism.”

Here just a few of the sites I've found to illustrate my point: here, here, here, here, here and here.

By making such headlines, Pocket Issue is manufacturing a problem and it is spreading misinformation about the true state of public understanding on the important issue of global warming. And of course the irony is that somehow Pocket Issue believes that its efforts are helping “people understand the facts.”

Previous Comments

“Freeping” is the word you want, coined by the US rightwing site Free Republic. On an active forum, someone posts a message about an online poll, and everybody who reads it goes and votes. And sometimes someone posts instructions on how to cheat and vote multiple times. Forums with varying political leanings may do this.

On-line polls are useless, except for propaganda.

Nice one. I also know people who use macro mouse and keystroke pattern programs to throw these polls their way.

If your computer is fast enough I have seen programs produce up 1,000 plus votes an hour by clicking on the vote, clearing cookies, refreshing screen and then voting again.

Hi there, I’m Here #6… www.ktracy.com.

I fixed my blog entry and acknowledged the poll was bogus. Granted, I that doesn’t make me suddenly believe in man made Global Warming, I just have one more reason to dislike the British on St. Patrick’s Day.

Thanks for the link though! :)

Glad you fixed your blog entry. I wouldn't think that it would change your POV, but at least you're not lending yourself to misinformation.

On behalf of Pocket Issue I think there are several issues here:

1. Agreed - Online polls can be hijacked - over 3 weeks this poll had little or no publicity, just a steady trickle of AOL visitors voting to give the results quoted above by the 25th June. However, since the multiple blog postings the poll has now obviously become discredited.

2. Know the facts - We all know and meet a lot of people (young and old) who prefer to say they are skeptical about global warming. On the other hand government and the green charities spend most of their time focusing on helping the converted to reduce their carbon footprint, rather than converting the skeptics. Not all skeptics are fanatical bloggers like those you mention, most just go about their daily business driving their cars etc.

3. Create Change - Having read Pocket Issue, Global Warming I now find myself acting to reduce my carbon footprint - cycling, switching off lights when I leave a room, recycling. And it only takes half an hour to read the book! Conclusion - if people stopped to read the independent facts (and Pocket Issue try hard to give space to both arguments) they might also change their ways? A good thing?

Finally, for the record - as an independent publisher in the land of big retail discounts Pocket issue will not be making any money out of the venture!

That's great that the Pocket Issue book had the effect it did on you Globeman. I just wish they had used different tactics to market their book. Such misleading headlines are what keeps the misinformation alive.