What people claim to believe: Hillary Clinton edition

Back to political opinion polls today I’m afraid. Yep, the UK’s Brexit is all done and dusted (haha) but now our overseas friends seem to be facing what might be an even more unlikely choice in the grand US presidential election 2016.

Luckily, the pollsters are on hand to guide us through the inner minds and intentions of the voters-to-be. At last glance, it was looking pretty good for a Clinton victory -although, be not complacent ye Democrats, given the lack of success in the field of polling with regards to the afore-mentioned Brexit or perhaps the 2015 General Election here in the UK.

Below is perhaps my favourite most terrifying poll of recent times. It’s a recent poll carried out by the organisation “Public Policy Polling” concerning residents of the state of Florida. As usual, they asked several questions about the respondents’ characteristics and viewpoints, which lets us divide up the responses into those coming from Clinton supporters vs those coming from Trump supporters.

There are many insidious facts one could elucidate here on both sides, but given that at the moment the main polls are very in favour of a Clinton win (but see previous comment re complacency…), let’s pick out some that might hold relevance in a world where Clinton semi-landslides to victory.

Firstly, it shouldn’t particularly matter, but one can’t help but notice that Clinton is of the female persuasion. But, hey, rational voters look at policies, competence, experience or similar attributes, so a basic demographic fact alone doesn’t matter, right?

Wrong: the survey shows that just 69% of all respondents thought that gender didn’t make a difference. And, predictably, twice as many thought that the US would be better off with a male president than those who thought it would be better of with a female president. The effect is notably strongest within Trump supporters, where nearly 20x the proportion of people think the US would be better with a male president than with a female one.

manorwoman

Now, I can imagine some kind of halo effect where it’s hard for people to totally differentiate “my favourite candidate is a man and I can’t imagine having a favourite candidate that is not like him” from “my favourite candidate is a man but the fact he happens to be a man is incidental”.

But that nearly 40% of Trump supporters here claim that generically the president should be a man (implying that if it was Ms Trump vs Mr Clinton, they might vote differently), it seems potentially a stronger signal of inequality than that, especially when compared to the lower bias between Clinton supporters and preferring a woman – which is equally as illogical, but at least has a lower incidence. We can note also a pro-male bias in the “not sure” population too.

Of course we don’t actually have an example of what the US is like when it has a female president, because none of the 43 serving presidents to date have been women.

But we do know part of what Hilary Clinton is already presidentially responsible for apparently. “Coincidentally” (hmm…) her husband was one of the previous 43 male presidents, and apparently the majority of Trump supporters think it’s perfectly right to hold her responsible for his “behaviour”.

Yep, anything he did, for good or bad (which, let’s face it, is probably biased towards the bad for those people who support the opposing party and/or don’t appreciate cheating spouses) is in some sense his wife’s fault, for the Trumpians.

responsible

But if she’s so obviously bad, then why does she actually poll quite well, at the time of writing? Well, of course there can be only one reason. The whole election is a fraud. And given we haven’t actually had the election yet, I guess the allegation must also entail that poll respondents are also lying about their intentions, and/or that all the publishers of polls are equally as corrupt as the electoral system of the US.

rigged

Yes, THREE-QUARTERS of Trump supporters polled here apparently believe that if, as seems quite likely, Clinton wins then it can only be because the election was rigged. The whole democratic process is a sham. The US has fallen prey to semi-visible forces of uber-powerful corruption. We should presumably therefore ignore the result and give Trump the golden throne (to fit inside his golden house). Choice of winner aside, this is a pretty scary indictment on the respect that citizens feel for their own democratic system. This is not to say whether they are right or wrong to feel this way; to us Brits, I think it sometimes seems that in the US money has even greater hold over some theoretically democratic outcomes in the US than it does over here – but that so many have so little regard for the system is surely…a concern.

But wait, it’s not just that she may hypothetically commit electoral fraud in the near future. She has apparently already committed crimes serious enough that she should already be locked up in prison.

prison

Over EIGHTY PERCENT of Trump supporters polled here think she should literally go to prison; and this isn’t predicated on her winning. Well, there’s no shortage of bad things that can be laid at her door I’m sure, she has after all been serving at a high level of politics for a while already and, without being an expert, it seems like there are many serious allegations that people lay at the Clintons’ feet. But it’s perhaps quite surprising that the large majority of her opponent’s supporters want to throw someone who is likely to be their next president in jail. I don’t think even the Blair war-crimes movement ever got quite that far!

Unless…well. I’m only sad they didn’t ask the same question about Trump. Perhaps we could be more at ease if at least the same proportion of people thought he should be locked up. An oft overlooked fact is that analysis is often meaningless without some sort of carefully-chosen comparison. Perhaps there’s a baseline figure of people that think any given prominent politician should be jailed (but I’ve not seen research on that).

It’s hard to imagine though that the fact Trump has himself actually appeared to threaten her with jail doesn’t play some role here with his supporters though. It is apparently unprecedented for a major party nominee to have said publicly that his opponent should be jailed – but say it he did, most famously during their second presidential debate. As the Guardian reports:

Trump, embracing the spirit of the “lock her up” mob chants at his rallies, threatened: “If I win I am going to instruct my attorney general to get a special prosecutor to look into your situation – there has never been so many lies and so much deception,” he threatened.

Clinton said it was “awfully good” that someone with the temperament of Trump was not in charge of the law in the country, provoking another Trump jab: “Because you’d be in jail.”

Eric Holder, who once was the US attorney general, didn’t really seem to like that plan.

So we’ve established that in the eyes of the average Florida Trump supporter polled here that if Clinton wins then the whole shebang was fraudulent, she already should have been locked up in prison, and, besides, the fact that she’s a women should probably ban her from applying to the office of the president in the first place. That’s a strong indictment. But, of course, there’s another level to explore.

Is Hillary Clinton a malevolent paranormal entity, intent on destroying humankind?

demon

Erm…2 out of every 5 Trump supporters here think yes, she definitely is an actual demon. And the majority aren’t sure that she is not an actual demon.

Even only just over 50% of the “not sure” supporters are also sure she’s not an actual demon. It’s also entertaining to contemplate the c. 10% of her supports that think she might be demonic yet still fancy her as president.

The lower figures might be down to some variant of the excellent StarSlateCodex’s concept of the “Lizardman’s Constant” which can perhaps be summed up as there’s a lower bound % of people who will believe, or claim to believe, any polled sentiment.

But there they benchmark that at around 4%, and ten times that proportion of Trump supporters here respond that they are certain that Clinton is a literal demon. There are many ways to introduce biases that lead to this sort of result, which StarSlateCodex does go over. But 40% is…big…if this poll is even remotely respectable.

So, where has this idea that she’s a demon come from? Have Trump supporters as a collective seen some special evidence that proves this must be true, that somehow the rest of us have overlooked? Surely each individual doesn’t randomly become subject to these thoughts which even believers would probably term an unusual state of affairs -is there no smoke without fire? (pun intended)

Well, perhaps it has something to do with a subset of famous-enough people have stated that she is.

Trump himself did refer to her as a devil, although in fairness that just maybe possibly might be an unfortunate turn of phrase, if we want to be charitable. After all, to his credit, evidence suggests he’s not great at following a script (or at least not one you’d imagine a typical political spinner would write).

Perhaps more pertinently, for certain a certain subsection of viewers anyway, is presenter Alex Jones of “Infowars” fame (a website that apparently gets more monthly visitors than e.g. the Economist or Newsweek), he who Trump says of “your reputation is amazing…I will not let you down”, who did go on a bit of a rant on this subject.

MediaMatters have kindly transcribed:

She is an abject, psychopathic, demon from Hell that as soon as she gets into power is going to try to destroy the planet. I’m sure of that, and people around her say she’s so dark now, and so evil, and so possessed that they are having nightmares, they’re freaking out… I mean this woman is dangerous, ladies and gentleman. I’m telling you, she is a demon. This is Biblical.

There’s so much more if you’re into that sort of stuff; see it all on this video, including the physical evidence he presents of Clinton’s demonness (spoiler alert: she smells bad, and Obama is obviously one too because sometimes flies land on him).

Unfortunately I’m not aware of time series data on perception of Clinton’s level of demonicness – so I’m afraid there’s no temporal analysis to present on causal factors here.

At first glance some of this might seem kind of amusing in a macabre way – especially to us foreigners for whom the local political process is hugely less pleasant or equitable than it should be, but it doesn’t usually come with claims of supernatural possession. But the outcome may not be so funny. In the likely (but not certain) event that Clinton wins, Florida at least seems to have a significant bunch of people who think the whole debacle was rigged, and Clinton should have a gender change, an exorcism and a long spell in jail before even being considered for for the presidency.

Update 1: this sort of stuff probably doesn’t help matters – from former Congressmen / Radio host Joe Walsh:

Update 2: the polls are a lot closer now then they were when I started writing.

Is the EU referendum actually a great conspiracy?

(Sorry to anyone bored by the great/hideous Brexit referendum – this is the last post on the topic, well, at least until the event actually happens 🙂 )

Today is the day!  All us UK citizens can cast our direct-democracy vote as to whether the UK should remain in the EU, or say goodbye. It’s been a long, torrid, at times revolting, journey in terms of output from the campaigners, politicians and media. “It is as though the sewers have burst”, said Nick Cohen in the Observer, somewhat accurately. But the vote is today and it’ll therefore all be over soon.

Or will it? Yougov have surveyed on many, many EU referendumy topics. One of the latest included questioning respondents on various conspiracy-esque statements about the result of the referendum. I don’t use the word “conspiracy” in a necessarily derogatory tone – some perceived “conspiracies” turn out to be true, although many do not.

Anyway, here were the statements offered up to the public to pronounce on whether they thought they were probably true, probably false or don’t know.

  • There are plans for further EU integration and enlargement that the EU are deliberately not announcing till after the referendum
  • The BBC & ITN are not commissioning an exit poll in order to allow the vote to be fixed without anyone telling
  • MI5 is working with the UK government to try and stop Britain leaving the EU
  • It is likely that the EU referendum will be rigged

I have listed them in my perception of order of seriousness, although several are open to interpretation regarding the scope and intentionality they imply. The first just relates to the timing of announcing EU events, the last implies the literal undermining of the entire democratic process, implying a pointless referendum beholden to corrupt, criminal actors.

But what did the respondents think of these? Did anyone seriously think that MI5 spies are secretly influencing the result? (*) That the whole referendum is a fraudulent scam?

(*) Well, it’s not quite MI5, but when the Conservative peer Baroness Warsi recently changed her view from Leave to Remain, there were people suggesting she was a  secret Remain campaign plant all this time. Amongst other far more horrific diatribes that I am reluctant to reproduce on this site.

Well, it turns out the answer is yes, a fair amount of people do agree with these statements. Please click through and interact with the visualisation below in order to see the proportion of people agreeing with each statement, with the ability to break it down by age, gender, social grade, region, which political party they voted for in the 2015 general election, and – perhaps most interestingly -how they reported that they intend to vote for in the EU referendum itself: leave vs remain.

EU referendum conspiracy theory poll2

 

A few things I noticed:

There’s a sizeable amount of people that agree with every one of those statements. That’s not to say that they are the same single cohort of people in each case, as the data is too high level to determine that, but every statement has at least 15% of people in favour. There’s not one statement that over half the surveyed people thought was probably false. Not one.

To take perhaps the most dramatic one – nearly a third of the surveyed population think that it’s likely that the EU referendum will be rigged. If this implies “direct” rigging i.e. fiddling with the results, then this is quite a terrifying indictment on our view of the legitimacy of our democratic process.

Sidenote: There does seem to be a movement to “bring your own pen” to the voting stations today, under the premise than the pencils that poll booths traditionally offer leave marks on the ballot papers that could be easily erased and replaced. Although this seems like one of the most annoying and time consuming ways I could imagine of fixing an election result! If you’re going to believe in an over-arching conspiracy here, then I suspect MI5 could have far more efficient methods…

When splitting by demographics and behaviour, clear differences emerge. Flicking through the interactive version will show you the full details not represented in the below text – but in summary, for most statements:

  • A fairly similar proportion of females and males believe they are true. But for those that don’t, females are more likely to say they don’t know whereas males are more likely to go for probably false.
  • Those of social grades ABC1 are generally less likely to think any of the statements are probably true than C2DE, and more likely to think they’re probably false.
  • There is a strong difference in the beliefs of the voters based on whether they’re likely to vote for Leave or Remain. Without exception, the Leavers are more likely to think the statements are probably true than the Remainers.  The proportion of Leavers who think the referendum is likely rigged is over four times the proportion of Remainers.

    EU referendum conspiracy theory poll

  • Digging down deeper into (the somewhat correlated, but not fully so) variable of which political party they supported in the 2015 election, there is one hugely obvious outlier. Those who voted UKIP are way more likely to agree with the statements than others, particularly regarding whether the EU referendum will be rigged. A majority, nearly two thirds, of UKIP voters believe this to be true, in comparison to between 14 and 23% of voters for other parties.

So, what does this mean?

Well, it shows a distinct lack of faith in the system set up for this referendum and trust in the “powers that be” – which is perhaps somewhat understandable, considering the ways the various campaigns have been run.

At first glance, the sheer level of disbelief in the overall integrity of the system seems a notable unhealthy sign of the times though – although I would like to see similar stats taken over previous years in order to determine whether the figure of 28% believing the referendum will be rigged is “normal” for every year. If so, it could certainly explain the non-amazing turnout the UK generally sees in elections.

…except that there’s a curious interaction regarding voting intention, political party and turnout. In a previous post here, we saw that UKIP supporters are one of the subsections of society that appear to be most likely to say that they will turn up and participate in the referendum. However, this is also the segment that is by far the most sceptical of the result being legitimate. UKIP was likely also one of the driving forces that led towards the referendum being called in the first place: if there was no visible block of desire to leave the EU, an issue that UKIP was originally set up to dedicate itself to, then there would have been no reason for a referendum.

That’s not to say other political parties don’t have members with anti-EU views in them, who are individually in places where they might be expected to have a higher influence in political shenanigans than the average UKIP candidate. Two of the highest profile Leave campaigners, Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, are both high-up members of the Conservative party.

But, simplistically, the people who most demanded the referendum and are most likely to go and vote in it also seem to be the people who are least likely to believe its results. Are we seeing a political form of Pascal’s wager?!

It would also suggest that no matter what the result is, the debate will be far from over. Particularly if the result goes to remain, it seems like nearly half of those voting to leave may feel that it has been rigged (of course people are likely forgive rigging more if it produces the answer they want). And even if it goes to Leave, one in ten Remainers are seemingly sceptical of its legitimacy already, which is a sizeable number of people who, even without the psychology surrounding losing a vote to those with different beliefs, believe that the entire system is invalid.

So recently we have learned:

Hey, it’s almost as if it isn’t really the time or place for such a consequential question about the future of the UK to be determined in this manner. Is it too late to call the whole thing off? (answer: yes, I guess it is).

Brexit: Which newspapers support Leave and which Remain?

Being a glutton for punishment, another Brexit question struck me. Which newspapers are formally standing in the Leave camp, and which in the Remain?

This question might strike you as beyond obvious based on the typical political outlook they adhere to and the output of their columnists – but it turns out it’s not as straightforward as I imagined.

Please feel free to click through and interact with the below dashboard. In the full version you can use a dropdown selector to colour code the marks based on who owns the paper, its general political outlook and which party it supported in the 2015 UK general election.

Where do newspapers officially stand on Brexit

A couple of things stood out to me:

  • Right now, the big arguments for Leave are coming to us tinged (well, totally submerged in) with arguments appealing to the right wing of the political spectrum. However, there are papers who typically hold right-wing views that are pro Remain, albeit a minority. All the more left-wing papers that have declared are pro-Remain.
  • In fact even within papers owned by the same organisation / person, it can be that some back Leave and some Remain.

    The big shocker to me here was the Mail on Sunday backing Remain. One of the big scare campaigns from Remain boils down to “dreadful immigrants will come and eat your children if you don’t vote Leave”. The Mail on Sunday famously loves this sort of stuff – a 5-second Google found “Free hotels for the Calais stowaways in soft touch Britain” as a prime example of what they publish.

    Now, whether this is proprietors hedging their bets, or decisions made at an editor rather than proprietor level I do not know – but it’s not quite what I expected. You can see the same sort of division in the Murdoch papers too.
    Capture

The EU referendum: do voters understand what they’re voting on?

The UK’s EU referendum is now less than a week away. We’re each going to individually vote on something that could dramatically affect the future of our lives and even the structure of society the UK, so it’s a potentially important one. Recent sick tragedies have added to the mess that is the provably wrong claims from the Leave camp, and the responses that seem largely ineffective, and possibly not much less biased, from the Remain camp.

Clear-cut facts seem in short supply within the public consciousness; and yet surely one of the assumptions behind the validity of a direct-democracy referendum is that those who are enfranchised to participate in the decision have something akin to “perfect knowledge” about what they are to vote on. Or at least pretty-good knowledge, if we want to grant some leniency.

If one knows almost nothing, or, worse yet, holds false beliefs around the issues to be balloted on, then to choose the option most in-line to the priorities of the voter themself, irrespective of what they are, becomes a matter of chance, a dangerous reliance on instinct, or a matter of fallible heuristics. Logically, one might assume then that the voters with the most true knowledge about the relevant issues would be in a position to make “better” decisions.

So, do we, the British population have a decent knowledge of the key issues that apparently govern the EU battleground? Battles are being fought between camps on  economics, immigration, legislative power and democratic credentials.There have been various polls on this issue, trying to establish the knowledge of the electorate. Below I have chosen one from Ipsos Mori, who asked various subsections of the eligible voting population to give their views on several “EU facts”.

One of the subsections they divided on was the self-reported response as to whether the respondent was thinking to vote for Leave, Remain or was currently undecided. This opens up the possibility I wanted to investigate: is one side more well informed about the relevant facts than the other? One might – arguably – then risk a claim that this is the side that may be executing more effectively with regard to “data driven decision making”, being technically more “qualified” to participate in decisions relating to matters of this domain.

This is admittedly arguable for several reasons. Firstly, the precise choice of the questions may not be an accurate reflection of the points of highest relevance to this decision. Ipsos Mori could not ask about every possible EU fact, so there is a possible selection bias here. However, they did ask questions on most of the topics that each side specifically campaigns on, so it seems in line with what the campaigners think are the priorities driving people’s decisions.

Another question is, with the confusing contradictory mess of the claims being put out there, is it really safe to say there is a “correct” answer? For some potential questions, my view is no: establishing a true net economic value of the EU seems beyond us at the moment for instance. However, Ipsos Mori did at least work with an external “fact checking charity”, Full Fact, to try and establish a set of questions and respective answers that could be held as independently true.

Unfortunately, Ipsos seem to have decided to release the detailed results of the survey (which is nice) in a 500+ page PDF (which is not). So to get to the bottom of my question, it seemed appropriate to extract and visualise some of this data.

Let’s get to it!

Economics

Please tell me whether you think the following statement is true or false: The UK annually pays more into the EU’s budget than it gets back

Most of the respondents were correct to imagine that the UK pays more in to the EU budget than it receives back (directly back is what is implied, I believe, more on this later). 90% of Leave fans believed this, although only just over half of Remain and Undecideds chose the correct option. Both of those were more uncertain, although a quarter of Remain campaigners incorrectly though we received back more than we put in.

Correct answer according to Ipsos Mori: TRUE

Sheet 1

There is a widely-known argument that the financial benefits of being in the EU are nonetheless  net-positive due to things like the increase ease of business, investment and so on. The StrongerIn campaign writes:

And we get out more than we put in. Our annual contribution is equivalent to £340 for each household and yet the CBI says that all the trade, investment, jobs and lower prices that come from our economic partnership with Europe is worth £3000 per year to every household.

The whole financial aspect of the decision is one heavily campaigned on, very selectively, by the different sides to the point where they seem to contradict each other directly (not rare). It’s possible in the resulting confusion that some respondents may have included those non-direct factors, which could make the statement true.  It might have been helpful if the question had made it very clear that it was about direct transfers of money with no external factors.

Winner: Leave

What proportion of Child Benefit claims awarded in the UK do you think children living outside the UK in other countries in the European Economic Area (EEA)?

Organisations such as MigrationWatch, and the obvious media outlets that like to cause drama with such figures, have stated that the UK is paying a pile of expensive-sounding child benefits to children that live outside the UK, in the EU. It’s true that this, in accordance with the current law, is happening. But what proportion of child benefit is actually going abroad like that? Is it a worrying amount? (if one could set a mark as to when it would be worrying…).

Correct answer according to Ipsos Mori: 0.3%

Sheet 1

OK, we’re all way out here! Only 11% of both the Leave and Remain camps got this right. Leave were more likely to estimate stupendously high amounts. Almost half of Leave though it was at least 13%, which would overstate reality by 43x  (and 20% though it was nearly a third, a whole two orders of magnitude higher than real life.).

That’s not to say the Remainers were correct,  over half still over-estimated it to various degrees, and c. 10% understated it.

Winner: Remain.

In 2014, international investment into the UK was £1,034bn. To the best of your knowledge, what share of this total amount do you think comes from businesses based in the following countries or regions?

Part of the Remain case for remaining in the EU is the supposed positive effects it has on investment in the UK. A letter from a bunch of business folk publicised by the SrongerIn campaign says:

…almost three-quarters of foreign investors cite access to the EU’s single market as a key reason for their investment in Britain.

The Vote Leave campaign disagrees on the significance:

Trade, investment and jobs will benefit if we Vote Leave… Today the USA is a more important source of investment in the UK than the EU is.

This “share of investment” is not the only metric of significance to this discussion, but it is relevant. Does the UK get a lot of investment from EU, or is it mere pennies? How well do we know where investment comes from today?

Correct answer according to Ipsos Mori: The EU provided 48% of international investment into the UK in 2014.

Sheet 2

All groups very much underestimate the percentage of international investment that comes from the EU. The Leavers at the most extreme, with a median response of 28% vs the Remainers 35%. In both cases this seems largely down to wildly overestimating the amount of investment that comes from China.

Winner: Remain

 

To the best of your knowledge, what share of this budget do you think was spent on staff, administration and maintenance of buildings?

We accept that for the EU to exist, it has to have a budget, that has to be paid for by those within it (and arguably a few of those outside of it, but that’s a different story). But is it spent in way likely to make effective impact, or does the majority of it go on bureaucratic administration tasks and staff costs?

Correct answer according to Ipsos Mori: 6%

Sheet 2

Ha, way out, on both sides. Leave people are most inaccurate, thinking that the proportion of EU budget going on admin, staff and buildings as actually 5x larger than it is. Remain aren’t that much better though, estimating it to be over 3x reality.

Winner: Remain

Please identify the top 3 contributors to the EU budget in 2014

Respondents were then given a list of 10 countries and asked to identify which were the top 3, in descending order, in terms of contribution to the EU budget – i.e. what was the direct financial cost of the EU to them.

Correct answer according to Ipsos Mori: 

  1. Germany
  2. France
  3. Italy

Top:

Sheet 4

Second most:

Sheet 4

Third most:

Sheet 4

Well, both Leave and Remain did better than half marks when stating which country made the highest contribution to the EU budget – Germany. But identifying #2 and #3 were trickier; no subpopulation got even half marks on identifying the correct answer.

Of course, probably the most relevant datapoint driving people’s voting decisions is where voters think the UK sits in the ranking of budget pay-ins. It isn’t actually in the top 3 (it is in fourth place, after Italy). However most respondents clearly thought it did feature in the top 3 contributors. Leave were particularly bad for this, with nearly a third thinking it was the single top contributor, and around 90% convinced it was in the top 3. The figures for Remain don’t show a huge pile of knowledge though – 17% and 80% respectively.

Winner: Remain

Please identity the three which received the most from the EU in 2014.

The above covers putting money into the budget, but part of what the EU does is give money back to countries directly, for example to support farming or development of the more deprived areas of a country. So, same 10 countries, can we identify those the top three in terms of receiving money directly from the EU budget?

Correct answer according to Ipsos Mori: 

  1. Poland
  2. France
  3. Spain

Top:Sheet 4

Second most:Sheet 4

Third most:Sheet 4

Hmm, we’re even worse at understanding the money flowing back into EU countries! Around half of all populations got that Poland receives the most, OK. But after that the uncertainty was huge, with no more than 1 in 5 people of any sub-population coalescing around any answer, right or not.

Focusing on the UK, about 9% of Leavers thought it was somewhere in the top 3 recipients, whereas the Remainers were much more wrong about this, with 22% claiming the UK was in that list.

Winner: Leave

Democracy

Please tell me whether you think the following statement is true or false: The members of the European Parliament (MEPs) are directly elected by the citizens of each member state they represent

MEPs are our representatives in Europe, and yes, they are elected by us. The last election was in 2014, although with a pathetic turnout of 34% it does sound like the majority of Britain didn’t notice. But do we at least know these people for whom we should have voted for 2 years ago exist?

Correct answer according to Ipsos Mori: Yes

Sheet 1

Umm…not really. At least a little over half of Leave and nearly two thirds of Remain knew that they elect MEPs, but that still leaves a highly significant number of people who either are convinced that MEPs are unelected, or don’t know. The next chance to elect UK MEPs is likely to be in 2019, so let’s hope we can spread the word before then.

Winner: Remain (but not by a lot)

Laws and regulations

Which of the following, if any, are laws or restrictions that are in place, due to be put in place, or are suggested by the EU for implementation in the UK?

Ah, the EU laws craziness! Did you know, Europe bans us from <<insert anything fun>> and makes us do <<insert anything miserable>>? Well, in honesty, it does have some influence on what will later be entered into British law.

Below are a list of a few fun potential legislative bits and pieces. Which ones are actually true and somehow related to the EU? As there are quite a few of them, the answers according to Ipsos Mori are inline.

Sheet 3

Actually, we all did better than I expected. Only 8% of Leavers thought we’d have to rename our sausages as “emulsified high fat offal tubes”, which funnily enough the EU hasn’t made us do. Maybe we should anyway. Sausages aren’t that great for you.

Perhaps more interestingly, most of us don’t realise the restrictions that the EU has influenced us towards – although the list is perhaps “summarising” it a bit. The classic “Bendy Bananas Ban” has been categorised here as true (which only 35% of Leavers thought was the case, vs an even worse 15% of Remainers).

You’ll no doubt will be amazed to hear that the law doesn’t actually read “you can’t have bananas that are too bendy”. But it does actually come from somewhere in terms of real legislation. To be exact (brace yourself for excitement): the COMMISSION IMPLEMENTING REGULATION (EU) No 1333/2011.

It states that:

…subject to the special provisions for each class and the tolerances allowed, the bananas must be…free from malformation or abnormal curvature of the fingers…

But that’s only really for “top class” bananas. Go for a class 2 and you can expect that:

The following defects of the fingers are allowed, provided the bananas retain their essential characteristics as regards quality, keeping quality and presentation:
— defects of shape,
— skin defects due to scraping, rubbing or other causes, provided that the total area affected does not cover more than 4 cm-sq of the surface of the finger.

So if you get an abnormally curved top class banana, the EU has let you down. However one measures that.

Winner: 5:3 to Remain (although there’s an obvious pattern that drives this results: Leave are always more likely to think any law is made by EU, whereas Remain don’t think any law is – so Remain are lucky there are more false statements than true statements really).

To the best of your knowledge, which of these laws or taxes in force in the UK are as a result of EU regulations?

And now for current laws. Again,  the answers according to Ipsos Mori are inline.

Sheet 3

Hmm…we’re less good at knowing the truth of this one, whether Leave or Remain. In fact in some instances the results are strikingly similar between groups. Around 60% of both Leave and Remain know that EU regulations surround the cap in working hours (although actually there are exemptions for certain types of jobs). But only 23% of each side understand that 2 year guarantees are a result of such regulations.

Believing that the national living wage is a result of EU regulations is similarly thought true by 19% of both populations, even though it’s false. All in all, the differences between Leave and Remain are probably lower than the general level of ignorance on this topic.

Nonetheless…

Winner: 5:3 to Leave, by my count, although some questions are super-close.

Which of the following, if any, do you think are areas where only the EU has power to pass rules, and not individual EU countries?

We’ve covered which existing or proposed regulations and laws are influenced by the EU above – but what about topics where on the whole only the EU has the power to legislate?

Answers according to Ipsos Mori are inline.

Sheet 3

Hey, we’re not too shoddy on this one compared to some of the other questions. Both Leave and Remain beat 50% on knowing which domains were EU-regulated, and likewise both sides did even better at knowing which ones were done so domestically.

Again, some of the differences in responses between group were pretty small. The most notable ones were perhaps that Leave were 8 percentage points better at knowing that the EU has the power to rule on fishing industry controls, whereas the Remainers were better at knowing that the EU does not control laws around sentences for crimes committed by non-British nationals by 7 pp.

Winner: 4:2 to Remain (again, differences between groups are very small in some cases).

Immigration

Another hot topic in the debate; an argument that, at the most despicable end of the Leave campaigners boils down to “if we remain in the EU then the UK will be overrun with nasty foreigners who just don’t deserve all the good things we have”. Of course many Leavers are far less obnoxious in their views, and may have more benign concerns around resourcing and space. The Remainers, depending on their views, might pursue the argument that immigration is net benefit to the UK (or at least not net detriment), the more ethical option, or that leaving the EU is not likely to make so much difference anyway.

But are we deriving  our viewpoints with accurate knowledge as to the incidence of migration into the UK?

Out of every 100 residents in the UK, about how many do you think were born in an EU member state other than the UK?

Correct answer according to Ipsos Mori: 5%

Sheet 2

Looks like the median respondent is way out again: all subpopulations over-estimate the percentage dramatically. Leave produces the most out-there answer, thinking one in five UK residents where born in an EU country other than the UK; 400% of the real value.

Remain do better, but still come up with a median answer that is double that of reality.

Winner: Remain

Summary

Horray, we’re done. Did we learn anything? Well, when totting up the scores the final Leave vs Remain results by my slightly rough scoring method above are:

  • Leave: 3
  • Remain: 8

Overall winner: Remain

So, can we go so far as to say that well-informed voters are more likely to make the choice to Remain?  And hence, if we assume a perfect electorate should have perfect knowledge, then is Remain the correct way to swing?

Well, it is surely the case that the Remain voters were more likely to be a bit more accurate as a population in most of the questions above by my measure, but that conclusion is still rather a strong one to draw.

What really shows through here is the general level of ignorance in all populations; whilst it would be nice to say that 100% of Remainers got things right and 100% of Leavers got things wrong and hence Remain is the only decision we could say was based on evidence, the reality was far more mixed. There were plenty of questions where the majority of both groups got it wrong.

This is quite concerning if one has an ambition that the results of a referendum are predicated on voters basing their choice on some semblance of the reality of the present or potential future. In fact, I’ve had Brennan’s book on ‘The Ethics of Voting‘ on my to-read list for a while, and I’m now a little scared to read it in case it makes me decide that Churchill was actually wrong to imagine that democracy was even the least worst form of Government! Perhaps we are simply not yet in a place where it makes sense to hold a referendum on this topic, although there is certainly no stopping it now.

It’s also apparent that there are voters on each side that hold their opinions “despite” what they think they know about certain domains. That is to say: we can infer that nearly 1 in 5 of the Remain voters are committed to remain, despite the fact that they (incorrectly) think the UK pays the highest amount of the EU budget, and/or (incorrectly) think that the proportion of EU born people living in the UK is actually twice as high as it really is. Although the data is not available in a granular enough fashion to perform a per-respondent analysis on it to see if these two subsections of people consist of the same individuals, this does suggest that there are reasons not elucidated in any one of these questions regarding why one might choose to vote stay or go, and hence the conclusion is incomplete.

That said, for those of us currently desiring a Remain verdict, it seems that it would do no harm to try and spread some of the more validated “truths” to the nay-sayers. Given the mess that both sides have created whilst campaigning, it may be debatable how effective that can be amongst the noise; but, if we want to believe in the validity of referendum politics, then we must try to believe that true knowledge has some impact on one’s voting choices.

However, there are yet further psychological forces to counteract even the most ardent advocate of facts driving decisions: given research suggests that we tend to disregard anyone whose opinion disagrees with us, and that we  often make up reasons to explain our behaviour after we’ve executed it (Kahneman writes excellently on this), the war for votes requires something more than simply winning the battle to expound the truth.

 

 

The EU referendum: voting intention vs voting turnout

Next month, the UK is having a referendum on the question of whether it should remain in the European Union, or leave it. All us citizens are having the opportunity to pop down to the ballot box to register our views. And in the mean time we’re subjected to a fairly horrendous  mishmash of “facts” and arguments as to why we should stay or go.

To get the obvious question out of the way, allow me to volunteer that I believe remaining in the EU is the better option, both conceptually and practically. So go tick the right box please! But I can certainly understand the level of confusion amongst the undecided when, to pick one example, one side says things like “The EU is a threat to the NHS” (and produces a much ridiculed video to “illustrate” it) and the other says “Only staying in Europe will protect our NHS”.

So, what’s the result to be? Well, as with any such election, the result depends on both which side each eligible citizen actually would vote for, and the likelihood of that person actually bothering to turn out and vote.

Although overall polling is quite close at the moment, different sub-groups of the population have been identified that are more positive or more negative towards the prospect of remaining in the EU. Furthermore, these groups range in likelihood with regards to saying they will go out and vote (which it must be said is a radically different proposition to actually going out and voting – talk is cheap – but one has to start somewhere).

Yougov recently published some figures they collected that allow one to connect certain subgroups in terms of the % of them that are in favour of remaining (or leaving, if you prefer to think of it that way around) with the rank order of how likely they are to say they’ll actually go and vote. Below, I’ve taken the liberty of incorporating that data into a dashboard that allows exploration of the populations for which they segmented for, their relative likelihood to vote “remain” (invert it if you prefer “leave”), and how likely they are to turn out and vote.

Click here or on the picture below to go and play. And see below for some obvious takeaways.

Groups in favour of remaining in the EU vs referendum turnout intention

So, a few thoughts:

First we should note that the ranks on the slope chart perhaps over-emphasise differences. The scatterplot helps integrate the idea of what the actual percentage of each population that might vote to remain in Europe is, as opposed to the simple ranking. Although there is substantial variation, there’s no mind-blowing trend in terms of the % who would vote remain and the turnout rank (1 = most likely to claim they will turn out to vote).

Remain support % vs turnout rank

I’ve highlighted the extremes on the chart above. Those most in favour to remain are Labour supporters; those least in favour are UKIP supporters. Although we might note that there’s apparently 3% of UKIP fans who would vote to remain. This is possibly a 3% that should get around to changing party affiliation, given that UKIP was largely set up to campaign to get the UK out of Europe, and its current manifesto rants against “a political establishment that wants to keep us enslaved in the Euro project”.

Those claiming to be most likely to vote are those who say they have a high interest in politics, those least likely are those that say they have a low interest. This makes perfect sense – although it should be noted that one’s personal interest in politics of course does not entirely affect the impact of other people’s political decisions that will then be imposed upon you.

So what? Well, in a conference I went to recently, I was told that a certain US object d’ridicule Donald Trump has made effective use of data in his campaign (or at least his staff did). To paraphrase, they apparently realised rather quickly that no amount of data science would result in the ability to make people who do not already like Donald Trump’s senseless, dangerous, awful policies become fans of him (can you guess my feelings?). That would take more magic than even data could bring.

But they realised that they could target quite precisely where the sort of people who do already tend to like him live, and hence harangue them to get out and vote. And whether that is the reason that this malevolent joker is still in the running or not I wouldn’t like to say – but it looks like it didn’t hurt.

So, righteous Remainers, let’s do likewise. Let’s look for some populations that are already the very favourable to remaining in the EU, and see whether they’re likely to turn out unaided.

Want to remain

Well, unfortunately all of the top “in favour to remain” groups seem to be ranked lower in terms of turnout than in terms of pro-remain feeling, but one variable sticks out like a sore thumb: age. It appears that people at the lower end of the age groups, here 18-39, are both some of the most likely subsections of people to be pro-Remain, and some of the least likely to say they’ll go and vote. So, citizens, it is your duty to go out and accost some youngsters; drag’em to the polling booth if necessary. It’s also of interest to note that if leaving the EU is a “bad thing”, then, long term, it’s the younger members of society who are likely to suffer the most (assuming it’s not over-turned any time soon).

But who do we need to nobble educate? Let’s look at the subsections of population that are most eager to leave the EU:

Want to leave.png

OK, some of the pro-leavers also rank quite low in terms of turnout, all good. But a couple of lines rather stand out.

One is age based again; here the opposite end of the spectrum, 60+ year-olds, are some of the least likely to want to remain in Europe and some of the most likely to say they’ll go and vote (historically, the latter has indeed been true). And, well, UKIP people don’t like Europe pretty much by definition – but they seem worryingly likely to claim they’re going to turn up and vote. Time to go on a quick affiliation conversion mission – or at least plan a big purple-and-yellow distraction of some kind…?

 

There’s at least one obvious critical measure missing from this analysis, and that is the respective sizes of the subpopulations. The population of UKIP supporters for instance is very likely, even now, to be smaller than the number of 60+ year olds, thankfully – a fact that you’d have to take into account when deciding how to have the biggest impact.

Whilst the Yougov data published did not include these volumes, they did build a fun interactive “referendum simulator” that, presumably taking this into account, lets you simulate the likely results based on your view of the likely turnout, age & class skew based on their latest polling numbers.

Unsafe abortions: visualising the “preventable pandemic”

In the past few weeks, I was appalled to read that an UK resident was given a prison sentence for the supposed “crime” of having an abortion. This happened because she lives in Northern Ireland, a country where having an abortion is in theory punishable by a life sentence in jail – unless the person in need happens to be rich enough to arrange an overseas appointment for the procedure, in which case it’s OK.

Abortion rights have been a hugely contentious issue over time, but for those of us who reside in a wealthy country with relatively progressive laws on the matter, and the medical resources needed to perform such procedures efficiently, it’s not always easy to remember what the less fortunate may face in other jurisdictions.

In 2016, can it really still be the case that any substantial number of women face legal or logistic issues in their right to choose what happens to their body, under conditions where the huge scientific consensus is against the prospect of any other being suffering? How often do abortions occur – over time, or in different parts of the world? Is there a connection between more liberal laws and abortion rates? And what are the downsides of illiberal, or medically challenged, environments? These, and more, are questions I had that data analysis surely could have a part in answering.

I found useful data in two key places; a 2012 paper published in the Lancet, titled “Induced abortion: incidence and trends worldwide from 1995 to 2008” and from various World Health Organisation publications on the subject.

It should be noted that abortion incidence data is notoriously hard to gather accurately. Obviously, medical records are not sufficient given the existence of illegal or self-administered procedures noted above. It is also not the case that every women has been interviewed about this subject. Worse yet, even where they have been, abortion remains a topic that’s subject to discomfort, prejudice, fear, exclusion, secrecy or even punishment. This occurs in some situations more than others, but the net effect is that it’s the sort of question where straightforward, honest responses to basic survey questions cannot always be expected.

I would suggest to read the 2012 paper above and its appendices to understand more about how the figures I used were modelled by the researchers who obtained them. But the results they show have been peer reviewed, and show enough variance that I believe they tell a useful, indeed vital, story about the unnecessary suffering of women.

It’s time to look into the data. Please click through below and explore the story points to investigate those questions and more. And once you’ve done that -or if you don’t have the inclination to do so – I have some more thoughts to share below.

ua

Thanks for persisting. No need to read further if you were just interested in the data or what you can do with it in Tableau. What follows is simply commentary.

This blog is ostensibly about “data”, the use of which some attribute notions of cold objectiveness to; a Spock-like detachment coming from seeing an abstract number versus understanding events in the real world. But, in my view, most good uses of data necessarily result in the emergence of a narrative; this is a (the?) key skill of a data analyst. The stories data tells may raise emotions, positive or negative. And seeing this data did so in me.

For those that didn’t decide to click through, here is a brief summary of what I saw. It’s largely based on data about the global abortion rate, most often defined here as the number of abortions divided by the number of women aged 15-44. Much of the data is based on 2008. For further source details, please see the visualisation and its sources (primarily this one).

  • The abortion rate in 2008 is pretty similar to that in 2003, which followed a significant drop from 1995. Globally it’s around 28 abortions per 1,000 women aged 15-44. This equates to nearly 44 million abortions per year. This is a process that affects very many women who go through it, affecting also the network of people that love, care for or simply know them.
  • Abortions can be safe or unsafe. The World Health Organisation defines unsafe abortions as being those that consist of:

a procedure for terminating an unintended pregnancy either by individuals without the necessary skills or in an environment that does not conform to minimum medical standards, or both.

  • In reality, this translates to a large variety of sometimes disturbing methods, from ingestion of toxic substances, inappropriate use of medicines, physical trauma to the uterus (the use of a coathanger is the archetypal image for this, so much so that protesters against the criminalisation of abortion have used them as symbols) – or less focussed physical damage; such as throwing oneself down stairs, or off roofs.
  • Appallingly, the proportion of abortions that were unsafe in 2008 has gone up from previous years.
  • Any medical procedure is rarely 100% safe, but a safe, legal, medically controlled abortion contains a pretty negligible chance of death. Unsafe abortions are hundreds of times more likely to be fatal to the recipient. And for those that aren’t, literally millions of people suffer consequences so severe they have to seek hospital treatment afterwards – and these are the “lucky” ones for whom hospital treatment is even available. This is to say nothing of the damaging psychological effects.
  • Therefore, societies that enforce or encourage unsafe abortions should do so in the knowledge that their position is killing women.
  • Some may argue that abortion, which few people of any persuasion could think of as a happy or desirable occurrence, is encouraged where it is freely legally available. They are wrong. There is no suggestion in this data that stricter anti-abortion laws decrease the incidence of abortions.

    WHO report concurs:

Making abortion legal, safe, and accessible does not appreciably increase demand. Instead, the principal effect is shifting previously clandestine, unsafe procedures to legal and safe ones.

  • In fact, if anything, in this data the association runs the other way. Geopolitical regions with a higher proportion of people living in areas where abortions are illegal actually, on the whole, see a higher rate of abortion. I am not suggesting here that more restrictive laws cause more abortions directly, but it is clearly not the case that making abortion illegal necessarily makes it happen less frequently.
  • But stricter laws do, more straightforwardly, lead to a higher proportion of the abortions that take place anyway being unsafe. And thus, on average, to more women dying.

Abortion is a contentious issue and it will no doubt remain so, perhaps mostly for historic, religious or misogynistic reasons. There are nonetheless valid physical and psychological reasons why abortion is, and should be, controlled to some extent. No mainstream view thinks that one should treat the topic lightly or wants to see the procedure becoming a routine event. As the BBC notes, even ardent “pro-choice” activists generally see it as the least bad of a set of bad courses of action available in a situation that noone wanted to occur in the first place, and surely no-one that goes through it is happy it happened. But it does happen, it will happen, and we know how to save thousands of lives.

Seeing this data may well not change your mind if you’re someone who campaigns against legal abortion. It’s hard to shift a world-view that dramatically, especially where so-called moral arguments may be involved.

But – to paraphrase the Vizioneer, paraphrasing William Wilberforce, with his superb writeup after visualising essential data on the atrocities of modern-day human trafficking – once you see the data then you can no longer say you do not know.

The criminalisation-of-abortion lobby are often termed “pro-lifers”. To me, it now seems that that nomenclature has been seized in a twisted, inappropriate way. Once you know that the policies you campaign for will unquestionably lead to the harming and death of real, conscious, living people – then you no longer have the right to label yourself pro-life.