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Jan 30, 2003

Website glitch leaves pollster seeing red

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The practice of public opinion research–or polling–has never caught on in Belize. And while in many parts of the world politicians live and die by the latest polling numbers, we in Belize have happily been spared the distraction. As the 2000 results in Florida demonstrated, polls can be radically wrong, and in a place as small as Belize any pollster would be hard pressed to get honest answers from a publicity shy public. All the more puzzling then, why any political party in Belize would rush to embrace a political poll. Well, this morning, one did, much to its embarrassment.

Janelle Chanona, Reporting

The front page story in the Guardian is titled “The U.D.P. will win: Youths choose Barrow over Musa”. The entire basis of the article is a poll conducted at www.belizeweb.com, the public service website operated by B.T.L.

Visitors to the site find this: a simple ballot sheet of sorts, with the country’s two main political organisation: the People’s United Party and the United Democratic Party, along with the question “Which party do you think will form the next government of Belize?” Viewers are then invited to express their opinion, by clicking on the appropriate box. According to the Guardian, the results of the voting as of Wednesday night were running strongly in favour of the U.D.P. by a margin of fifty-three to forty-seven percent–proof positive that the opposition’s campaign was off to a good start. But our own investigation found, there was only one problem: the webmaster–not to mention the Guardian–got it wrong.

We did our own control experiment and invite viewers to follow the unedited tape of the process.

First, let’s view the results already posted. The United Democratic Party has six hundred and thirty four votes while the People’s United Party has five hundred and sixty. We’ll close this window and cast our vote. Just for argument’s sake, we’ll start off with a check to the P.U.P. and submit our entry. Now watch what happens when we view the results. The P.U.P.’s total hasn’t changed; it’s still at five hundred and sixty. So what happened to our vote? Well, look at the U.D.P.’s total, that’s just increased by one to six hundred and thirty five.

So let’s try it the other way. Back at the main menu, we’ll take away our P.U.P. vote and give it to the U.D.P. let’s see what happens. What do you know? The P.U.P.’s now have one more vote, taking them to five hundred and sixty one while the U.D.P. stays at sixty thirty-five. So what went wrong?

We called in B.T.L.’s David Pollard who, after viewing our demonstration, realized that indeed, he had made a simple programming error. So every time someone placed their X in the PUP box, it registered for the U.D.P., and vice versa. The real results of the so-called opinion poll were precisely the opposite of what the Guardian had claimed. B.T.L. has since shut down that portion of the site and is not certain whether it will be reinstated.

Viewers should note that even the most scientifically conducted polls can produce misleading results, but that any poll conducted over the internet with purely voluntary participation has absolutely no validity.

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Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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