Time to Stop Misleading SMS Polls in South Africa
Knee-jerk SMS polls such as those fired at viewers during e.tv's news bulletins are nothing short of misleading and mischievous. They are completely out of touch with reality, with no research value whatsoever, and the only benefit, at R2.00 a pop, is to add some easy money to e.tv's bottom line in the space of a few minutes.
Last week for example, halfway through e.tv's 7pm bulletin, the following question was asked: "Do you think South Africa should be helping Zimbabwe refugees?"
Viewers had less than 10 minutes to send in their SMS replies and the results at the end of the bulletin were those of the 7782 respondents: 35% said yes and 65% said no. Given the speed at which viewers had to respond, it is logical to assume that those who felt the most strongly about the Zimbabwe refugee situation - the xenophobes - would be those most likely to bother to grab their cellphones and spend R2.00 on an SMS.
Viewers who felt Zimbabwe refugees should be helped were equally logically not nearly as motivated to rush for their cellphones. It is called human nature. And what e.tv was doing is called moneymaking muckraking.
Barbara Cooke, one of South Africa's most respected market researchers and founder of Target Group Index (TGI) in this country, said that SMS polls "are no more than a self-selected sample of interested persons, either pro or con. As such, they are representative of no real universe except perhaps a universe of persons at the extreme ends of a spectrum of opinion.
"Nobody else would bother to respond. So yes, these polls are misleading. They are also statistically rubbish and could actually be very dangerous in forming the opinions of the fence sitters."