“Should the NHS allow gipsies to jump the queue?” asked the Mail on its website, with little yes and no buttons below ready to receive your vote. It’s not just the bizarro spelling of gypsy that feels wrong: the question is bristling with the assumption that “gipsies” are indeed allowed to “jump the queue”. It could have been designed to elicit outrage and loathing, especially when you take it in conjunction with the picture they kindly supplied to illustrate the concept of “queue jumping ‘gipsy'”.
Now, if you’d been primed by prolonged exposure to similar scare stories, then your immediate response might be to leap, mouse-finger twitching, to the defence of “your NHS” and click a resounding “no”.
On the other hand, if you’d been primed by prolonged exposure to similar scare stories, your immediate response might be to realise that whoever phrased the question is out to play you and leap, mouse-finger twitching, to the defence of neutral survey phrasing and click a resounding “yes”. Word about the poll spread through Twitter, and concerned psychologist Sam Hutton pushed an email campaign: the poll was tracking at 90% plus in favour of queue-jumping gypsies before the Mail pulled it.
But, suggested usually-brilliant Pete Robinson, maybe everyone was being a bit stupid:
Polljacking can look pretty petty. But then, online polls are pretty petty: lonely questions drifting on the internet, asked for editorial rather than information. The Mail’s gypsy question was phrased with a “right” answer heavily implicit in the question, inviting readers to enter a self-propogating loop of outrage and excluding any response that veered more to nuance and less to racism. It’s certainly a bit uncomfortable to take a poll which has already been rigged by selecting an especially vindictive question, and accusing people of rigging it by, um, voting on it.
In the end, the Mail has been deprived of the opportunity to cull a chubby little percentage from a biased poll in support of a biased editorial line. (They can’t go to press with the claim that such-and-such a proportion of readers back this campaign, at least.) Maybe a few Mail readers clocked a bar chart trending way off their expectations and reflected, briefly, on whether everything was alright with the question being asked. Fleetingly, a few people might have felt a little tremble in their solid sense of being the silent majority.
It’s nice to have helped ruin a specious imitation of democracy like the Mail’s poll. It would be nicer still if concerned psychologists and distressed liberals could form some kind of polljacking alliance to shake down every one of them that goes up.