District of Corruption

The Perfect Balanced Sample

Have you ever wondered about opinion polls and how reliable they are? This question was expertly addressed in the above clip, which comes from a 1986 episode of the BBC political situation comedy Yes, Prime Minsiter.

In this scene Sir Humphrey Appleby, the Cabinet Secretary, an unelected civil servant (played by Nigel Hawthorne), demonstrates the 'flexibility' of opinion polls to Bernard Woolley, the Prime Minister's Principal Private Secretary, another unelected civil servant (played by Derek Fowlds).

In the first case, Sir Humphrey, shows how opinion pollsters produce a positive response on the question of national military service, and in the second case the opposite, using leading questions.

The question sequences are as follows:

For re-introducing national service
 

1. Are you worried about the number of young people without jobs?
2. Are you worried about the rise in crime among teenagers?
3. Do you think there is a lack of discipline in our comprehensive schools?
4. Do you think young people welcome some authority and leadership in their lives?
5. Do you think they respond to a challenge?
6. Would you be in favour of reintroducing national service?

Against re-introducing national service
 

1. Are you worried about the danger of war?
2. Are you worried about the growth of armaments?
3. Do you think there is a danger in giving young people guns and teaching them how to kill?
4. Do you think it's wrong to force people to take up arms against their will?
5. Would you oppose the reintroduction of national service?