Speaking for Ourselves

Jason Bergen: Polling change for the good?

Jason Bergen: Polling change for the good?

Jason Bergen

 Migrant Voice -
 Migrant Voice - Jason Bergen: Polling change for the good?

I have never been a big fan of polls. In my personal, professional and academic lives I have seen how polls together with lazy/stretched journalism frequently become headlines, front page splashes, and then politicians' ‘facts’. Together these combine to influence public attitudes, feed anxieties, and even worse. The poll that could have informed, instead leads to misinformation because it isn't just that it doesn't shed light, it deepens the darkness. Context and facts get lost, and real stories are left out. Without facts, and real stories, particular issues such as immigration too often become politicised and conflated into unmanageable monoliths that further raise anxiety levels. Sometimes this is accidental, sometimes it is consciously used to ‘scapegoat’ in political rhetoric. Raised anxieties, and over-politicisation, can also be exacerbated by the way questions are asked or issues are categorised. That is why I, and Migrant Voice, warmly welcome the decision by Ipsos Mori to disaggregate their Issues Index polling category ‘Immigration/race relations’ (which they have polled in this way  since the 1970s) into two separate categories. Over the last year we at Migrant Voice have urged this change informally via social media, and in discussion with others. We understood the arguments to keep the same linked ‘immigration/race relations’ category, for consistency of analysing across time. However, things have moved on. As Bobby Duffy of Ipsos Mori points out: ‘the social and political context has shifted significantly, so that issues of race and immigration have perhaps grown apart: there is at least more prominent discussion now on how race and immigration are very separate issues’ and this ‘linking’ has not been helpful for some of the reasons mentioned above.  This framing and conflated trend goes back to the time of Enoch Powell, not right then and certainly not now. For many migrants in the UK, the linking is uncomfortable: it implies difference and ‘othering’, even to the extent of implying we are excluded and will never be fully part of the society we have adopted, and chosen - for whatever reasons - to live in. As a migrant living in the UK I am concerned about both immigration and race; but for different reasons than others might be. Certainly for different reasons from those that will be assumed if I answer yes in such a poll. As a migrant, I am particularly concerned about immigration because I have seen how rhetoric and policy play out in an increasingly harsh system - with immigration; it is personal, professional and academic - with race, it is principle. These are distinct issues and when conflated, either consciously or subconsciously, may confuse and cause division. So big thanks to the folks at Ipsos Mori for considering some of these issues. We welcome the change you have made.

Jason is Chair of MV since its inception and a Canadian migrant working in the UK since 2000. He is a PhD candidate in journalism examining media influence on public attitudes to poverty and migration and currently working in London to finance the last hurdle!

Also read: Jason Bergen: When rhetoric becomes policy