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Yes, the fake polling story does matter

We are now a week into sustained media coverage of the fake polling practices conducted by all of the major political parties in the State.

Some, like my colleague John McGuirk, have argued that the story is being blown out of all proportion, that it is otherwise inconsequential and is only continuing because of a dearth of juicy alternatives to report on.

John has also argued that all of this amounts to a non-story because, let’s face it, they were all at it and no one was harmed.

I disagree.

In the first instance, the ubiquity of a practice does not absolve it from negative moral or political judgement.

To say, ‘sure they were all it’ can lend itself to a trivialisation of transparency that we really should avoid rather than resignedly accept.

Now, you may well say that the horse has already bolted on that one. But that really is a recipe for fatalism in terms of our need to change how we do things.

For me, the fundamental issue here is not that complicated. It boils down to the fact that all of the political parties lied, not once, not twice, but potentially thousands of times.

If we catch a political party in a lie, we can vote them out.

What can we do if we catch a non-existent polling companies in a lie?

We can’t ring or email them, so the only option is to hold their creators accountable and not let them off the hook.

Each and every time these people knocked on someone’s door under false pretences and told the householder they were from a fictitious company, they engaged in politically approved and unadulterated lies.

Attempts to characterise this as being akin to the ‘harmless’ misrepresentation that goes on during elections or routine canvassing are insufficient and for one simple reason.

During such elections there is an awareness that the candidate or canvasser at your door is going to emphasise his or her political parties or candidates’ best points.

There is, if you like, a clearly established level of public buy-in to the idea that the person in front of you, while not directly lying, is more than likely inflating his or her potential or policy ambitions.

More importantly, what they say is open to verification or falsification.

We have rightly come to take these things into account.

The people who were engaging with fake polling companies had no sense that they were unwilling guinea pigs in a deceitful and widespread exercise in data collection.

I suppose, in the end, and it may seem a bit prissy or even naive to say it, but shouldn’t truth matter in the operation of our politics?

Or have we arrived at the stage where this issue is to be deemed of no consequence, irrespective of how many times the Irish public were lied to, once it is part of a commonly accepted practice and ‘for the greater good’ of the political parties?

If you want to know how I vote, respect me enough to engage in that conversation with honesty about your motives. Do not treat me as some kind of electoral lab rat.

With respect to Johns claim that no was one harmed by this practice.

That is an assertion that cannot be verified unless there is far more specificity about what is meant by ‘harm.’

One might well ask; are we not all harmed by the continuing degradation of politics to the level of cheap market research? Where the citizen is merely a source of data and not a subject or a person with a right to the truth?

Saying they are all it just doesn’t cut it for me as a sufficient rationale to downgrade these practices to the level of the inconsequential.

Democracy does actually die in the darkness. That is why this story matters.


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