Polls and public opinion in France

→ danger of versatility, subject to too many sudden changes
→ danger of superficiality

→ The general will be wrong.

In France, polls are provided by several polling institute’s IFOP, CSA, SOFRES, INSEE… They are ordered by newspapers, politicians, associations, the government.

→ Universal suffrage is faulty: it concerns the sentimental character of the crowds and not their reasoning abilities
→ A group of enlightened people would not be the solution, however: it would still be a crowd, even more dangerous because it would be a dominant caste rather than a heterogeneous crowd.
→ In the end, the result of the votes is representative of “the average soul of [the] race[of each nation]”.

The opinion poll is “an artifact pure and simple whose function is to conceal the fact that the state of opinion at a given moment in time is a system of forces, of tensions, and that there is nothing more inadequate to represent the state of opinion than a percentage”.
(“Public opinion does not exist”, 1972, Les Temps modernes

the fundamental effect of the opinion poll [is to] constitutes the idea that there is a unanimous public opinion, thus legitimizing a policy and reinforcing the power relations that found it or make it possible” – ”L’opinion publique n’existe pas”, 1972, Les Temps modernes)
(“Public opinion does not exist”, 1972, Les Temps modernes

He speaks about “label abusively globalizing and homogenizing on a limited series of individual opinions artificially provoked by their questions and, moreover, arbitrarily considered as interchangeable”
(introduction to a critical sociology)

In 1970, he describes how surveys are exploited to manipulate customers: “The general effect is either by means prior to the very act of production (surveys, market studies), or afterwards (advertising, marketing, packaging) to ‘take away from the buyer – in whom it escapes all control – the power of decision to transfer it to the company, where it can be manipulated.’

Main polling institutes in France: IFOP, CSA, SOFRES, INSEE

IFOP: French Institute of Public Opinion, first polling institute created in France
CSA: founded in 1999
SOFRES: estimated election results for ORTF in the 1960s (the 2012 edition of Etat de l’Opinion is directed by Olivier Duhamel, University Professor at Sciences Po).
INSEE : economically oriented, as the full name indicates: National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies

‘Public opinion: unshared reign of temporary thought induced by emotions and consecrated by the media’ Romain Guilleaumes (Dictionnaire singulier)

‘The counter of a café is the parliament of the people Honoré de Balzac

’There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics Benjamin Disraeli (1804–1881)

Contemporary quotes on polls and public opinion

“Statistics is the first of the inexact sciences.” Edmond and Jules de Goncourt

“In all statistics, the inaccuracy of the number is compensated by the precision of the decimals Alfred Sauvy

“Polls do not vote, people do.” Hillary Clinton

“Be careful, statistics are always the third form of lying.” Jacques Chirac in, 1980

not to be placed in a copy 😉

“Polls are like miniskirts, they make you dream, but they hide the essential Alexandre Sanguinetti

“By definition, polls are never wrong, because they are not designed to predict – Laurence Parisot, in Les Échos, 2007

“Polls are for people to know what they think – Coluche

IPSOS poll concerning the link between politics and philosophy, during the election opposing François Hollande to Nicolas Sarkozy: http://www.sondages-en-france.fr/sondages/Actualité/Philosophie

For a “Representative national sample of 969 individuals aged 18 and over.”:

Les Français plus proches de Jean-Jacques Rousseau que de Hobbes