Date
24 May 2017
In opinion polls, people don't get to express their views unless they are chosen as samples and interviewed, and the sample size also influences the accuracy. Photo: HKEJ
In opinion polls, people don't get to express their views unless they are chosen as samples and interviewed, and the sample size also influences the accuracy. Photo: HKEJ

A more accurate way for pan-democrats to gauge public opinion

As far as the question of which chief executive candidate to nominate is concerned, there is a prevailing notion among pan-democrats that since former financial secretary John Tsang Chun-wah is highly popular with the public, they must support his CE bid wholeheartedly.

The belief is that if they nominate someone else instead, it will be against the wishes of the people, and voters are likely to “punish” them in the next election for acting against their will.

I don’t buy that notion.

If the pan-democrats truly believe they must always act according to public opinion, then why didn’t they root for Leung Chun-ying in the last CE election? And why didn’t they vote in favor of the government’s political reform package in 2015?

In both cases they obviously acted against the wishes of the majority.

I believe some pan-democrats confuse the idea of acting according to public wishes with the concept of embracing democratic ideals.

These are indeed two entirely different and, on some occasions, even mutually exclusive, concepts.

Simply put, acting according to the desire of the majority doesn’t necessarily make you a true democrat.

What truly defines you as a democrat is whether or not you faithfully embrace the ideals of democracy and whether you are willing to make sacrifices in order to achieve them.

And the reason why pro-democracy voters have entrusted the pan-democrats with the task of fighting for democracy on their behalf is not because they believe the pan-democrats will always follow their wishes, but because they believe they share the same democratic ideals.

As such, I can’t see any reason why voters would “punish” the pan-democrats if they didn’t nominate John Tsang.

If anything, such a notion only provides the pan-democrats with a convenient justification for their endorsement of John Tsang.

I sincerely believe no matter who they nominated, as long as the pan-democrats continue to stand by their democratic ideals in the days ahead, pro-democracy voters will always be on their side.

However, even though pan-democrats and the public don’t always see eye to eye on every single issue, it is undeniable that they still have to take public opinion into account when making important decisions.

So what is the most accurate way to gauge public opinion?

Nowadays the most common method of finding out the public’s opinion on specific issues is to conduct opinion polls.

However, polls do have their limitations; they don’t always reflect public opinion accurately.

That’s because people don’t get to express their views unless they are chosen as samples and interviewed. 

And the sample size as well as representativeness often influence the poll results, hence the inaccuracy.

To address the problem, I suggest that pan-democrats adopt unofficial popular voting as a way to determine public opinion.

Unofficial popular voting has a definite advantage over conventional opinion polls. Everybody from all walks of life can participate and proactively express their views, instead of waiting to be reached by pollsters.

Thus, the results of unofficial popular voting are a more accurate reflection of public opinion on a particular issue.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Feb. 27

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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RT/CG

Unofficial popular voting, such as the CE Civil Referendum 2017 launched by Benny Tai, allows people to proactively express their views. Photo: Facebook


Associate Professor of Law at the University of Hong Kong

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