Don’t abuse opinion pollsBoth ruling and opposition parties are relying on opinion polls in selecting candidates for the June 4 local elections. Public opinion could account for up to 50 percent depending on the region, with the rest of the votes coming from party members or the electorate. In the primary to select a candidate to be the next Jeju governor, the Saenuri Party made an exception and fully applied public opinion to nominate a candidate - but that candidate, three-term lawmaker Won Hee-ryong, happened to be the person who party bigwigs wanted, so his selection led to some criticism. In Jeolla and Gyeongsang provinces - regions with strong party affiliations - getting the right party’s nomination can ensure victory, so polls will likely play a major role in producing governors, mayors, district heads and local councilmen.
The rising influence of polls can also bring the temptation to tamper with them. One popular practice to rig opinion polls is by using an automatic phone switch service in case the person being called does not answer. The schemer can buy a large number of landline phone numbers and connect to several mobile phones. This way, pollsters can be rerouted to people who favor certain candidates. Gender and age group samples also can be manipulated. In a small community, several hundred phone numbers could sway the results of opinion polls.
Some candidates from both ruling and opposition parties are suspected of using the phone scheme to interfere with polls. A preliminary Saenuri Party candidate from Pohang has been charged by the central election committee on suspicion of using a phone switch service to influence opinion polls. Phone fraud has existed before. A candidate for the Democratic Party running to become the district head in Wanju County in 2010 bought 2,000 idle landline numbers and had them redirected to 30 mobile phones. Lee Jung-hee of the Unified Progressive Party had to step down from her candidacy when her aide was found to have connected 190 phone lines to several mobile numbers to help her win the primary.
Opinion polls are much more unreliable than electoral or party votes. It is uncertain whether the poll takers have correct information about the candidates. There could also be imbalances in gender, age and regional proportions. Margins of error can be wide and opinions can be manipulated through fraudulent practices. But for some reason, they are considered as valid as ballot cards in Korea. In primaries of advanced countries, party members vote on the candidates. But due to insufficient pools of party supporters, Korean parties have to depend on opinion polls to select candidates. Opinion polls, nevertheless, should be kept to selective use.
In order to reduce scandals over phone rigging, an authoritative commission needs to give out temporary numbers to pollsters to ensure the privacy of pollees and the credibility of their survey responses.
JoongAng Ilbo, April 17, Page 30