A major newspaper has fired all its opinion pollsters and says it will find out what people are thinking by actually talking to them instead.
Le Parisien, a major title in the French capital, said it will stop paying for surveys – which notably failed to predict Brexit and a Trump presidency – and will instead hire more reporters and dispatch them to talk to voters directly.
The paper said it had been losing confidence for some time in the Ipsos group, which it sends as much as $30million a year in exchange for regular polling.
In an interview with French radio, editor Stéphane Albouy said:
Instead of just talking about the errors and faults in polls, we have decided to return to the core of our profession
That is to say: the field. We want proximity. It is that way of working that we want to keep going forward.
It is about detecting what we call today the weak signals. We will spend time with people, talk with them. What does it cost, beside energy, time and a bit of money, to pass some time at the exits of factories, popular neighborhoods, et cetera? To take time to talk with people. That is, in the end, our job.
Albouy cited the Trump and Brexit phenomena when explaining his decision.
Media in the US and UK respectively were (briefly) plunged into introspection by recent elections, which exposed massive gaps between their assumptions and those of the people they are supposed to serve.
The problem was summarized by Will Rahn of CBS News, who wrote a widely-shared article after the election entitled The Unberable Smugness of the Press:
Trump knew what he was doing when he invited his crowds to jeer and hiss the reporters covering him. They hate us, and have for some time.
And can you blame them? Journalists love mocking Trump supporters. We insult their appearances. We dismiss them as racists and sexists. We emote on Twitter about how this or that comment or policy makes us feel one way or the other, and yet we reject their feelings as invalid.
It’s a profound failure of empathy in the service of endless posturing. There’s been some sympathy from the press, sure: the dispatches from “heroin country” that read like reports from colonial administrators checking in on the natives. But much of that starts from the assumption that Trump voters are backward, and that it’s our duty to catalogue and ultimately reverse that backwardness.
Le Parisien‘s efforts at self-correction come as their own presidential election looms.
The contest is widely expected to end up being a two-horse face between the centre-right candidate Francois Fillon and Marine Le Pen, leader of the populist Front National – regarded as the French equivalent to Trump.
Current president Francois Hollande decided not to run after a four-year term which the French people widely consider to be a disaster. For what it’s worth, a November poll recorded his support at 4%.