Miles Kington: When a knighthood is all a matter of opinion

Research shows that 80 per cent of clipboards will spill their load of questionnaires in windy weather
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The Independent Online

Yesterday Sir Robert Worcester, the founder of the Mori poll firm, was knighted by the Queen, thus following in the footsteps of Sir Robert Q Sample, the founder of Morry Polls, who was knighted last year for his services to stopping people in the street and asking them strange questions.

So, to find out what impact a knighthood might have on a pollster's life, I yesterday stopped Robert Q Sample and subjected him to a short but tough interview.

Q. I would just like to ask you a few questions, Sir Robert...

A. Look, I'm in a big hurry.

Q. It won't take a moment.

A. I don't have that sort of time.

Q. If you don't give me an interview, I'll remind my readers of the disastrous time you were 35 per cent out in your prediction of the Spanish election, and tried to hush it up.

A. All right, fire away. But make it snappy.

Q. When you were offered a knighthood, which of the following most nearly reflected your initial reaction? a) "That'll show the bastards!" b) "This will give opinion polls a much-needed sense of dignity and nobility." c) "That will get me good tables in good restaurants!" d) "Goody - now I can double my speaking engagement fee."

A. None of those. My first reaction was that if my wife was going to become Lady Sample, it would save my marriage for another five years at least.

Q. And has it?

A. 30 per cent of me thinks so, 30 per cent of me isn't quite sure and 40 per cent couldn't care less.

Q. How easy is it for a pollster to elicit the answer he wants, simply by asking a cleverly angled question?

A. I think you're asking the wrong question there. I think the question you should ask is, can the public sense when the question they're being asked contains an implicitly assumed answer, and do they fall for it or react against it?

Q. And what's the answer?

A. I think you're asking the wrong question again. What you should be asking me is: If I give you £100,000, will you find out the answer for me?

Q. Why is the firm you founded called Morry Polls?

A. It's a Jewish name. It was logical. We ask the best questions. Jewish people ask the best questions.

Q. Who says they do?

A. Who says they don't?

Q. Nobody.

A. Good.

Q. Has your knighthood helped you to get restaurant reservations more easily?

A. No.

Q. Why not?

A. I never use my title when I'm booking.

Q. Why not?

A. Because the kind of places I go to eat these days are full of lords and knights anyway, so they're not impressed by titles. If anything, they're more impressed by commoners.

Q. So you book under the name "Mr Sample"?

A. No. I book as "Dr Sample". Research shows that over 80 per cent of restaurants feel safer when there is a doctor on the premises. Also, my mother always wanted me to be a doctor.

Q. Did she really?

A. No. But now I have got three honorary doctorates, so she has no choice.

Q. What are you a doctor of?

A. Political Theory, Social Sciences and Clipboard Design.

Q. Clipboard design?

A. Research shows that up to 60 per cent of normal clip-boards in any given year will spill their entire load of questionnaires on at least five occasions, especially in windy weather, and that it takes on average 15 minutes to retrieve all that lost paperwork. Clipboard redesign was an imperative for me. I am not displeased to have been honoured for my work in that field.

Q. How not displeased?

A. 100 per cent not displeased.

Q. Sir Robert, thank you. I am very grateful.

A. The feeling is 50 per cent mutual.

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