Bullfighting and the Gallup Polls: “Lies, damned lies, and statistics.”

I was recently interviewed on the BBC and one of the people also interviewed, a representative from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), brought up an opinion poll “by Gallup” in 2006, which said that 72% of the people in Spain were “against bullfighting.”

Now, putting to one side the fact that PETA’s claim was not true – the poll actually said that 72% said they had “no interest” in bullfighting – this got me thinking. There was another “Gallup poll” I read about from four years before which said that 69% of Spanish people polled had no interest, and the most recent one, from 2008, gave the same figure. These are big swings: millions of people.

So I looked into it further, and what I found was fascinating.

There have been ten such polls conduction by “Gallup” (the inverted commas are explained) since 1971, when 55% of those polled said they were interested in the bulls. This would seem to be a pretty steep decline, until one looks into how reliable these figures are.

For example, in 1987, the result was 48% of Spaniards were interested in the bulls, which is a pretty high figure given that Franco – who “enforced” bullfighting as the fiesta nacional – had been dead for a dozen years and the country’s main public spectacle, like the UK’s, was actually football. It is certainly a great deal higher than the UK’s own national sport, cricket.

However, within five years – the interval between this poll and the next one – that figure had fallen to 31%. Within the election term of a goverment, six and a quarter million Spaniards had suddenly decided they had no interest in their fiesta brava. Now, that strikes me as a deeply dubious proposition, but I guess it is possible. What bad years of bulls those must have been. Either that, or seventeen per cent of the country underwent a quite amazing Damascene conversion on the issue of animal welfare.

This explanation becomes truly unbelievable, though, when you see that within twelve months of that poll, the figure was back up to 38%. It is simply inconceivable that almost three million people switched between” interested” and “uninterested” and then back again in that time frame. It is clear there must be a massive flaw in the polling strategy. So I contacted Gallup. Here is their reponse:

Gallup has not polled on the topic of bullfighting in Spain.

This seemed odd, so I sent them links to references to the 2006 poll in The Guardian, CNN and Time magazine, as well as a detailed break down of it from Wikipedia. This was the response from Gallup.

A local company that went bankrupt had the rights to use the Gallup name. They did that study—not Gallup as you know it. We have received other inquiries about this study, but I can assure you that the “Gallup Poll” did not do it.

Which just goes to show that Mark Twain was right: there are lies, damned lies, and statistics.

Next week I will be questioning how the League Against Cruel Sports can say on their website that the entire bullfighting industry in Spain only employs 400 people full-time, year-round. Which would mean that the 1,350 fighting bull breeding ranches registered with the Ministry of the Interior and listed on their website are, quite literally, farming themselves…

P.S. A number of anti-bullfighting groups have been trying to post the results of their own polls in the comments section, which I have about as much interest in publishing as I do the views of the bullfighting fan who claims to be able to prove that the bulls actively want to die.

However, I will publish the result of the most recent poll, despite my view polls aren’t worth the paper they are printed on. This was comissioned by El Pais, The Guardian of Spanish newspapers, and carried out by Metroscopia immediately after the bullfighting ban was voted through – but not yet carried out – in Barcelona in 2010.

The result is simple: 57% of people across Spain were against the ban of bullfighting in Catalonia, even though 60% of those polled said they did not like bullfighting.

37% of Spaniards said they were fans of bullfighting. That oh so famous 72% having now apparently dropped to 63% in 4 years.

Damned lies indeed.

Here’s one statistic that is true, and I know because I did the research myself: 533 professional bullfighters have died in the ring since 1700. See my blog post here for details.

Alexander Fiske-Harrison

Con agradecimiento a Juan Medina por mostrarme algunos de estos problemas numéricos en su excelente blog aquí.

2 thoughts on “Bullfighting and the Gallup Polls: “Lies, damned lies, and statistics.”

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