On the eve of the August, 1995 independence referendum, then-United Bermuda Party MP Wayne Furbert and I chatted outside of Number 1 Shed, where inside a capacity crowd of some 1,000 Bermudians exuberantly expressed their support for statehood. Against the backdrop, the then-UBP Minister and pro-independence campaigner said to me: “Brown, I think we’ve got it.” My response was, “Wayne, I think the people in this room will be the only ones in the country to vote for independence.” Earlier in that year, my company Research Innovations, had polled the country and our results showed a mere 30 percent of the voters would support statehood. The actual result was 25 percent.

The moral of the story is that relying solely on one’s own experience and social interactions is often a poor barometer of public sentiment. It can lead to a misreading of the public mood, and for politicians, faulty policy pronouncements. Polling helps to alleviate that.

Conducting polls on matters as diverse as the economy, to housing, taxes and child care, provides policy makers with insights into issues that resonate with the people. When these insights translate into programmes that work and benefit people both the people and politicians are better off.

Almost as important as what the public feels about the issues is the matter of what people feel about politicians. Any poll is a measure of opinion at a specific point in time. When asking about politicians, respondents will reflect on what they know and feel at that moment; when done at regular intervals we can track shifts in opinion over time.

During the 15 years we have been doing this in Bermuda, the approval ratings of some Premiers have shifted dramatically as the public changed their opinion. Premier Jennifer Smith and Premier Ewart Brown both saw changes by as much as 40 percent in their approval ratings during their respective tenures as people reacted to their (1) policies (2) decisions and (3) leadership styles.