Why are some opinion poll results so positive about the Thai junta?

Originally published at Siam Voices on September 24, 2014

”The streets are quiet, there are no protests and people are happy!”

This is a common justification of the military coup in Thailand. And often – despite apparent ongoing repression of dissent – the proponents of the army’s actions base these claims on the results of opinion polls.

A couple of months ago we highlighted the flawed fallacy of taking opinion poll results as a serious indicator of the mood among Thais and what they think of the current political situation, especially about the junta and their work.

Apart from the general problems with Thai opinion polls (i.e. dodgy methodology and phrasing, small sample sizes, questions about representation etc.), the circumstances since the coup – such as the crackdown on criticism on the street, online and in the media – are discouraging people from expressing their true feelings:

According to one pollster, a number of respondents refused to be interviewed when asked about their political views for fear that they would be “summoned” by the junta.

As a result, the respondents are dominated by either yellow-shirt supporters or people who are politically neutral, said the source, who requested anonymity because he was not authorised to talk to the press.

Mainstream polls have provided glowing praise of the performance of the National Council for Peace and Order since it seized power on May 22, amid orders curbing freedom of expression of the media and anti-coup protesters.

NCPO ‘deterring’ honest opinion polls”, Bangkok Post, August 3, 2014

Besides the likely skewed results by the established opinion poll institutes like ABAC, Bangkok University and Suan Dusit (whose results and methods have been also often criticized in the past), a new organization is raising suspicion with findings such as this:

Up to 95 per cent of the public support junta chief and PM-elect Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha as the prime minister, the Master Poll survey has found. The survey was carried out by Thai Researchers in Community Happiness Association among leaders of 622 communities around the country on Friday and Saturday.

Prayuth receives public overwhelming support as PM: survey“, The Nation, August 24, 2014

The National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) has gained increased popularity since it seized power in May with latest poll by the Thai Researchers in Community Happiness Association revealing the junta’s popularity now rises to 81 percent from 70.1 percent.

Military junta’s popularity rises“, ThaiPBS, September 22, 2014

The “Master Poll” surveys (no reason given why they’re called that) are conducted by the Thai Researchers in Community Happiness Association (TRICHA), which emerged very shortly after the military coup on May 22, 2014. Its first poll on June 14 right away found that 80.8 per cent among 1,209 people are “happier” ever since the hostile takeover.

Other surveys in the past couple months included asking 599 people about the weekly Friday evening TV address by outgoing army chief, junta leader and Prime Minister General Prayuth Chan-ocha (90 per cent are watching it regularly! 95 per cent like it!) or asking a diminutive sample size of 424 moviegoers if they liked the junta-organized screenings of the of the fifth installment of the nationalistic, dramatized biopic series of the 16th-century King Naresuan – guess what: 93.7 per cent of them came out “happier” because they got to see a movie for free!

Not only are nearly all results of their “Master Poll” surveys suspiciously overwhelmingly positive towards the junta, despite a relatively small sample size (in most cases below a 1,000), but also the sudden appearance of TRICHA itself shortly after the coup does raise some questions.

In a message on TRICHA’s website (in which the survey results are in Thai, but everything else oddly is in English), it states that, “As one of private companies in Thailand, (…) the Master Poll and Policy, Co., Ltd. plays a leadership role as one of the country’s organizations for academic research and policy making.” (sic!) This message is signed by an unnamed “Association’s Chief”, whose profile on the website is empty as of writing, as are many other sections.

A look at the website’s domain registration reveals that both masterpoll.net and tricha.net are registered to Mr. Noppadon Kannika, who has also been occasionally named as TRICHA’s director in the Thai press (e.g. here). According to his bio from his Alma Mater University of Michigan (where he graduated in Survey Methodology), he was director of the ABAC Poll Research Center and has held “some official positions,” including one at the Royal Thai Army – indeed, he has been research advisor to the commander-in-chief in the past.

According to his profiles on Twitter and LinkedIn, he left ABAC to pursue another Master degree at Georgetown University in Strategy and Policy Management, while his Twitter bio still links to ABAC Poll, but has been regularly tweeting news articles about the “Master Poll” results. The masterpoll.net domain was registered on May 15, 2014 – one week before the military coup. That could be just a coincidence. However, Mr. Noppadon’s LinkedIn page lists the “Royal Thai Army” as his current employer while his job title is, according to himself, “unknown”!

Given the relative lack of information on the TRICHA’s website, the apparently suspicious career choice its director made recently and ultimately a bunch of questionably one-sided survey results are ultimately clear indicators that these are very weak foundations to base an universal assessment of the Thai people’s happiness – especially in the current political climate where only very few options and opinions are tolerated.