Sir Humphrey


James Hacker, PM

How to make a balanced survey

Bernard (the junior civil servant) goes to see Sir Humphrey (the senior civil servant) and tells him that Hacker (the Prime Minister) is planning to announce his "Grand Design" (canceling Trident [Britain's nuclear weapon] and reintroducing conscription [National service]). The PM thinks it will be a vote-winner because a Party poll has shown that 64% of the population are in favour of reintroducing conscription.

Sir Humphrey advises Bernard to issue another poll to show the majority of the population is against reintroducing conscription. Bernard wonders how this can be done and Sir Humphrey explains it:

Listen to the performance (Real Audio)

Humphrey: You know what happens: nice young lady comes up to you. Obviously you want to create a good impression, you don't want to look a fool, do you? So she starts asking you some questions: " Mr. Woolley, are you worried about the number of young people without jobs?"
Bernard: Yes
Humphrey: "Are you worried about the rise in crime among teenagers?"
Bernard: Yes
Humphrey: "Do you think there is a lack of discipline in our Comprehensive schools?"
Bernard: Yes
Humphrey: "Do you think young people welcome some authority and leadership in their lives?"
Bernard: Yes
Humphrey: "Do you think they respond to a challenge?"
Bernard: Yes
Humphrey: "Would you be in favour of reintroducing National Service?"
Bernard: Oh...well, I suppose I might be.
Humphrey: "Yes or no?"
Bernard: Yes
Humphrey: Of course you would, Bernard. After all you told her you can't say no to that. So they don't mention the first five questions and they publish the last one.
Bernard: Is that really what they do?
Humphrey: Well, not the reputable ones no, but there aren't many of those. So alternatively the young lady can get the opposite result.
Bernard: How?
Humphrey: "Mr. Woolley, are you worried about the danger of war?"
Bernard: Yes
Humphrey: "Are you worried about the growth of armaments?"
Bernard: Yes
Humphrey: "Do you think there is a danger in giving young people guns and teaching them how to kill?"
Bernard: Yes
Humphrey: "Do you think it is wrong to force people to take up arms against their will?"
Bernard: Yes
Humphrey: "Would you oppose the reintroduction of National Service?"
Bernard: Yes
Humphrey: There you are, you see Bernard. The perfect balanced sample.

From Yes Minister

Go to the Statistics class Survey page.