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.

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  1. CAROLINE says:

    Hi Alexander – I don’t beleive they will ever get rid of it because of the revenue it brings in for the tourist industry. Everytime I went to Spain as a child, my Brother and I begged my parents for tickets. My Mother thought it was a cruel sport, my Father thought it was all about the Spanish old tradition. I’ve been up close to a Bull and find them frightening, but still in two minds about these bullfighting events, not what I would call a sport. What BBC show did you do?

  2. jeff ramsey says:

    As for whatever publishes regarding ethical treatment of animals, PETA is a terrorist organization that has a radical view of man’s relationship to animals. In particular, the opposition to the fiesta national is camaign that has much to do with making money, plus PETA publishes disinformation as normal part of “doing business”.


    “In a February 1 letter, PETA said Neumann University (a Franciscan-affiliated school) would betray its Catholic values by continuing to support the event. (We wonder where PETA’s concern for values is when it mixes naked women and religious imagery.) As happens all too often, university officials cried “uncle” without looking carefully at PETA’s credibility. And the truth is out there: For puppies and kittens, PETA is the proverbial Grim Reaper.

    This so-called animal “rights” group killed 95 percent of the pets in its care in 2008, according to records PETA itself filed with the Virginia state government. Out of the 2,216 animals PETA took during 2008, it managed to find homes for a mere seven animals – despite an annual budget of $32 million.

    What’s the reason for PETA’s hypocrisy? Money. It’s easier and cheaper to run media campaigns berating circuses than to actually roll up a sleeve or two and save cats and dogs. The last thing PETA wants to do is actually take care of animals. That’s expensive. (But it’s also “ethical.”)

    PETA will, however, use advertising dollars to shamelessly exploit human tragedy. In Great Britain, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) just banned PETA from displaying an ad with a photograph of a baby killer. PETA was trying to link animal abuse with infanticide.”

  3. By the way, regarding workers in the bullfighting business the Ministry of Interior gives an official number of about 8.000. Even if this number was true, 500 million euros in subsidies to sustain 8000 workers seems a lot to me when Spain is facing 23% unemployment and gets a lot less aid than that.

    In any case, we have checked those lists and a great percentage are “apprentices” that have been being so for the last 20 years, kind of weird, don’t you think? We found out the response, in order to get an autonomous license to be an independent professional in Spain and work on your own, you need to pay a monthly fee to the government, which covers your social security and so on. Well, how strange, the cheapest one is that of the bullfighting business sector. So we believe many people are using this license for other activities such as livestock, agricultural, show business and so on, without really being in the bullfighting industry.

  4. I have read both your comments and cannot actually bear to publish both they are so filled with misinformation. For example, the 2006 poll only asked questions of “no interest”, “some interest” or “great interest.” I am sure many people in the “no interest” category did not like the bulls, but they simply were not asked that question.

    When you said “People just don’t go to bullfights anymore in Spain, except for a very small minority”, I am just trying to work out who the hell was in the audience for the fifty corridas I watched researching my book Into The Arena in 2009? There were tourists in Seville, although the shady side was almost exclusively Spanish, but the rural ones? This is a lie. [On the night I wrote this I attended the Domingo de Resurrecion bullfight in Seville. There was not one empty seat out of 12,700. Not one. AFH]

    You say that the number of bullfights has dropped by a third in three years? That’s because 2007 was a record year in Spanish history and then your economy took a nose-dive? What do you expect when GDP growth goes from 3.4% per annum to negative figures, you enter recession and your unemployment rate doubles? Did anyone say there were going to be more bullfights? I would have predicted an larger fall off in numbers on the economics of what is essentially a luxury entertainment alone. Look at the figures for West End theatres in London in the same period…

    As for what you say in your comment which I did publish: you are either very stupid or very deceitful. The Ministry of the Interior gives a figure of over 8,000 for licensed bullfighters, not people in the industry. Who the hell is farming the 1,350 registered farms? The bulls? You say, “we have checked those lists”? How? That data is protected and you have no idea how long anyone has been on the lists.

    You say it is paid 500 million Euros in subsidies? Did you just start hitting the zero button on your keypad and wonder how many you could get away with before people just walked away in disbelief.

    People who are pro-bullfighting are guilty of exaggeration, but I have never seen anything like this.

    Tell people to go and see a bullfight, that is your job. It is all there in the open, the picador’s lance, the banderillas, the blood, the sword, the bad kills and even the “good” ones.

    What are you so afraid of that you have to make things up? If the bullfight is really dying on its own, why are you trying so hard to kill it?

  5. Fiske, I would happily answer to you post and confirm my information, if you weren’t so deceitful as to only publish one of my comments and erase the other one. Surprisingly, the one with all the links to my sources. No only you like to entertain yourself with the blood and death of a sentient being, you censor the comments to your posts that prove that you are wrong.

    Since you are clearly ready to hide any information that will not help you keep flattering your pro-bullfighting friends, my communication with you is finished.

  6. How on Earth would you confirm things which aren’t true? Are you going to post a link proving how the 8,000 licensed bullfighters also farm the 1,350 licensed breeding farms? Judging by your standards of proof, you would probably try. However, not on my blog.

    I have never claimed this is some sort of forum for debate. I publish interesting, truthful, or helpful comments. I do not ‘hide’ anything, stop pretending you are being censored: the internet is open and you have a perfectly good website of your own. My blog is not part of it. Pro-taurinos similarly complain I do not run this the way they wish. As I answer them as well: tough.

  7. Ok, I would only suggest you add next to the Comment or Leave a Reply box “Only if you agree with what I say”, it would help people not to waste their time.

  8. Which is exactly what the word “moderate” means. In any language.

  9. These childish and petty debates from this Smila guy are pointless. I’m glad that Alexander has rectified these issues with Gallup and found out the truth. Interesting writer, but I could’nt find his book in my local Waterstones and will have to order it online.

  10. Lorena Martínez says:

    Whether you like it or not, bullfighting is doomed to disappear, and the only thing I cans say is : Good riddance to bad rubbish!

  11. And whether you like it or not, there are more things on Heaven and Earth than are dreamed of in your philosophy…

  12. Statistics are as valid as you want them to be. From formulating the questions into a specific way, to choosing sample, to interpreting the results, everything is open. And of course it all depends on what you define as “valid” in the first place! In weird sense, you perform a statistic AFTER you have decided which are the results you expect, so that you can rule out any “exceptions” (that is, exceptions based on your perception) from the sample and normalize the numbers… Very interesting “science” indeed…


  1. [...] hacia la Fiesta, es una gran mentira. Según ha desvelado el escritor Alexander Fiske-Harrison en un artículo en su web, del que se hace eco Juan Medina en su blog, Gallup no ha encuestado sobre el tema de las corridas [...]

  2. [...] a passage about Munera in there. (For those who doubt these figures, see the next blog post about Gallup polls on its [...]

  3. [...] of the recently published book Into the Arena: The World of the Spanish Bullfight, reported on his blog that this statistic, which was quoted to me by a PETA representative isn’t as accurate as it [...]

  4. [...] For discussion of its current popularity and the oft-quoted ‘Gallup’ polls, see this post. On the ethics of the corrida, see this [...]

  5. [...] the aesthetics of bullfighting, and my contact details. Two other posts I would mention here are this one on the popularity of bullfighting in Spain and the often quoted ‘Gallup’ polls, and [...]

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