Expect to get this phone call soon

Australians have been receiving the calls from pollsters ReachTEL.
Australians have been receiving the calls from pollsters ReachTEL.

DON'T be surprised if you get a call from an unknown number over the coming days.

Across the country, millions of Australians are receiving unsolicited calls from either side - or no side at all - of the same-sex marriage question as debate reaches a crescendo ahead of the ballots being sent out next week.

Of course, that's if the ballots get sent out at all given the knots the Government is winding itself in at the High Court.

But whether the survey goes ahead or not the calls are already coming in. Through our mobiles and landlines, there's a concerted effort to work out who we're going to vote for, nudge us in one direction or the other and make sure we send those votes back. readers have noticed a series of robo calls coming through over the last few days asking which way they were planning to swing on same sex marriage.

The questions weren't leading but, still, who was behind the calls? Was it one of the campaigns? Or a newspaper or TV station taking a snapshot of the public mood?

Well, we've done some digging and these calls, at least, are coming from pollsters ReachTEL.

However, surprisingly, the results will unlikely ever be made public. Nether will they be disclosed to either campaign.

In fact they're not really about the same-sex debate at all. It's all a great big experiment to help predict the next election and if Malcolm Turnbull will hand over the keys of The Lodge to Bill Shorten.

James Stewart, Head of ReachTEL, said the company was making vast numbers of calls across Australia to put a multimillion-dollar new number crunching system through its paces.

Called Cambrian, the super computer has been developed by ReachTEL's US owner Equifax. It's designed to predict with greater clarity than ever before how we will all vote.

"This is trial run for the federal election. The beauty with same-sex marriage vote is there are only a few variables - yes or no, participate or did not participate - rather than nine different political parties," Mr Stewart told

And, boy, do pollsters need to work out new ways to correctly predict elections. Collectively, their reputations have been shattered following a series of miscalculations.

Opinion polls pointed to both Britain remaining in the European Union and Hillary Clinton winning the US presidency.

Critics had lots of theories as to why they failed so spectacularly. Polling companies had surveyed too few people, they said; they had failed to predict the number of people who would abstain from voting; and hadn't grasped the motivations that led to a larger than predicted number of female voters deserting Clinton for Trump.

Cambrian is designed to change all that. Mr Stewart said it was a "huge investment" to develop a "deep neural network learning platform".

Sounds fancy, but one of the edges he thinks it will give is the sheer number of Australians who will be assessed to get a picture of their voting intentions. He wouldn't reveal numbers but when asked if they would poll, say, hundreds of thousands of people, he told the number was probably even higher.

"Our data set contains up to about 100 different variables on each individual. Things like, do they have kids? Are they married? What is their property value?

"All that information can identify the common elements among individuals and make a prediction," Mr Stewart said.

"We can take small amounts of data - like education and income - and that can tell us if they will vote yes or no, will they participate or not."

When the actually ABS-certified result of the same sex marriage survey is known, ReachTEL will see how accurate Cambrian really was.

"We're letting it loose and the lesson from this will apply for the Federal Election in 2019 when we should be able to point at any household in Australia and with 85 per cent accuracy find out what is most important to them," he said.

ReachTEL isn't the only same-sex marriage call you might receive with both the yes and no camps eager to court votes.

The Equality Campaign, one of the largest advocates for a yes vote, has already set up phone banks with volunteers beavering away on the blower.

But, right now, they are only calling people who have already given an indication they will be voting in favour of same-sex marriage - the main message to callers is to send the vote back in the post the day it's received. has asked the Coalition for Marriage, the main no campaign, about their phone bank plans.

Mr Stewart said the numbers the company was calling came from commercially available databases that were constantly being updated.

But if you think being on the do not call register will shield you from calls about marriage equality, think again.

"The difficulty is people don't understand that even if you're on do not call you can still be called for research purposes and if you are not being sold a service," he said.

So, over the next few weeks, expect to be asked over the phone - by a prerecorded voice or a real life human - whether you're a yes or no.

Topics:  editors picks gay marriage poll

News Corp Australia

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