It’s a key question, given the swarm of public opinion reports on the horizon.
By Tom Barrett
In recent weeks, pollsters have asked us questions about UFOs, cyberscams, the coming federal election and Metro Vancouver’s transit plebiscite. But there’s one question many of us are asking the pollsters: Why should we believe you?
The 2013 B.C. election fail did for the polling industry what the Hindenburg did for the dirigible as the last word in air safety. Since then, pollsters have been struggling to find ways to better measure what we’re thinking.
For pollsters, there’s no money in asking questions about elections and releasing the numbers to the media. They do it as a marketing tool to attract clients who want to know what people think about, say, shampoo.
Because the numbers in marketing surveys are difficult to verify, calling elections correctly is one of the few ways pollsters can show they know their stuff. Calling elections correctly, however, is becoming increasingly difficult. And bum results don’t attract clients.
University of British Columbia political science professor Richard Johnston said he understands their plight. “If I were in the firms I would almost ask myself, ‘Is it worth it to be in the prediction business?'” he said.
But if pollsters quit doing public polls, voters are left with less information, said Johnston. Voters have a valid interest in knowing how their fellow citizens are going to vote because it allows them to decide how to vote most effectively, he said. “If you can’t make sense of the polling information, then what do you do?” Continue reading