The next time the man on the white horse comes in, he may not be so benign. He could be a real racial hater or a divider of people.
Jim Squires, one-time spokesperson for Ross Perot. Squires made the comment after the 1992 U.S. election, which showed that millions of Americans were ready to go crazy for a thin-skinned, TV-adept billionaire who promised to shake things up in Washington, D.C.
It’s a key question, given the swarm of public opinion reports on the horizon. By Tom Barrett TheTyee.ca
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 →
‘Show me the numbers,’ demands Insights West president, who says voters simply changed their minds. By Tom Barrett TheTyee.ca
A veteran pollster is calling BS on BC Liberal claims that the party’s internal polls predicted the May 14 provincial election result.
On the eve of the election, polls published in the media suggested a comfortable majority for the New Democratic Party. Instead, the Liberals won by more than four percentage points.
After the election, Liberal sources said their own polls had indicated they would win 48 seats. The party ended up winning 49 seats.
Steve Mossop, president of Insights West, says he doesn’t believe the stories.
During a recent panel discussion at Simon Fraser University Harbour Centre, Mossop was asked by an audience member about media reports that contrasted public pollsters’ embarrassing failures with the Liberals’ own polls.
“I knew the question would come up and my answer to that is, ‘I cry BS,'” he said. “There’s no way. I have never seen the data…
“Show me the numbers.”
Added Mossop: “Every insider that I’ve ever talked to, both in the NDP and in the Liberals, said they all thought they were doomed to fail that night. It’s very easy after the fact, once you’ve won, to say, ‘We knew it all along.'” Continue reading →
Many flubbed their May 14 election calls. Here’s one who thinks he knows why. By Tom Barrett June 21, 2013 TheTyee.ca
Pollster Kyle Braid thinks he’s figured out how he missed so badly in the May 14 election.
Like almost every other pollster, Braid, a vice-president at Ipsos Reid, came up with results on the eve of the election that suggested a healthy victory for the New Democratic Party. When that turned into a healthy victory for the BC Liberals, Braid and the other pollsters were left with egg dripping from their faces.
The last Ipsos poll, taken May 13, suggested the NDP had the support of 45 per cent of decided voters, compared to 37 per cent for the BC Liberals. The final results were NDP 40 per cent, Liberals 44.
Braid told an audience at the Spur Festival in Vancouver this week that he thinks he adjusted his data when he shouldn’t have and failed to adjust it when he should have.
Every polling company adjusts, or weights, its samples. That’s because samples rarely look like the general population. They may, to take a simple example, contain more women than the electorate as a whole. Continue reading →
Were they foiled by the ’10-second Socred’? A look at several possibilities. By Tom Barrett
May 17 2013 TheTyee.ca
“Any election is like a horse race, in that you can tell more about it the next day.” — Sir John A. Macdonald
Greg Lyle has seen a lot of election campaigns — and campaign polls — as a pollster and a political organizer.
He says there’s a key difference between parties’ internal polls and the polls you read about in the media.
“Parties spend a lot of money on polling,” Lyle said in an election night interview.
A major party will spend between $150,000 and $200,000 on polls during an election, he said. Public polls, the kind you read about in the media, are either sponsored by media outlets at a relatively low cost or given away free.
Pollsters tend to be political junkies. They like to be a part of the campaign drama and they want to know what’s happening. That’s part of the reason they give campaign polls away.
But political polls are also loss leaders for pollsters. They make their money testing public opinion for people who want to sell shampoo and potato chips; having the media talk about their election insights helps attract such clients.
So if you’re a pollster, calling an election correctly is great publicity.
Having people say “How did the pollsters get it so completely, utterly, ridiculously, ludicrously wrong?” is not great publicity.
’10-second Socred’ syndrome
Lyle, managing director of the Innovative Research Group, thinks the answer to that question lies partly in pollsters’ methodology. Many of the big polls taken during the campaign were online polls: a pollster assembles a panel of tens or hundreds of thousands of people who are willing to answer questions, sometimes for a token fee. The pollster conducts a poll by drawing names from that panel and sending out emails with links to questionnaires.
Some experts argue that such polls pose problems. While online polling has generally been pretty successful, some, like Lyle, argue that online polls don’t “respect the rules of polling, which is that everybody has a random chance, or an equal and known chance of being selected.” Continue reading →
But maybe one way to look at it is that polls don’t drive democracy. By Tom Barrett
May 15, 2013 TheTyee.ca
It was a lousy night to be a pollster and a great night to be someone who thinks polls undermine democracy.
The pollsters got it wrong Tuesday: spectacularly, Alberta-sized wrong.
Not one published poll in the months before the election gave the BC Liberals a lead over the New Democratic Party. Instead of the six-to-nine percentage point NDP victory suggested by the province’s big political pollsters, voters appear to have given the Liberals a comfortable five-point victory.
It was eerily similar to the result in Alberta a year ago, when the last polls put the Wildrose party ahead of the incumbent Progressive Conservatives by six to eight points. On election night, the PCs won by a 10-point margin.
B.C. pollsters were well aware that Alberta voters appear to have changed their minds at the last minute and were polling up until the day before the vote. It didn’t help.
The closest late-stage B.C. election poll was produced by Forum Research, which still had the NDP in the lead and overestimated the NDP share of the vote by more than the poll’s margin of error.
Pollster Greg Lyle, managing director of the Innovative Research Group, said online polling — used by Ipsos and Angus Reid, B.C.’s two best-known pollsters — appears to have failed.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that the online polls overestimated the NDP,” Lyle said. “They’re going to have to tear their panels apart and figure out what they got wrong.”
Lyle, who was Gordon Campbell’s campaign director in the 1996 B.C. election, said his firm did some private polling during the campaign and found a narrow gap between the Liberals and NDP.
“We thought our poll was wrong because all these other online polls were saying that there was this big gap,” he said. “But I think, hindsight being 20/20, that it’s pretty clear that it was never as bad as they said.”
There appear to be biases in the makeup of the panels of respondents to online polls that will need to be addressed, Lyle said.
“Everyone got burned,” he said.
Hamish Telford, head of the political science department at the University of the Fraser Valley, said there was a large undecided vote in the polls until the last week.
“Clearly, that undecided vote broke one way rather than the other,” he said.
Find Tyee election reporting team member and contributing editor Tom Barrett’s previous Tyee articles here. Find him on Twitter or email him.
Most BC surveys give NDP solid edge but several factors keep swing ridings in play.
By Tom Barrett
May 13, 2013 TheTyee.ca
If the polls are right, the NDP is headed for a comfortable victory Tuesday. Of course, that’s what they said in Alberta last year about the Wildrose party.
The last polls in Alberta put Wildrose ahead of the incumbent Progressive Conservatives by six to eight points. On election night, the PCs won by a 10-point margin.
Friday, B.C.’s two big political pollsters, Ipsos Reid and Angus Reid, released polls that suggested an NDP lead of between six and nine points over the incumbent B.C. Liberals.
Those are large leads, given B.C. election history. But they’re dramatically smaller than the 20-point leads the polls suggested in March. That collapse in New Democratic Party support has sparked talk of the Liberals’ Christy Clark pulling off an upset for the ages.
You expect that kind of stuff from the Liberals and their media chums. But some well-placed New Democrats are sketching the same scenario, foreseeing a calamitous alignment of the stars that combines a better-than-expected Green party showing with a worse-than-predicted B.C. Conservative showing.
At this point in the campaign, you have to assume that everything is spin. And fretting aloud about the possibility of a Liberal win suits the New Democrats’ strategy; volunteers would be spurred to work harder, supporters scared into making sure they vote and soft NDPers warned away from the Green party.
But years of losing have taught B.C. New Democrats that even the fluffiest white cloud comes with a heavy rainfall warning. And you can make a case that there may be something to their fears.
After all, look what happened in Alberta.
Conservative klutz factor
To start with, the B.C. Conservatives are fielding only 60 candidates in the 85 ridings. Plenty of people who have told pollsters they’d vote for John Cummins’ party could turn up at the polls and discover they don’t have a Conservative to vote for. Will those people end up voting Liberal? Continue reading →