Pollster Calls BS on BC Libs’ Private Election Polls

‘Show me the numbers,’ demands Insights West president, who says voters simply changed their minds.
By Tom Barrett

"It's very easy after the fact, once you've won, to say, 'We knew it all along,'" says veteran pollster Steve Mossop.
“It’s very easy after the fact, once you’ve won, to say, ‘We knew it all along,'” says veteran pollster Steve Mossop.

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

A modest proposal…

May election results reveal a surprising new voter bloc for the BC NDP.
By Tom Barrett

Final results from May show the NDP made gains in some of B.C.’s wealthiest ridings. Orange champagne image via Shutterstock.
Final results from May show the NDP made gains in some of B.C.’s wealthiest ridings. Orange champagne image via Shutterstock.

As the B.C. New Democratic Party racks its neural tissues to discover how it blew a 20-point lead in the polls on May 14, it might be happy to learn that the news isn’t all bad.

Sure, the NDP was thumped in an election that everybody expected it to win. But it did make gains in some unexpected places.

Among the very rich, for example.

Final election results show the NDP made some of its biggest gains in some of B.C.’s wealthiest ridings. Ridings like Vancouver-False Creek, where the NDP increased its total by a healthy 3,479 votes over its 2009 showing. Ditto for Vancouver-Fairview (up 2,768 votes) and North Vancouver-Seymour (up 2,343 votes).

All three of those ridings are among the 10 constituencies with the highest median after-tax incomes, according to BC Stats. In fact, six of the 10 ridings where the NDP made its biggest gains May 14 are on that top 10 income list. (The figures, while the latest available for income by constituency, come from the 2006 census and are a bit dated. But heck, a riding that was wealthy in 2006 is probably still doing pretty well today.)

The table below shows the wealthy ridings where the NDP vote increased the most. The margin columns show who won the riding in the last two elections and the winner’s margin as a percentage of the total vote.

Riding 09 Margin 13 Margin
Vancouver-False Creek Lib 28.9 Lib 15.5
Vancouver-Fairview Lib 4.9 NDP 5.1
North Vancouver-Seymour Lib 31.8 Lib 18.0
Vancouver-Point Grey Lib 10.1 NDP 4.4
Surrey-Cloverdale Lib 32.9 Lib 30.5
West Vancouver-Capilano Lib 53.0 Lib 44.7

As shown, two of these wealthy ridings, Vancouver-Fairview and Vancouver-Point Grey, abandoned the Liberals for the NDP. And the Liberals’ victory margins fell in all of the other four. Clearly, in B.C. the class war is riddled with quislings. Continue reading

The weight on a BC pollster’s shoulders

Many flubbed their May 14 election calls. Here’s one who thinks he knows why.
By Tom Barrett
June 21, 2013

Ipsos Reid's Kyle Braid unravels the mystery of his election-night failure. Photo: Twitter.
Ipsos Reid’s Kyle Braid unravels the mystery of his election-night failure. Photo: Twitter.

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

Green gains likely came at BC Libs’ expense

Further election number crunching that suggests the centre-left vote split is myth.
By Tom Barrett
May 31, 2013

Andrew Weaver, first Green MLA in B.C., on May 14 election night. Photo by Robert Alstead, Running on Climate.
Andrew Weaver, first Green MLA in B.C., on May 14 election night. Photo by Robert Alstead, Running on Climate.

The Green Party’s biggest gains in the May 14 election seem to have come at the expense of the Liberals.

During the campaign, the New Democrats seemed obsessed with losing votes to the Greens. The Liberals even tweaked the NDP by running a pro-Green newspaper ad in Victoria near the end of the campaign.

Maybe the Liberals should have saved their money.

The final count shows the five ridings where the Green vote increased the most were all in southern Vancouver Island. And in four of those ridings, the Liberal vote dropped more than the NDP vote.

One popular theory holds that the Greens steal votes from the NDP. If that were true, you’d expect the Greens’ gains to come at the expense of the NDP in these ridings. But that doesn’t seem to have happened.

In Oak Bay-Gordon Head, where Andrew Weaver won the Greens their first seat ever, the Greens picked up 8,392 more votes than in 2009. At the same time, the NDP vote dropped by 3,780.

But the Liberals, who won the seat in 2009, saw their vote drop by 4,110. Those votes don’t seem to have gone to the Conservative party, which is usually assumed to be the biggest vote-splitting threat to the Liberals. The Conservative vote increased by only 492 over 2009.

The numbers suggest that the Greens pulled a lot of support from former Liberal voters.

Libs suffered in Island ridings

Now, it’s possible that a whole lot of Liberal supporters stayed home May 14 and a whole bunch of new Green supporters turned out for the first time. Or a lot of Liberal supporters switched to the NDP and some NDP supporters switched to the Greens. But, given the size of the Liberal collapse, it seems likely that plenty of former Liberal supporters went Green.

The overall number of valid votes in Oak Bay-Gordon Head increased by 994, or four per cent, suggesting that Weaver’s support didn’t all come from new voters.

The Greens’ other big increase came in Saanich North and the Islands, which also went Liberal in 2009. This time, after all the ballots were counted, the NDP took this riding in a close three-way race.

The Green vote increased 6,913. The NDP vote dropped 2,363. The Liberal vote dropped 2,784. There was no Conservative candidate.

Overall, the vote in Saanich North and the Islands increased by 2,365, a hefty eight per cent over 2009. Continue reading

Behind BC’s pollster fail

Were they foiled by the ’10-second Socred’? A look at several possibilities.
By Tom Barrett
May 17 2013

“Any election is like a horse race, in that you can tell more about it the next day.” — Sir John A. Macdonald

Tuesday's outcome was not great publicity for some pollsters. Photo: Shutterstock.
Tuesday’s outcome was not great publicity for some pollsters. Photo: Shutterstock.

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

In a Greenless world, would the NDP have won?

To decide, look at 13 lost New Democrat ridings where the Greens factored in.
By Tom Barrett
May 15, 2013

NDP: Stolen victory? Judge for yourself. Photo by Joshua Berson.
NDP: Stolen victory? Judge for yourself. Photo by Joshua Berson.

Imagine a British Columbia without the Green party. It’s a fantasy that many angry New Democrats are indulging in today.

That’s because, if you take the Green party out of Tuesday’s election and assume that every vote cast for the Greens would have gone instead to the NDP, you’re looking at a hefty NDP majority government.

Pending absentee ballots and possible recounts, Tuesday’s results were: 50 seats for the BC Liberals, 33 NDP, one Green and one independent.

The NDP lost in 13 ridings where the combined NDP and Green vote was greater than the BC Liberal vote. Switch all those seats to the NDP and you get 46 NDP, 37 Liberals, no Greens and one independent.

However, the assumption underlying this fantasy Greenless world is a bit iffy.

Those 13 ridings include Oak Bay-Gordon Head, where Andrew Weaver took 40 per cent of the vote. The NDP came third, just behind former Liberal cabinet minister Ida Chong. Can you really say Weaver split the NDP vote?

For the sake of argument, let’s give this riding to the NDP in our fantasy legislature. That leaves 12 ridings where the NDP came second to the Liberals and would have won if all the Green votes had gone to them. How likely is that? Can you assume that every Green voter would have voted NDP if the Greens didn’t exist? Continue reading

In key ridings, NDP failed to improve on 2009 results

By Tom Barrett
May 15, 2013

One big reason the new B.C. political map looks so much like the old one is the NDP’s inability to pick up ridings they almost won in 2009.

Four hours after the polls closed, votes were still being counted and several ridings were too close to call. Still, it was clear that the New Democrats failed to make any headway in the many ridings that were close in 2009.

There were 17 ridings that were decided by less than five percentage points in the last election; 11 of them went Liberal. The NDP needed to drag most of those into their win column to claim victory Tuesday.

Given the comfortable NDP lead suggested by the polls, that should have been an easy task. Instead, the Liberals managed to hang on to most of their near wins and even stole two ridings that the NDP had narrowly won in ’09.

In Saanich North and the Islands, which the Liberals won by less than one percentage point in 2009, the NDP was leading by an eyelash Tuesday night in what was essentially a three-way tie.

In Burnaby-Lougheed, which the Liberals won by less than four points in 2009, the NDP was up by three points Tuesday night.

The NDP also took Vancouver-Fairview, which the Liberals won by just under five points in 2009.

But the NDP couldn’t hang on to two ridings they won by narrow margins in 2009.

In Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows, where the NDP won by a little over one percentage point in 2009, the Liberals were ahead by three points Tuesday night.

The Liberals also took Cariboo North, which the NDP won by less than four points in 2009.

Find Tyee election reporting team member and contributing editor Tom Barrett’s previous Tyee articles here. Find him on Twitter or email him.

Did negative politics crush positive?

Or did Christy Clark just run a better campaign, period?
By Tom Barrett
May 15, 2013

Premer Christy Clark. Photo by Carlos Tello.
Premer Christy Clark. Photo by Carlos Tello.

It won’t be hard to find people who will point to tonight’s Liberal victory and claim that negative politics beat positive campaigning.

But the answer may be that a good campaign beat a bad one.

The incumbent Liberals waged an aggressive battle that focused on raising fears about job losses and New Democrat leader Adrian Dix’s personal trustworthiness. The NDP, which had pledged a positive campaign, spent little time reminding voters of why the Liberals were so unpopular.

“It was a disastrous campaign and I felt that through most of the campaign,” political scientist Hamish Telford said of the New Democrats’ effort, which saw a 20-point lead in the polls turn into a five-point deficit when the ballots were counted.

“I thought the NDP was not campaigning effectively,” said Telford, head of the political science department at the University of the Fraser Valley. “I thought that Adrian Dix was quite lacklustre in both the debates. But I thought the campaign was going to be good enough to succeed.

“Evidently it wasn’t.”

Telford said much of the credit must go to Premier Christy Clark.

“A lot of people are going to focus on the negativity of the Liberals, that they ran a very negative campaign with a lot of attacks,” he said. “But I also believe it had a lot to do with the buoyant personality of Christy Clark. She’s always upbeat, positive and optimistic.”

Clark’s ability to project optimism while knocking down the NDP — combined with Dix’s “charisma deficit” — is what turned the tide, Telford said.

He said there will inevitably be a great deal of soul-searching within the NDP. The party caucus will be bitter and it won’t be easy for Dix to meet them, he said.

“I feel terrible for the man,” he said.

However, Telford said, “He didn’t pull it off and he’s going to have to carry the can for it.”

Going positive ‘right thing to do’: Dix

Dix insisted on election night that the positive pledge was no mistake.

“I believed and I still believe running a positive campaign was the right approach,” he said.

Saying he will have to accept the voters’ verdict, Dix said he had wanted to get young people interested in politics again.

“One way to address that is to stop attacking people personally,” he said. “I’m not naive about it. I think it was the right thing to do.”

Pollster Greg Lyle, managing director of the Innovative Research Group, said the NDP campaign “got very negative in the last week” of the campaign.

But the NDP defeat was not really about being positive or negative, he said.

“You’re taking a pretty big chance when you elect as leader of your party somebody who was fired for faking a memo,” Lyle said. “His record was just a scary record. At the end of the day I think some of that sunk in.”

When Dix came out against the Kinder Morgan pipeline, voters thought “maybe he’s not as safe as they thought he was,” said Lyle, who was Gordon Campbell’s campaign director in the 1996 B.C. election.

He said the Liberals won by turning the election from “a referendum on whether they were a perfect government into a referendum on whether or not Adrian Dix was a safe choice.”

Find Tyee election reporting team member and contributing editor Tom Barrett’s previous Tyee articles here. Find him on Twitter or email him. With files from Andrew MacLeod, The Tyee’s Legislative Bureau Chief.

Why polls don’t quell New Democrat jitters

Most BC surveys give NDP solid edge but several factors keep swing ridings in play.
By Tom Barrett
May 13, 2013

May 10 vote mob at Vancouver's Roundhouse, where over 400 people lined up to cast ballots early. Which party gets highest turnout may decide riding races tightened in past weeks. Photo: Joshua Berson
May 10 vote mob at Vancouver’s Roundhouse, where over 400 people lined up to cast ballots early. Which party gets highest turnout may decide riding races tightened in past weeks. Photo: Joshua Berson

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

Keep in mind, BC elections tend to be close…

By Tom Barrett

B.C. elections tend to be close. Over the last 40 years, only two have been decided by more than 10 percentage points. Only one has been decided by more than 10.1 points.

That’s worth bearing in mind as the election polls tighten. The latest poll, from Ipsos, suggests the New Democratic Party leads the BC Liberals by 10 points. The day before that, an Angus Reid poll suggested the NDP leads by seven points.

It’s a long way to election day, but a 10-point victory would be the third-largest margin of the last 40 years. A seven-point victory would be the fourth-largest in that period.

During the 1960s, W.A.C. Bennett’s Social Credit party beat the NDP three times by a margin of 12 to 13 points. But since the W.A.C. era ended in 1972 with an eight-point victory by the NDP, things have been much tighter.

Here are the results of the nine elections of the last four decades. The table shows the winner’s margin of victory in percentage points as well as the percentage of seats in the legislature the winner took.

Election Winner Margin Seat percentage
1975 Social Credit 10.09 64
1979 Social Credit 2.24 54
1983 Social Credit 4.82 61
1986 Social Credit 6.72 68
1991 NDP 7.46 68
1996 NDP – 2.37 52
2001 Liberal 36.06 97
2005 Liberal 4.28 58
2009 Liberal 3.67 58

The median margin of victory for this period is 4.82 percentage points.

The biggest victory by far was 36 points in the New Democrat wipeout of 2001, when voters went to the polls with pitchforks and torches looking to throw the bums out even unto the seventh generation. The narrowest victory was in 1996, when the NDP won with fewer votes than the Liberals. That wasn’t the first time in B.C. history that the party with the most votes lost. In 1952, the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation beat Social Credit by four points on the final count, but took one less seat.

As that suggests, in our first-past-the-post system you don’t need to run up a big lead to win control of the legislature. The NDP took more seats in 1996 because their vote was spread more evenly over the province’s ridings, while the Liberal vote tended to cluster in places like West Vancouver and the Fraser Valley.

As the table above also shows, the size of a party’s victory doesn’t translate directly into seats in the legislature. It all depends on where a party’s votes are located and the strength of third parties.

The two charts below give a graphic illustration of just how close B.C. elections tend to be. If things get tight on May 14, it won’t be anything out of the ordinary.

(Click on chart to enlarge.)

Source: Elections BC
Source: Elections BC
Source: Elections BC
Source: Elections BC

Find Tyee election reporting team member and contributing editor Tom Barrett’s previous Tyee articles here. Find him on Twitter or email him.