Over There (in the UK)

December 12, 2005 at 4 PM

Polls: 50% Public Duped by Election Polls

Globe headline: Liberals snatching NDP votes in Ontario The big headline in the The Globe and Mail this morning says the NDP have lost vital votes in Ontario to the Liberals. Somehow, NDP support has collapsed in Ontario, despite very little happening in the campaign. Does that sound unlikely? The Globe doesn’t question the numbers, and neither does CTV, which uses the same polling information. They say support has dropped from “15% in early December,” or in other words, 15% a few days ago. A 6% drop over a few days? Uh huh.

Why not just say new polls show NDP support has dropped since the 1988 election? That’s true too, and it’s just as stunningly uninformative. In fact, if you go to the polling company that produced these results and look at their numbers, the only thing that is clear that these numbers are probably just a blip, inherent to the fact that when you phone a few hundred people, they aren’t always going to say the same thing as a few hundred other people. It’s amazing how much trust we put in polls. Why bother having general elections at all? Why not just let a random selection of a few hundred people decide who gets into power? It would save so much time and money. (Of course it wouldn’t really sell newspapers.)

Here they are: results from The Strategic Counsel, the company that produced these numbers. They don’t have today’s numbers up yet, but that’s okay. Look at the most recent ones before this, for December 8th. The numbers for NDP support show they have 17% of decided voters in Ontario. Not 15%. I’m guessing the difference is because the news stories factor in undecided voters. Maybe. I don’t actually know, because nowhere does it say. And the poll also doesn’t say what percentage of people polled were “decided”.

The published poll also says results from Ontario have more than a 4% margin of error. Oh right, says CTV in the very last sentence in their story: “Any movement in numbers over the campaign’s course to date has been within the margin of error.” Ahem.

You mean the media might be using totally unreliable numbers to create a “story”? Say it’s not so! Well, the election is big news and there has to be a headline to keep the papers selling and the TV channels flipping. Even if the party leaders have said nothing interesting lately, nor offered much incentive to voters why they ought to govern. Why just read the story:

But even here [in the Niagara region], the emerging Liberal momentum was evident. Mr. Martin appeared confident enough in his party’s position in the area that, despite touring a winery and proclaiming the day to be “about small business,” he offered no new ideas or policies for improving that sector of the economy.

Brilliant strategy, that. Offer no ideas or policies! Can’t lose!

The Globe quotes one of the authors of the polls:

The NDP, meanwhile, is suffering from an anybody-but-Harper sentiment that’s emerging among left-of-centre voters, Mr. Gregg said. He credited some of that to Canadian Auto Workers president Buzz Hargrove, who has urged Canadians to only vote New Democrat in ridings the party has a shot at winning. The strategy of “driving those NDP supporters closer to the bosom of the Liberal Party” seems to be working, Mr. Gregg said.

Well, Mr. Gregg is entitled to his opinion, although he’s only repeating what the newspaper thinks the “story” should be. And that in itself is just part of a spin job engineered by people in the parties. A few days ago, the Liberals convinced Canadian Auto Workers president Buzz Hargrove to say that voters ought to vote Liberal to stop the Conservatives, even if they might prefer the NDP. The media made hay out of that, and now it will be repeated ad nauseam. “Highly-Paid, Extremely Powerful and Influential Union Boss Says Vote Strategically; Canadians Blindly Follow” might as well be the headline for the rest of the election.

You can’t stop powerful people from making stupid comments, but polls like this should be illegal. I have no doubt that they influence voters, because the Canadian electoral system encourages people to vote strategically. Publish continuous headlines that say a party is in trouble, and people will believe it. When they vote, they’ll think, “There’s no point voting for them — they can’t win. It’s a wasted vote.” So they’ll vote in the same slimy bastards that have been in power for 12 years and have accomplished next to nothing. Oops, did I just call the governing party “slimy bastards?” It just slipped out. But I can’t help it. Elections make me angry.

Update: Read on for a further investigation of these polls



— CĂ©line | Dec. 19, 2005 — 2 PM

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Previously: Australia Fair, Now’s the Time to Advance

Subsequently: Polls: 99% Yesterday’s Polls Meaningless Today

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