Biggest losers in B.C. election: Pollsters -

Biggest losers in B.C. election: Pollsters

‘People are going to re-examine the truthfulness of polls.’


VANCOUVER – Among the biggest losers in the B.C. election campaign are the pollsters who for months have been predicting an NDP majority.

“I think people are going to re-examine the truthfulness of polls,” Premier Christy Clark said shortly after learning her party would form the next B.C. government.

“If there is any lesson in this, it’s that pollsters and pundits and commentators do not choose the government. It’s the people of British Columbia that choose the government.”

Ipsos Reid polled samples of British Columbians on their voting intentions as far back as February and on each occasion found the NDP had at least a six-point lead over the Liberals.

On May 13, just one day before B.C. elected a fourth consecutive Liberal government, Ipsos published polling results that put the NDP eight points ahead of the Liberals. On April 14, before the campaign began, their results suggested a 19-point spread between the two major parties.

Meanwhile, Angus Reid Public Opinion Polling pegged the NDP lead at 20 points on March 21 and nine per cent on the eve of the election.

Forum Research published a poll that showed a narrower margin than others, suggesting the NDP would garner 43 per cent of the popular vote while the Liberals would get 41 per cent — a two-point spread that does not exceed the poll’s margin of error.

Their failure to predict voting behaviour in the days and weeks leading up to the election is reminiscent of the 2012 Alberta provincial election, where polling data suggested Danielle Smith and the Wild Rose party would dethrone the long-ruling Progressive Conservatives.

Right up until election night, polls suggested the first change in government in 41 years but were proven wrong when Alison Redford won 61 ridings to Danielle Smith’s 17.

But Hamish Telford, a political scientist at the University of the Fraser Valley, said the situation in Alberta was different.

“They were quite clear in Alberta that what happened there was a last-minute shift. The polls had been fairly accurate up until the night of the election, and over the last weekend, and their election was on a Monday, there was a shift,” Telford said.

“There was no reason to believe that a similar shift was going to happen here,” he said.

“The Wild Rose had run a flawed campaign with some problematic candidates tarnishing the image of the party and I think some voters had reason to become nervous about electing this untested party, whereas here, the NDP, I don’t think they ran a strong campaign but they didn’t make many mistakes. I don’t think they made any big errors to cause voters to reconsider.”

Instead, said Telford, pollsters in B.C. may have failed to properly account for undecided voters.

“The last polls I saw over the weekend said it was about 20 per cent of the electorate was undecided. It would appear that that undecided broke heavily for the Liberals,” he said.

“Pollsters know there are a certain number of people who are undecided. That’s something they are going to have to pay more attention to when we look at polls,” Telford said, adding that some people he called “leaners” may have changed their minds.

Pollsters must account for voters who are leaning towards voting a certain way, but have not decided. Telford suggested pollsters do not have a good way of accounting for leaners.

Telford also wondered if there may have been a language barrier between pollsters and voters that do not speak English, or speak very little English.

“There are a lot of voters in and around Metro Vancouver whose first language is not English. Were the pollsters adequately tapping into those communities or were they getting a high degree of non-responses from those communities?” asked Telford.

“Pollsters are going to have come clean and give us an explanation.”


Biggest losers in B.C. election: Pollsters

  1. Wow, that was refreshing; thank you Prof. Telford. The concept that undecideds break evenly has always struck me as idiotic. Indeed describing undecideds as undecideds is idiotic in many cases their response is more likely “none of your business”.

    Note to Conservative friends, the above should make you feel pretty happy… my take on recent federal polls is not that many Conservative voters have switched to Liberals. It strikes me as more likely that a substantial number of “plug their nose” and vote Conservative are currently too embarrassed by SH and his tactics and have become “undecided”. On the flip side, virtually all Liberals are pleased with JT’s performance and ethics and are happy to tell pollsters about it. Like the G&M editorial board those “plug their nose” CPC supporters will come back at election time.

    • And people whose votes are influenced by attack/hate ads don’t want to admit it to pollsters, may not even realize it, but still want to cover their tracks and say “not sure yet”.

    • wishful thinking on your part, my take is people are getting more and more fed up with Harper and his crew and by 2015 it will be anyone but Harper.

  2. Pollsters have to start using Big Data just like Obama’s campaign did (and political parties increasingly do).

    Obama’s campaign pretty much had a profile of every voter individually, figured out how each individual voter was likely to vote, which were persuadable, and then devised means of persuading them.

    Obama’s campaign changed the composition of the voting population twice, by using A/B testing to figure out what methods of persuasion worked best.

    Standard polling and surveys and censuses are archaic outdated technologies.

    The digital footprint/profile a person leaves is a more accurate indication of how they will vote than an answer to a stupid question on a poll, survey, or census.

    Basically, political Big Data now is trending towards subliminal push persuasion on an individual basis, where Obama’s Big Data team was the state-of-the-art. Knowing how to use data trumped all the money the Republicans spent.

    Social science is undergoing a revolution in the “private” sector and in the “political” sector that the “academic” and the “media” sectors are still mostly completely missing.

    This is emerging reality, whether one likes it or not, or whether one approves of it or not. It is dangerous to deny reality. Those who know how to use Big Data will beat those who use “slow” and increasingly “unreliable” data of polls, surveys, and census.

    If you wanted to know the population of the United States on election day. Who would be most likely to give the most accurate answer if you asked them. The US Census Bureau or the Obama Big Data Team or Google’s CEO or perhaps one of the private Big Data corps who re-sell data.

    It is why the long form census debate is so silly. It just demonstrate that the Canadian media and many of our politicians don’t understand that one is now essentially flying blind unless our public institutions and academia learn to use Big Data the way the private sector and the best run political campaigns are now using it.

    It may not be the future you (or I) approve of, but it is likely the future we are going to. have.

    Anonymity in the future means providing a completely bland digital profile to the world, which is difficult to do. The state will view you as an enemy of the state if you try becoming one of Max Headroom’s “blanks”

  3. “I think people are going to re-examine the truthfulness of polls,” Premier Christy Clark said shortly after learning her party would form the next B.C. government.
    Great, Clark starts off with another piece of disingenuous claptrap. There is nothing wrong with polls in general, and the polling industry has never proposed that their results supplant the election itself.
    OTOH, I’ve started to wonder why the polling industry doesn’t do some follow-up polling, ask questions such as “Before the election, which party were you indicating that you would support?” and then “How did you actually vote?”

    • When the polls consistently are off from the actual results by double digits, there is something wrong with the polls. This wasn’t even close to what the pollsters came up with.

      Using something that’s been proven to be wildly wrong for multiple elections in a row as a prediction mechanism is foolish at best. Knowing how wrong they are, the polls have no value whatsoever for anything except giving pundits something to talk about.

    • If they can get anyone to answer the phone.Our answer the questions.
      Polls depends on some basic assumptions, from which the samples are designed and the results interpreted. How else can you extrapolate the thoughts of 3 million people from maybe a thousand. If you are right about your assumptions the sample can be small. And the sampling cheap. they obviously are wrong in their basic assumptions.
      The only thing that the pollsters got right was a current of discontent. Their mistake was to translate that into voting preferences.

  4. LOL.. gotta love that Hamish guy.. “The polls in Alberta were accurate.. right up to the point where it was shown they absolutely weren’t.”

    And what’s your proof, Mr. Telford? The polls you say? Hmmmm…