REALity – XXXIV Issue No.8 August 2015

A few months before the October 19, 2015 federal election, Canadians are being bombarded with polls on a scale never seen before.

The problem is that these polls are not usually that accurate, and will constantly change before election day. These polls are also highly variable. How can they be otherwise when only one to two per cent of those surveyed respond to pollsters’ questions?

In an effort to drive down costs, some pollsters use robocalls (automatic dialling) or online polling, to conduct their surveys. The accuracy of such polls deserves a skeptical response. The public is also fed up with picking up the telephone only to hear a computer spew out questions. The result is that some pollsters are providing highly dubious findings without disclosing their entire raw data. The validity of the polling industry has been destroyed by these quick and unethical pollsters, but unfortunately, newspapers and TV news programs take their conclusions all too seriously. The media promote the horse race aspect of the election campaign in order to sell newspapers and to increase public interest. That is, rather than covering substantive and leadership issues in the election campaign, the media frequently rely on polls to provide the “news” of the day about the election campaign.

Opinion polls in recent years have become so controversial – and sometimes so spectacularly wrong in forecasting election winners, that some critics are demanding a ban on all polls during election campaigns.

To head this off, in June, 2015, the Canadian Association of Public Opinion Research was launched. It consists of polling company executives, academics and media representatives who hope to establish guidelines on accountability, transparency and professionalism for the polling industry. Its oversight will eventually be good for the industry, the media and the voting public.

However, these efforts are too late to affect the endless stream of polls that will be coming down the pike in the upcoming 2015 federal election.

Be prepared to be saturated with these polls, and don’t take them seriously!