Poll Wanking

The Power Play pundits discuss the latest poll results.

Personally, I could really give a toss about polls of any kind most of the time and furthermore contend that 82 percent of Canadians between the ages of 18 and 75 share that opinion, with an error margin of approximately 3-5 % at 95% confidence level, 18 times out of 20.

However, I know some people just love opining over this stuff, so have at it if you feel the need.

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28 Comments

Filed under 2009 Election, Liberal Party of Canada, Michael Ignatieff

28 responses to “Poll Wanking

  1. aralph149

    Between elections the trends matter more than the actual numbers. The consistent trend of late is twofold: #1 More Canadians prefer the Conservatives to the Liberals and #2 Ignatieff/Liberals have been in decline since July, basically since the honeymoon effect wore off. The bottom line is that Ignatieff is a dud and we’re stuck with him until he loses the next election and we can have a leadership review vote.

  2. That’s one perspective. Another is that Canadians are kind of sick of elections and are in a “don’t really give a shit at the moment” mood but may be willing to revisit the issue at some later time in the future. In the meanwhile Stephen Harper isn’t exactly the Devil incarnate, so why rock the boat?

    As for Ignatieff, well, he’s not exactly Mr. Personality, is he? But also hardly “a dud” as you put it. I watched his speech to the Toronto Board of Trade and thought it was quite good. But there’s just little interest at the moment…

    People are busy just trying to keep their heads above water and get on with life. The timing is all wrong for talk of an election or making fundamental shifts in the economy, etc.

    As I’ve said previously, this is a good move that he’s shifted the Libs back into Opposition mode and connived in such a way that there won’t be an election, but yet he can re-establish some credibility for the Liberal brand.

    So it’s all good.

  3. Ti-Guy

    Between elections the trends matter more than the actual numbers.

    Stopped reading here. I won’t take this at face value until I see a longitudinal study that examines inter-election polling trends and compares them with subsequent elections.

    I firmly believe public opinion tells us nothing of value except how effective a particular propaganda campaign is, which is not possible without the media’s collusion.

    You can see how the cycle works…A poll, commissioned by the media, is released. The results produce claims that are not supported by the data itself. The media discuss this endlessly and people who are barely tuned in at the best of times, think they’re being exposed to something smarter, more informed people know. So, they believe it’s true.

    How that affects their responses is only a guess on my part; I know of no one who’s ever been polled. I do know that people confuse what they’ve heard with what they actually know.

    I’ve been polled exactly once in my entire life; during the last Ontario election about proportional representation.

    On last Sunday’s CBC Sunday Edition, Elly Alboim went on a rant about how he had gotten so sick of the polling back when he worked at the CBC that they made an editorial decision to consolidate the polling and report on it only once a week.

    How far we’ve come from the days when journalists actually understood that public opinion is only a small piece of political reporting.

  4. TofKW

    Actually these polls are pretty much useless. There are three factors/numbers that pollsters (or worthless media spokesbots) rarely mention. First is that the LPC’s numbers seem to range in the 32-29% area ever since Iggy’s Sudbury declaration, that shows Lib numbers have actually dropped very little over this time. Those LPC numbers are solid and are not going down. Harper’s ~40% is coming from people who don’t want an election, so cold comfort for him that he’s in majority territory now because if he triggers an election to take advantage – he will lose them just as quickly. Next, and related, these large swings in poll numbers prove the electorate are very volatile. Some pollsters do mention this though I don’t think the media are smart enough to understand the implications. Plainly, it means support might be a mile wide, but only an inch deep. You can’t trust numbers like this and want to rush into an election, and I don’t care what party you support. Lastly, the numbers no pollster seems to show is the undecided number, and this is critical as the undecided are the ones who decide elections. And when you look at the .pdf copies you always see a pretty big undecided number with any of these. Hence as I stated at the very beginning, these polls are useless.

  5. Ti-Guy — Well said. Thanks for articulating the vicious cycle of self-fulfilling nonsense that most polls represent.

  6. TofKW — Good analysis. Yeah, there’s a whole lot of undecided voters out there (not to mention the completely indifferent ones — but that’s a whole other story) and some who will temporarily park their intended (or as the pollsters like to say “committed”) votes here or there depending on which way the wind is blowing at any given time. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again — most people just don’t give a crap about politics until push comes to shove in the crunch-time of an election and they’re forced to confront the decision in some way. And even then, most of them are kind of wishy-washy and only slightly more than half of them even bother to turn out and vote at all. So it’s a bit of an exercise in futility in some respects.

  7. Ti-Guy

    Well said. Thanks for articulating the vicious cycle of self-fulfilling nonsense that most polls represent.

    And I avoided discussing my suspicions about glaring methodological weaknesses if not outright fraud on the part of polling firms, which, in the absence of raw data, is always a possibility.

    Angus-Reid (I believe) has claimed that its online polling controls for its non-randomness, no doubt with algorithms that rival those that calculated the risk involved with exotic derivatives.

    But it really does come back to one central point…the opinion of people who know nothing or very little simply does not matter when it comes to democracy and good governance. It’s like claiming the popularity of MacDonald’s tells us anything useful about food.

  8. Indeed. 🙂

    The methodology of these polling firms is more art than science, I’d say and given they’re casting about in the same pool as Jay Leno when he does his “Jaywalking” segments… well, I’ll leave readers to determine what sort of validity should be afforded to the results of such inquiries.

  9. Ti-Guy

    The received wisdom is that in a democracy, where everyone’s vote counts, public opinion matters.

    I believe that’s no longer operational when 40% of the electorate doesn’t even bother to vote. And I believe those people are more correct than those who do bother to vote. It really doesn’t matter anymore.

  10. Gayle

    I do not care about the polls. It is all this internal dissent that bothers me.

    Can’t say I am particularly sympathetic to Ignatieff over the whole issue given how he and his followers conducted themselves when Dion was the leader, but I do wish those freaking MP’s would stop mouthing off about internal party issues to the media. The reason Ignatieff is the leader is because the majority of caucus wanted him to be the leader. Now it is time for them to suck it up and deal with it.

  11. Ti-Guy

    It is all this internal dissent that bothers me.

    Some of it manufactured by the Conservatives with the help of the stenographers in the media, as this latest episode with Susan Delacourt reveals.

    I agree though…Iggy better start cracking the wip. If it means some have to leave the caucus or the party, so be it. If you’re the type of person who will not just dissent, but undermine the Party, you don’t belong there. People who undermine lack the character required to be public servants anyway.

  12. Gayle — Get with the program or get out, I would say. And I want names! Enough with these stupid whisper campaigns. The whole “unnamed sources” thing has gotten to a ridiculous level in Canadian political journalism. If there’s division in the party (whether that be the Libs/Cons/Dippers/or whatever) then let’s have these people have the courage of their convictions and step forward. Otherwise… STFU!

  13. billg

    I was watching PP Monday night. My wife came into the Den and looked at me and before walking away I asked her what she wanted. She said she was going to watch Oprah but knew I hated that “mindless drivel”. I looked at her and looked at the PP pundits and told her I was watching “mindless drivel” and I’d be happy to watch Oprah with her. It wasnt that bad.
    Harper is not a politcal mastermind. Ignatief is not that bad, and, Layton does the best he can.
    There…your all welcome. Cold beer and Oprah tonight instead of PP.

  14. Mohamed

    There have been a lot of good responses so far. I would add that the narrative/trends of a poll have more importance then the raw numbers. For example, as a Tory supporter in Toronto I felt I didn’t need to vote but with a few trends showing the Conservatives actually have an outside shot it might get me or others like me to vote. The seats might still not turn blue in the 416 but it might lead to something to build on in the next election. As for narrative, since these polls have come out the leadership of Iggy has been questioned. So far the Conservatives seem like they wanted to add to that narrative putting out the story of the potential floor crossers out in the media. Stories of Liberal in fighting whether true or not will keep them in the 30-26 range that they have been in the majority of the time for the last few years. Good points have already been risen in regard to undecided voters as well as these numbers reflecting that people don’t want an election. If the Tories force one they’ll face the anger that is pointed towards the Liberals at this moment.

  15. How in hell can anyone trust Fife or any of the CTV guys? Fife – rumour/from reliable source – that Ben Mulroney was going to run for the Liberals – an example of their nonsense.

    Now, CTV are trying to stir the pot – saying Bob Rae and his supporters are causing Ignatieff’s problems – you know, the knife in the back situation.

    Nothing like helping Harper at CTV – I don’t trust them at all.

  16. Ottlib

    I would point out that Stephen Harper and the Conservatives had similar polling numbers coming out of the summer of 2005.

    As now, all of the pundits stated with unassailable authority that Mr. Harper had wasted his summer and missed his opportunity. Some were even stating that Paul Martin might survive the next election. There were rumblings of discontent in the Conservative Party, so the media said.

    We all know what happened a few short months later.

    As well, I am reminded of a headline that appeared in the Ottawa Citizen just days before the beginning of the 2004 election campaign. It stated:

    “Liberals heading for a majority: Poll.”

  17. Bill — I couldn’t agree more with you. I sometimes get irritated by some of the “mindless drivel” that my wife watches (bizarre TLC programs featuring tots in tiaras and so on), but she has the perfect comeback by pointing out that I’m frequently watching crazy people shout at one another on cable “news” programs. Touché!

  18. Mohamed — Yes, trends over time are the most significant indicators and as such the numbers at the moment are meaningless. As Ottlib rightly pointed out one could point back to spikes in “popularity” (I’m reluctant to use the term) at certain times that may have forecast results that never materialized.

    I think the sensible take on the poll results at the moment is to simply dismiss them as irrelevant and more a reflection of how one would predictably expect things to shake out amongst potential voters not in the mood for an election and therefore trending in favour of the status quo for the time being.

  19. LindaL

    “the opinion of people who know nothing or very little simply does not matter when it comes to democracy and good governance. ” Ah, but quite a few of the “know nothings” do come out to vote.

    On another note, I do believe that Rae is something of a Brutus. He may not be actively working to bring about Iggy’s downfall, but I think he is not really helping either. I want to know why Iggy went back on his word “twice” on the Outremont issue. Why was Coderre sacrificed after Iggy initially supported him? Someone was pushing for this and I think Rae was among them — obviously, since he did speak out on Couchon’s behalf. Iggy needs to watch his back.

  20. Tomm

    Interesting video clip.

    It certainly suggests future action for all parties. Since polls suggest future actions, they are then essentially fated to behave a certain way which then causes further poll result actions and so forth and so on.

    If the corollary happens and they behave differently than how the polls suggest they behave, they break up this little waltz, which causes a non-expected response.

    That is what Ignatieff did in Sudbury. Leo Tolstoy had a theory that the major players don’t force the action but the momentum of the masses do. If that is the case, than Ignatieff reacted contrary to political momentum and is paying the price.

    I thought he was a history teacher.

  21. Tomm — We’ll see, won’t we. I suspect polls are a bit like the curiously perverse phenomena in quantum physics whereby events are distorted by the mere act of observation…

  22. Tomm

    I’m certain that’s the case.

  23. Bingo.

    It’s so nice when we can agree on things.

  24. If the corollary happens and they behave differently than how the polls suggest they behave, they break up this little waltz, which causes a non-expected response.

    Tomm, if expense is the main reason why you’ve been making do without an editor, I would be happy to work for half my usual fee. I have extensive experience in ESL work. Just let me know what mode of Assyrian cuneiform your sentences are being clumsily transcribed from, and I shall bone up on it as fast as I can.

    Leo Tolstoy had a theory that the major players don’t force the action but the momentum of the masses do[sic].

    I bet Marx wished he had thought of that.

    I thought [Ignatieff] was a history teacher.

    No. You thought he was an elitist Stalinist who hates America.

  25. Speaking of Stalin – it’s Harper who reads and studies Stalin.

    One of Stalin’s talents – pitting on against the other.

    I don’t give a damn about inhouse squabbles – nor should anyone else.

    All families have squabbles – do you go out into your backyard and do it all in front of neighbours. In the end, squabbles are just squabbles.

    Now if the media would focus on important things, perhaps people could make better judgments.

  26. Navvy

    Reporting on important things would certainly be nice. The major headlines on all the news sites I read are talking about Ignatieff wanting to raise taxes, followed by the latest poll results… the government covering up the military’s role in the torture of Afghan civilians, not so much.

  27. SF — what mode of Assyrian cuneiform your sentences are being clumsily transcribed from

    You always crack me up. Thanks for that. 🙂

  28. Tomm

    Sir Francis,

    Good to see you back. Even when you crack wise, you are unique.

    I’ve been reading old tracks by Clifford Hugh Douglas just so I can debate you on your on turf.

    As you can see, I’m still flipping predicates around like they are dead cats.

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