Musings —05.21.2013 05:29 AM—
After the B.C. fiasco, Canada’s polling industry is — once again — engaged in a painful existential debate about what they do and how they do it.
Because, make no mistake, they were dramatically mistaken about last Tuesday’s British Columbia election result.
Going into the month-long race, every single pollster declared the NDP was far ahead of the governing B.C. Liberals — in some cases by as many as 20 percentage points.
While the gap narrowed during the campaign, not one pollster foresaw a majority Liberal government. Not one.
Gullible pundits (like me) uncritically quoted the pollsters ad nauseum and, accordingly, let our readers down.
For that, we owe you — the reader — a full and sincere apology.
We, and the pollsters, owe you an explanation, too. In the past week, countless column inches have been published about what the reasons might be: Poor methodology, low voter turnout, new polling technology, respondents lying to pollsters about their voting intentions, and so on.
All of those explanations have some merit, but I don’t think they begin to capture the full extent of the problem.
The problem, you see, is the chattering classes have been missing out on a conversation between citizens.
It’s like we’ve been in a different room entirely, while Joe and Jane Frontporch carry on a discussion that does not involve us anymore (or ever did).
In the past two years, it’s happened no less than five times.
Federally, when the tall foreheads did not foresee the once-mighty Liberals sliding to third place, and Jack Layton seizing a strong second in the May 2011 election.
In Alberta just over a year ago, the Angus Reid Group said Wildrose was “poised to make history” and crush Alison Redford’s PCs — when Redford ended up crushing Wildrose and forming another majority government.
In Manitoba, The Globe and Mail declared the May 2011 election would be “the closest in more than a decade” — except it wasn’t, and the New Democrats easily secured a fourth majority term.
In Quebec, the National Post’s pollster, Forum Research, said the day before the September 2012 election that the Parti Quebecois had “a large lead” — even though they didn’t, and the separatists eked out a bare minority, less than a percentage point ahead of the Liberals in popular vote. And now B.C., where every “expert” got it wrong.
What’s happening? My suspicion, increasingly, is that the conventional wisdom is neither. Politicos have grown too reliant on methodologies that are fraught with frailties, and the media have simply gone along.
In the meantime, the public has grown ever more cynical about politicians and reporters, who they see as charter members of the same elite group.
The Occupy Movement, the Tea Party, the Reform Party and successive election results show the public are literally withdrawing from the body politic. Declining voting rates reflect this, of course.
But there’s more to it than that. The commentariat is, more than ever before, wildly out of sync with the public’s real agenda. We profess to know what real people think, but we don’t.
All of this has the potential to reshape politics, if political people are willing to change how they do things, and to reconsider the conventional wisdom.
Until we do, we’re doomed — like the pollsters — to irrelevance.