Polls: worth zero
That’s what media political polls have become in this country. And, if the news media continue to trumpet the results of polls, they risk becoming a joke, too.
By the time you read this, the pollsters will have hit the TV panels, trying to fool everyone into thinking that they didn’t really get the stunning Quebec election results wrong. But they did, and dramatically so. And they’re doing it all the time now.
“PQ headed to comfortable majority: Final poll before Quebec election.” That was the actual headline on a National Post story, published one day before Quebec trooped to the polls. The PQ had “a large lead over the Liberals,” the Post declared, relying on a poll by an outfit called Forum Research. Forum claimed to have polled nearly 3,000 adult Quebecers, and that the PQ would win 36% of the vote, with the Liberals eking out only 29%. Forum also claimed their poll had a margin of error of less than 2%.
Well, they — and the Post — were off by a hell of a lot more than that. In the end, the Quebec Liberals and the separatist Parti Quebecois both received 31% of the vote, with the PQ a paltry .7% ahead. The Post wasn’t alone in getting it wrong, however. A political website called ThreeHundredEight.com– one that is relied upon by many reporters — analyzed a number of polls, and stated that the Parti Quebecois could winas many 75 of the National Assembly’s 125 seats on Tuesday night, with the Liberals winning as few as 25.
When all the votes were counted on election night, however, the PQ had won only 54 seats, and the Liberals — who too many had suggested were as good as dead — captured 50 seats.
It went on and on. CROP and Leger, two polling firms usually considered reliable, were wildly off when measuring the popularity of Jean Charest’s governing Liberals, missing the mark by more than the so-called margin of error.
Ekos Research, a firm used extensively by the federal government, was also mistaken: In their final poll, Ekos said the PQ would secure nearly 40% of the final vote — and the Liberals would end up in a distant third place!
Wrong, wrong, wrong.
The same thing happened in Alberta’s provincial election. Most everyone in the polling and prediction business (including Sun News) got that onewrong, too.
On the eve of the election, for instance, Angus Reid Group issued a news release flatly stating that the fledgling Wildrose Party would form a majority government, and was 10 points ahead of Alison Redford’s Progressive Conservatives. Wildrose was “poised to make history,” declared Angus Reid.
The National Post screwed up so badly, it actually tried to alter “history” — and it scrambled to erase an Andrew Coyne column that had stated Wildrose would win a majority government.
It’s the new way in political polling — something doesn’t have to be true, anymore, just truthy. It just needs to be plausible. The public deserve better than that.
The media — who are addicted to free political polls like they’re crack, as Carter has said more than once — are letting their readers and viewers down, spectacularly.
They are destroying their own credibility. Why do the media continue to use these polls, then?
Because, often, they’re handed over for free. For publicity. And, as a result, the polls end up being worth what the media pay for them.