More on the Perils of Polling
David Olive writes in the Star's election blog (why does everyone suddenly have to have an election blog this year?) on an issue I wrote about a few days ago, the SES election polls.
Olive addresses the polling question that SES uses, and points out that Stephen Harper and the Conservatives are not even mentioned in the question. OK, not much point in my giving a summary, since I've copy and pasted the whole thing right here, so take it away David Olive:
Pollster SES, whose daily polls in collaboration with CPAC have played such a prominent role in driving the media consensus that the Grits are doomed, reported last night that the Tory surge has gone into reverse. The Tories, according to SES, have slipped to 34 per cent, from 37 per cent the day before. That drops the Tories back to neck-and-neck status with the Grits, who clocked in yesterday at 33 per cent. And makes everything you've heard in the past few days about the "ineffectual" Liberal attack ads rather suspect.
We get a kick out of the question SES asks "200 potential voters" each night (which are blended results from 400 more voters interviewed the previous two nights to produce a "three day rolling sample" - don't ask):
"Some people think that the Liberals have done a good job running the country and that Paul Martin would be [a] strong prime minister. Others think that the Liberals have been in power too long and that it's time for a change. Which of these two opinions best reflects your views?"
No mention of Stephen Harper. Whenever Pierre Trudeau was asked about his dismal poll standings, he'd reply, "Consider the alternative." The alternative in 1972 and 1974 kept Trudeau in power, and in 1980 revived his briefly interrupted residency at 24 Sussex.
As the more candid pollsters will tell you, they can get you any results you want depending on what question they ask.
So how about:
"Some people think the Liberals have done a good job managing the economy over the past decade and that Paul Martin as PM would continue to build on his successful record as finance minister. Others think that the Liberals have been in power too long, becoming arrogant and corrupt, and that it's time to replace Martin with Stephen Harper or one of the other leaders. Which of these two opinions best reflects your views?"
"Some people think Stephen Harper is a strong leader who would end the Liberal era of arrogance and corruption. Others worry that he has no experience in running a government and would be more likely than Paul Martin or the other leaders to impose an agenda of 'social conservatism' on Canadians. Which of these two opinions best reflects your views?"
The correct answer to all three questions, of course, is "Why are you bothering me, I'm only a 'potential' voter. Don't you want to speak to some real ones?"
note: here is a link to the SES poll that is referred to by David Olive.