Posts Tagged ‘Polling’

Is that Mainstreet or Elm Street?

Saturday, February 25th, 2017

Having started out as a young man writing scripts for telephone co-incidental research, we are not about to easily buy into Interactive Voice Response (IVR) polling. This is mentioned in that some recent political polls in Alberta and B.C. have the politicos excited. The polls were done with IVR by Mainstreet Research. What we have always assumed about this technique of political research is that quality of call is replaced with quantity of calls.

But people used to lie to live interviewers and why would they not lie to a recording? And why would children and teenagers not have some phone fun with a recording? It was a long time ago that researchers found that the entire United States could be based on sampling just 480 people. Increasing that figure has not improved accuracy in polling. It is just an opportunity to annoy more people in their homes.

Before you malign all pollsters though, you should bear in mind that even a stopped clock is correct twice a day. And knowing Quito Maggi, CEO of Mainstreet, we should mention we once made a ten-dollar side bet on an election on which we were working. He lost, he paid and it felt good.

But this commentary is about Quito’s IVR research out west. The Mainstreet news is that the Wildrose Party would win an election tomorrow. As there is no writ for an election in Alberta tomorrow, you can relax. The interpretation of this survey is that if whomever is leader of the right in Alberta at the next election—if there is only one right-wing party—will have a slam-dunk.

But since there are two right-wing parties in Alberta, we should wait until the Conservatives pick their new leader and see how he does at trying to strong-arm the Wildrose to join his party. And by the way, the electoral districts will be redistributed before the next election. Best that Albertan’s wait before celebrating any victories.

It might also be best to wait until the election in British Columbia as well. The Mainstreet polling shows the ruling Liberals and the provincial New Democrats are almost tied and the Green Party is the wild card. What it obviously means is that the anti-pipeline voters will be out in force and the fence Premier Christy Clark is trying to ride in the coming election is going to get more and more uncomfortable. Quito Maggi is quoted as saying that what they know is they do not know enough.

But Quito might have other concerns. Mainstreet Research is reported to now be part of American Bellwether Technologies. He might not know that a bellwether can also be a castrated ram who leads his herd of sheep. Good luck, Quito!


Copyright 2017 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to

Post election. Eating crow.

Wednesday, May 4th, 2011

The proper way to eat crow is to take small bites, chew thoroughly and resist the urge to regurgitate.  You should only have to eat crow when you have really screwed up.  And we did.  Big time.  We made our assumptions about the election outcome two days after the national debates.  It was premature.

It was not that we did not recognize the problem in Quebec.  It was there for all to see.  Despite his forcefulness in the debates, Gilles Duceppe and his party were fading.  The Bloc had run its course with Quebec voters.  Change was necessary.  There was a determined youth movement that could not abide Harper, but bought the bad memories of their elders and Harper’s lies about the Liberals and saw the Bloc’s narrow focus as self defeating.  Only the NDP was left. What helped the NDP in Quebec is they are close in social policy to the provincial Parti Quebecois.

But that hardly explains Ontario.  Ontario voters got sandbagged.  The phenomenon in Quebec was played in the media as a national experience.  The media skewed the figures and said it was alright to vote NDP in Ontario because Harper would only win a minority.  The threat of the NDP helped drive the Conservative voters to the polls.  And the decimation of the Liberals carried into Ontario as the split of NDP-Liberal votes allowed the Conservative victories that Harper needed for a majority.

We lost our election bets.  In Babel, we lost with a very decent Liberal candidate.  Maybe he is too decent.  The NDP candidate came second in her second time around.  The Green candidate was a gentleman as always.  The Conservative is an incompetent who brings nothing to the table in Ottawa but another mindless vote for Harper.

As we chew on our crow, we contemplate four to five years of a Conservative majority.  God help us.  We are faced with four years of a vindictive and vengeful Stephen Harper.

Expect the Ottawa opposition parties to kiss their voter subsidies goodbye.

Suck it up seniors and forget those old age subsidy increases.

Just wait until Jim Flaherty does his Michael Harris number on Ottawa’s mandarins!

And you though our international reputation was slightly tarnished?  Just wait until Emperor Harper does his world tour.

Corporations can go ahead and pollute for fun and profit.

It’s the big corporations that get all the goodies now.

There is no help for small business.  There will be no help for innovators.

We can probably expect the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation to become a fond memory.

Why should Harper support abortion anymore?

Forget same-sex marriage.  Forget peace-keeping.

Now the Conservatives can lie to the House of Commons with impunity.

Be quiet or they will start hanging people again.

And how will they fill all those jails they want to build?

O’Canada, who will stand on guard for you?


Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to

Write about election or wedding? An easy choice.

Thursday, April 28th, 2011

That seems to be the choice today.  You can write about the election or the wedding.  Since we are at a low level with drivel these days, the wedding loses.  Mind you, we read in the notoriously monarchist Toronto Star that only 39 per cent of Canadians are even thinking of viewing the spectacle.

The wife had the idea that we could record the wedding and watch it the next day when we were awake.  This was discouraged when it was explained to her that seven hours of high definition blather might not be easily accommodated on our personal video recorder.  There is also no guarantee that, even on fast forward, we would be able to stay awake through the event.

That left us with the election.  That is bad news too.  We can only hope that the pollsters are proved so wrong afterwards that they are banished for all time from forecasting any level of elections.

The promised fall of the Liberals at this time, we know, is premature.  The rise of the NDP to power is even more unlikely.

Our bets are based on Ontario.  The bets all revolve around the Liberals getting better than 30 per cent of the vote in the province with more than a third of the seats in parliament.  That spells minority for Harper.

What guarantees the minority is that Harper’s hopes have all but crashed in Quebec.  The news media have probably stampeded some Liberal votes to the NDP in the Atlantic.  That part of the country is always a bit behind the curve.  And Harper is going to get the majority of the votes in the Prairies.  While the Prairies are still part of Canada, that just makes them look narrow minded and mean spirited.

And then there is B.C.  We have absolutely no idea what the voters are going to do in Lotusland.  Neither do the voters.

When younger and less empathetic, we used to say that the damn silly voters get the government they deserve.  That is a cruel statement today.  Frankly, there seems to be a difference of opinion about whether Harper is a mean, red-neck or not.  Maybe we are just too vehement in trying to keep him from being declared emperor.  We should always remember that even Napoleon started with the best of intentions.

– 30 –

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to

How random is my sample?

Sunday, April 24th, 2011

In many years of doing election polling and as a frequent client of research firms, one learns to be a bit sceptical.  In fact, today, you have every reason to be downright suspicious.  It appears that people are using selected poll results to try to stampede voters.

The voters have no reason to believe these pollsters who are trumpeting their polls.  There is absolutely no way those polls can be accurate.  Think about how you react to someone on the telephone asking you how you are going to vote.  Do you graciously tell the caller everything they want to know?  Are you kidding?

The problem today is that there is no way to get a truly random sample of Canadian voters.  And if you could achieve that, it would still have to be a large enough sample to allow for breakouts of regional influences.  The Bloc Quebecois in Quebec skew the figures there.  If you include that 10 per cent of the vote with the rest of the country, it is not relevant.  When you consider it can be 40 per cent of Quebec’s vote, you see why it can translate into more than 40 seats in the House of Commons.  In the same way, the disproportionate Reform/Tory vote in the Prairies skews the national figures.

As the old chestnut goes, figures do not lie but liars can figure.  To understand a poll, start with the bias of the person reporting it.  Mind you, the person does not have to lie.  All they have to do is be selective about the figures they give you.

With one-third of the House of Commons seats in the Province of Ontario, when have you heard in this election about polling in Ontario?  That is because it is the toughest area in the country to predict.  It is also the toughest area in which to get a statistically viable sample of voters.  The pollsters do not want to expose themselves.

The current flurry of polls showing the NDP strengthened, are more a phenomenon of the news media than any real hope for an NDP breakthrough.  This is not 1990 in Ontario.  You have to be smoking some fairly strong stuff to imagine Jack Layton as Prime Minister.  Jack is a small potatoes municipal politician who has not grown in his current role.  Most of that supposed growth in NDP support is in Quebec where tired PQ voters are searching for some answers.

But what the pollsters fail to explain is that about 30 per cent of the potential voters are unlikely to go to the polls.  Nobody can be sure who they are.

We used to.  Back in our early days of political polling, we used to know how the voter would vote before asking them the specific question.  It was done with qualifying questions.  Their actual voting intent helped with the equation used to determine their probability of going out to vote.  We used to do some amazingly accurate surveys.

The poll that interests us was where we lined up yesterday at the advance poll in our electoral district.  There never used to be advance poll line-ups like that.  It bodes well.  There is going to be a good turnout of voters in this election.  That is bad news for Mr. Harper.  He wants sleeping voters, not voters eager to go to the polls.  He wants a vote like 2008 when large numbers of Liberal votes did not make it to the polls.  They have much more to vote for this time.

The most accurate election surveys are traditionally what are called exit polls.  They are a quick survey done as voters are leaving the polling station.  They are more likely to tell you the truth then.

– 30 –

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to