The important thing to remember is that polls are a picture from yesterday. They cannot forecast the future. And we live in volatile, rapidly changing times. We are struggling to leave a pandemic behind us. We are wary of what global warming has in store for us. We are looking for leadership in the difficult future we are facing.
This is by way of introducing the Toronto Star’s new election tool. They are going to have a new computer model analyzing pollsters’ products to tell us about the 2021 election. The editors think they are “decoding the signal” or some other catchy phrase like that.
What it appears they are doing is inputting all the various polls into a computer program that applies a weighting scale to the various polling techniques and then aggregates them into a seat count. Which is very similar to what Éric Grenier of the CBC does in his Poll Tracker.
I remember years ago, before the advent of personal computers, filling page after page of computations trying to balance polling results with known Statistics Canada demographics. Overall, I think we did a fair job.
What really intrigues me about the Toronto Star’s approach is the trust the newspaper is putting in political scientists. These people are using a theory of probability, known as a Bayesian model, to correct perceived bias in the polling results of the various firms. The obvious problem with this is when the polling firm does its own corrections. How would the second firm know that the poll has already been corrected? That would tend to over-correct.
What no pollster has been able to correct is the tendency of some people to lie to pollsters. For example, I do not always lie. If I recognize the firm doing the polling, I might decide to tell the truth for a change. Mind you, I hate the automated calls and I always tell them something different.
But it all comes down to the age-old need for political parties to get out their vote. No computer model can accurately count the lethargic. With the voting lists distributed to each political party via computer, you can hardly escape the attention of the parties to whom you made promises. If you get more than two offers of a ride to the polling station, you know they have been paying attention.
Copyright 2021 © Peter Lowry
Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to: