Friday, March 02, 2007

Poll Smokers

Jason Cherniak has ignited a heated debate in the blogosphere after calling BS on a recent Angus Reid poll. He contends that it should be ignore since it was conducted online, rather than over the phone. As someone who enjoys few things more than reading a good article on sampling methodology, I thought I'd chime in.

To me, I regard online polling the same way I regard airplanes. While it seems intuitively wrong to me than a hunk of metal weighing several tons can fly thousands of feet in the air, I can accept the science and track record behind it (even if it leaves me a little uneasy when I fly). Online polling still feels wrong to me because of the massive under coverage problems but most recent studies have shown that it works as good, or in some cases better, than telephone surveys. I know last election Ipsos Reid did some internet polling and it usually matched their phone survey numbers bang on.

Regardless, Decima has a poll out using the good, old, traditional, never wrong telephone technique with similar results. I suspect that even the infalible people at SES will have similar results in their next update. The bottom line is, the Tories have the big Mo, and we're right back to where we were on election night 2006 except that the NDP is pretty much lamb chops (not to be confused with Lamb Chop, who will be Pat Martin's campaign manager).

Despite the Tory surge, I really do think the talk of "free fall" and the mass hysteria is overblown. All that we've really seen is the end of Dion's honeymoon which was to be expected. By my count, the last four men to take over a party in Stornoway (Chretien, Duceppe, Day, Harper) all had far worse starts than Dion, mainly because leader of the opposition is such a thankless job. That's not to say that Liberals should put their heads in the sand and refuse to believe the reality that Harper is up in the polls and the smart bettors choice to win the next election. It's simply to say that it's far too early to push the panic button or talk about a Conservative majority.



  • That's a fair assessment. Also, the %age that bounces back and forth all the time between the Libs and the NDP seems to be over at the Greens right now, in the main.

    It's not ballot time, so no one knows where all the loose cherries will shake out. But, as you say, one thing is clear ... the shift is towards the CPC building out from their base, and CPC 'Mo.

    One prediction ... the Greens may get 6% at ballot time, nothing like the 13% in one poll. I'm more interested to see if Jack can get the majority of the "float" to go to him. To me, that's tougher than the Lib's job.

    By Blogger Erik Sorenson, at 7:42 PM  

  • One other thing. Jason is a real nice guy, and wears his (devoted) red heart on his sleeve for all to see. Commendable. But a political analyst he isn't. I'm not, but Cherniak seems to be even more gullible and amateurish than me ... and that's tough!

    One thing, though, he's probably right that the poll he's complaining about MAY not be as accurate as the good old POTS polling. That said, the trends are clear, and questioning that is just pure denial.

    By Blogger Erik Sorenson, at 7:47 PM  

  • Lamb Chop, who will be Pat Martin's campaign manager

    Nah hah. ;)

    Anything can change in the future, but I think we're en route to a Tory majority.

    John Zogby does only internet polls, as I understand it - he's got quite a track record, or had, the last I heard. I believe those numbers - Harper is doing a good job, and people are satisfied.

    You know, it's very interesting to me - perhaps, in a strange way, the Liberals did themselves wrong by casting Harper is Evil Incarnate with a Hidden Agenda: people are surprised at how moderate he is, and I think that buoys their opinion of him. He looks better because the Liberals prepped us for the worst.

    Should Liberals hit the panic button? Nah, I don't think so. Opposition is a vital, important role - and both parties have to take turns playing that role. It's the LPC's turn.

    In the future, though, anything can happen.

    I'll admit, I'm disappointed in Dion. Images change (look at Harper, for crying out loud). I wonder if Dion has fallen in the wrong direction, though: Harper used to be a jerk, Dion is a dink. On any schoolyard, it's far easier to work with an asshole image than a Trekkie image. Can Dion overcome that by a soon-ish election? Possibly.

    Can he overcome it by a year, or by next-next election? Yes.

    By Blogger Jason Bo Green, at 7:52 PM  

  • Also, I suspect many Green supporters in the polls will be Liberal voters behind the cardboard shield.

    By Blogger Jason Bo Green, at 7:54 PM  

  • You know, I hope there is a Tory majority. Too many Liberals (Dan is not one) still just don't grasp why they lost, and until they get it, they shouldn't win. A serious loss will help the party - a lot.

    And I'll be honest - I don't want Dion as PM. Was excited about him, but the shiny is off his penny.

    By Blogger Jason Bo Green, at 8:05 PM  

  • Wrong CG.

    These polls are out to lunch and this is the first steps to a Liberal Majority. Everything is hunky-dory and you folks should keep up the good work. Full confession: there is a bump on my head that reads 666. Its been there since I was born and my mommy tells me it has something to do with my destiny.

    By Blogger Chuckercanuck, at 8:40 PM  

  • I thought our loss last time would rejuvenate us a bit, but come leadership time, I heard the words "natural ruling party" way too much for comfort.

    That being said, I still don't want a Harper majority, since even if he hasn't governed so far like the spawn of Satan, I still don't trust what he'd do.

    By Blogger UWHabs, at 8:44 PM  

  • I had commented to the following points on Jason's thread, but it's not currently showing. So forgive me if this becomes redundant.

    There are invited polls, and there are self-selecting polls. The latter are popular for fun questions like, "Who do you think will win the Stanley Cup?".

    Online polls may be self-selecting, or they may be invited polls. Telephone polls tend to be invited. Streetcorner polls tend to be self-selecting (although they appear to be invited).

    Surveys speak to the proclivities of the larger target population to the extent that the sample is representative of the larger whole. If a population is highly homogeneous, a small sample will do. If not, then the sample must address that non-homogeneity in a manner that reflects the larger whole.

    For example, if men and women vote differently, samples of men and women in the survey should reflect their presence in the larger population (whether that's voters, or Canadians as a whole, say).

    Politics reveals several such dimensions. Gender. Region. Education. Age. Income. Etc.

    Telephone polls have a long history of how their samples are generated. If calls are made during the day, businesspeople may be underrepresented. During the evening, socialites may be missed. If cellphones are included, urbanites may be overrepresented; if excluded, youth may be lost. And they are susceptible to bias based on whoever answers the phone in a household. Self-deselection (hanging up) can be a problem. And so on.

    Many have cited similar problems with invited online surveys: some people just won't complete them, or that the sample universe just isn't large enough. But properly executed, these really should not be problems.

    Already, polls can be re-weighted based on response rates within each demographic: if a subpopulation was underrepresented in the sample, those who responded can be given more weight in the final analysis.

    With online invited surveys, pollsters can target a representative sample directly, and it is possible to achieve a much better sample of the overall population. It doesn't guarantee pollsters build a perfect subset, but the toolset is much improved.

    By Blogger Paul, at 8:56 PM  

  • Day, Duceppe, and Harper didn't have a fawning media trying to consumate with Dion during his honeymoon. Dion "leads" (I use that term loosely) the "natural governing party". There is a big difference between sitting at 26% when you are Liberal leader vs. sitting at 26% while you are Canadian Alliance leader. Dion is fairing far worse.

    By Blogger ferrethouse, at 9:41 PM  

  • Ummm, Chucker, wasn't it you who recently posted at your blog, "Canada cannot be captive to the reckless irresponsibility of the Liberal party and its dogmatic leadership", and called for Harper to call an election now, so as to put the LPC out of its misery?

    Now, the question I have for you is this:

    Did you write this before, or after, your bump on the head?

    Just checking for the possibility of contagious flip=flopping downstrea,.

    By Blogger Erik Sorenson, at 10:18 PM  

  • Erik, I think you're missing Chucker Canuck's kidding here - he's a funster.

    By Blogger Jason Bo Green, at 10:23 PM  

  • You know, I hope there is a Tory majority. Too many Liberals (Dan is not one) still just don't grasp why they lost, and until they get it, they shouldn't win. A serious loss will help the party - a lot.

    And I'll be honest - I don't want Dion as PM. Was excited about him, but the shiny is off his penny.

    Absolutely agree! Very true! The party has totally ignored the call for reform and renewal and is, in fact, becoming a lot worse (and more leftist) than it's ever been.

    By Blogger Werner Patels, at 10:28 PM  

  • I find that what is good about online polls is that most people who complete them have some sense of politics and offer a more informed opinion than that of Joe Canada who is too busy cooking dinner to offer honest answers.

    By Blogger Eric James, at 12:04 AM  

  • It's interesting that Jason and some others would take the argument that online polls don't fairly represent the population because not everyone uses or has access to email/internet.

    Problem is now with good ol' fashion telephone polls, not everyone in the younger voting age demographics have a landline or listed telephone number!

    Plus, you don't just go online to Ipsos' website to sign up for these polls, after you complete certain telephone polls you're asked if you'd like to receive e-mail studies to take part in.

    Not everyone who is on the panel gets sent that study, the sample is also broken down to ensure quotas are filled.

    By Blogger Darren McEwen, at 12:13 AM  

  • I'm pretty sure that during the 2004 Presidential Election all the polling companies were saying Dubya had it but Zogby was the only one polling a win for Kerry.

    By Blogger Dan McKenzie, at 12:31 AM  

  • This really is a pointless argument because neither method can be extrapolated to the Total Population with any validity.

    Both methods have the potential to exclude large segments of the Canadian population. Young people for telephone polls and the elderly for online polls.

    As a result, both methods tend to be riddled with errors.

    By Blogger ottlib, at 1:27 AM  

  • Online polls are just as valid as those conducted by phone.

    By Blogger Werner Patels, at 2:14 AM  

  • "Both methods have the potential to exclude large segments of the Canadian population."

    Once again, yes the potential is always there. The potential is also there that the pollster stood on a streetcorner in downtown Toronto and asked whomever happened by over their lunchhour. But the pollsters are very aware of what demographics they are reaching, and work to balance their reports accordingly.

    It is important to get the polling companies to release their full internals for any poll to be taken very seriously, so that we can all judge both the questions and the weighting of any intermediate results. This was true for all those polls in the past showing Liberals way ahead, and it is just as important today.

    By Blogger Paul, at 2:45 AM  

  • It's an imprecise science and I think online polls are highly suspect because the average person has better things to do - like making supper, reading a book or watching American Idol.

    However, when the mainstream media starts reporting that a party is in free-fall according to an online poll, people might put down their book, turn the spaghetti sauce bubbling on the stove to low and change the channel to The National to find out why.

    In short, reporting on this poll could give people a less than favorable impression of the Liberals.

    By Blogger Sean Cummings, at 5:46 AM  

  • Sorry Erik, I was being totally sarcastic here.

    I did write the quote, I'm thrilled you found it and I do believe that the Liberal party under Stephane Dion is a disaster for Canada and needs to be put out of its misery pronto.

    I do want Bob Rae or some honest person in charge of that party. Maybe McKenna if he's interested. Not Count Dracula-Ignatieff.

    Also: I was kidding about have a 666 bump on my head. I'm not really satanic. None of us Tories are.

    And you are correct: Cherniak and his ilk don't realize they do as much damage to their party as anyone.

    By Blogger Chuckercanuck, at 7:33 AM  

  • In short, reporting on this poll could give people a less than favorable impression of the Liberals.

    My heart is bleeding.

    By Blogger Brian in Calgary, at 8:41 AM  

  • It is important to get the polling companies to release their full internals for any poll to be taken very seriously, so that we can all judge both the questions and the weighting of any intermediate results. This was true for all those polls in the past showing Liberals way ahead, and it is just as important today.

    Exactly. The only major problem with the Angus Reid poll (not to mention Decima as well) was the lack of information about the methodology, much less the regional sample sizes and margins of error.

    A poll is just a snapshot of a population, and the true error is almost always larger than the reported error, given the problems with response rates and reaching a representative sample. But unless we have information about the polling methodology, it's hard to judge a poll's validity or reliability - and I do think polling companies should be compelled, by law, to release their methodologies for publicly released polls.

    By Blogger Josh Gould, at 11:50 AM  

  • What has surprised me about this debate over online polls is how parochial it has been. Critics of online polls seem to assume that it hasn't been tried & tested before. However, in Britain, whose polling techniques are significantly more advanced, IMHO, than those seen in Canada, online political polling has been practised by the polling firm YouGov for over half a decade, with results that are as accurate, or more accurate, than traditional polling. There really is no debate over whether online polling works - the evidence shows that it does.

    The only real question is whether Angus Reid's online polling methodology is good, & I agree with paul about the importance of polling firms releasing their internals in order to judge how effective their methodologies are. But to reject all online polls as flawed is, IMHO, rather narrow-minded.

    By Blogger Wes, at 1:36 PM  

  • Good entry on the polling. Though I would disagree with your analysis of the NDP's current place in the polls though. The average the party is getting right now has been a steady 14%. That is just under what the party has been getting in 2004 and 2006.

    That is indicating to me that the party base is sticking with the party and there is still a strong likelyhood they could pick up some of the soft Green/Liberal suppport in the next election.

    By Blogger bza, at 3:18 PM  

  • wes; I think this is Angus Reid's first online poll venture, so it is possible that they're not as refined as the British or Zogby ones would be...that's why we should be careful.

    Sean; On the flip side, if the next poll "corrects" an aberant high one like this, then it makes it look like Harper is in "free fall". I don't think bad polls outside of election times is really all that damaging to parties.

    By Blogger calgarygrit, at 3:25 PM  

  • The reason the free-fall is worth discussing is that unlike Manning, Day and Harper, the Liberals are supposed to win elections. That is their job!

    By Blogger hosertohoosier, at 6:01 PM  

  • Erik, I really wouldn't try throwing your weight around in a polling thread when you don't even know what a push poll is.

    Just sayin'.

    By Blogger Demosthenes, at 7:54 PM  

  • Ugh, Lamb Chop. Curse you, CG, that goddamn song is stuck in my head.

    I'd lay odds on another Conservative minority, strengthened, if an election were held today (I'm not really convinced any party is likely to win a majority in the near future). Dion's performance needs work, but, then, that's true of most guys; his English has clearly worsened a bit under all the stress. Like Harper in 2005, he should take the summer and sort things out.

    By Blogger IslandLiberal, at 9:11 PM  

  • Ooops! I thought that was *Pot Smokers*

    Liberals can score an uptrend in the polls by dealing with this real problem. Takes guts though.

    Legalize pot cultivation and use. Put packs of 10 or 20 joints on store shelves.

    I said we should do with pot what we did with booze. Make it a normal business so it can be taxed, so it can be quality controlled, so kids do not get switched to hard drugs by dealers, so a flood of revenue can be channeled into health care where druggies hit hospital emergency every day.

    Many well intentioned bloggers came down on these ideas very hard.

    It is looking like I was correct this time after all.

    Global Televisions*s Currents had a documentary about this and various long term law enforcement experts, coroner and others who explained the real logic of government drug regulation. Global would not risk this if it were poor or unsound logic.

    Drugs are a business, but a black market business that promotes corruption of police, lawyers, judges and people in authority. Kingpins run auto theft rings, body shop franchises payday loan and various other main street businesses. Shootings and poisonings are the enforcement methods.

    Drug kingpins are deflated when the government regulated business replaces the black market.

    Lifting prohibition did deflate kingpins like Al Capone.

    This one change in policy would restore hospital emergency beds to decent numbers for starters. Not to mention the end of grow-ops. A few plants around the house. Much safer. And, yes, a return to community policing.
    = TG

    By Blogger TonyGuitar, at 11:32 AM  

  • PS. You can forget those suspicions. The only drug I use is coffee.

    Too many contaminates and poisons floating about in our water and foods as it is without using drugs. = TG

    By Blogger TonyGuitar, at 11:37 AM  

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