Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Pollster Fears Unreliable Polls Could Trigger Ban on Surveys during Elections

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Pollster Fears Unreliable Polls Could Trigger Ban on Surveys during Elections

Article excerpt

Ban on election polls coming, pollster fears


OTTAWA - A spate of spectacularly inaccurate polls in several provincial elections and Monday's federal byelections has one of Canada's leading pollsters worried that the day is fast approaching when public opinion surveys will be banned during campaigns.

John Wright, senior vice-president of Ipsos Global Public Affairs, said in his view shoddy polling methods by some companies and the media's undiscerning appetite for horse race numbers -- no matter how dubious -- are dragging the industry's reputation through the mud.

He wants the market research industry to crack down on pollsters who don't meet minimum standards. And he wants media outlets to be far more selective about the polls they publish, rejecting surveys from companies that refuse to fully disclose all their weighted and unweighted data.

If that doesn't happen soon, he predicted there'll be a move to ban the publication of polls during campaigns.

"I think at some point, if this continues, there'll be a real question raised whether these sort of things should even be contemplated being done during campaigns," Wright said in an interview Tuesday.

Most polls were significantly off the mark in recent provincial elections in Quebec, Alberta and British Columbia.

Then on the eve of Monday's four byelections, a Forum Research automated phone survey was published giving the Liberals in Manitoba's Brandon-Souris a 29-point lead. In the end, the Conservatives eked out a win with 44.1 per cent of the vote to 42.7 for the Liberals.

The Winnipeg Free Press questioned the poll's reliability, reporting that a number of constituents had been called as many as six times by Forum. It also carried the results, as did other media outlets.

If voters were in fact called repeatedly for the Forum poll, Wright said the survey sample would not be representative of the riding's population.

In close contests like Brandon Souris, where less than 400 votes separated the Conservatives and Liberals, Wright said it's especially important to ensure polls are accurate and properly conducted.

"If one vote was influenced by a bogus piece of work, that's one vote too many," he said.

Forum denies anyone was called more than once for the same survey.

In 1998, Wright said the Supreme Court ruled there's no need to ban polls during campaigns because the industry and the media would police themselves sufficiently to ensure voters were not being misled by bad surveys.

"I think that's a system that's completely broken now," he said, adding that he's no longer sure the top court would rule the same way, given recent experience.

"Will there be banning of polls? Who knows," Wright said.

"But certainly when you get enough of these things where you can't tell whether there's any merit or science or believability to it all and you get players who seem to disregard the very fundamentals of doing it the right way, then you wonder how far off it can really be."

Forum's Lorne Bozinoff defended his company's record, noting that it accurately pegged the results in two other byelections Monday: Toronto Centre, Bourassa in Montreal.

"We know (automated phone polls) can work, there's just no question about that. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.