Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Smoking polls

Sooooo, let's get this straight. The latest Probe poll says the NDP and Tories are tied. It says the Hugh-Tang Clan is down a few points from the summer, but the same as last March.

The 'Toba Liberals are up -- to their highest point in god-knows-how-long.

What's going on Dr. McKay? What is causing all this seismic toing and froing?

Well, in June we were told the PCs were up largely because they had a brand spankin' new leader and because the Harper Tory "brand" was hot, transferring some of its heat to their provincial cousins.

OK, what about now? Why are they going down?

Dr. McKay says Hugh hasn't been getting out enough and the federal Tory honeymoon is over.

Really? Let's take a look at that.

As for the Harper honeymoon being over -- yes this seems to be true in Ontario, BC and Quebec. But doesn't appear to be the case here, as a recent Ekos Poll puts them at a soaring 43% support in Manitoba/Saskatchewan. Only in the Atlantic and Alberta are they more popular.

Hugh's not been getting out enough? Well, that's a tough one to put any meat on. Certainly he can't already be considered old hat, can he?

OK, then the kicker question: Mr. Scott McKay, of Probe Research, why is Jon Gerrard's dynamic team of Liberals surging to the relatively stratospheric levels of 18%? Was it because out of two Liberal MLAs they had two polar opposite positions on Spirited Energy? Have Kevin's 800 petitions on Crocus finally borne fruit?

No answer.

Let's take this from FP editor Bob Cox's blog in July explaining why the FP-Probe poll only asks party preference, without attaching leaders' names: "Leaders do have an impact on their party’s popularity. But the leader’s popularity is bound up with the party’s popularity fairly closely." And this: "If the Conservatives stay at their current levels, it will show today’s numbers were not caused by a one-time event such as the publicity generated by Hugh McFadyen’s election as leader."

So, that would lead one to think that the Liberals' surge is due to the rising popularity of Jon Gerrard.

Is that even remotely credible?

And what's the reason given for a rise in the Green vote by McKay -- disaffected New Democrats. Did he ask these folks why they are now supporting the Greens? Does he even know if they are coming from previous NDP voters?

The real issue is this, riffing off what we've said in this space before -- Probe (and ergo the Free Press) doesn't know why the numbers go up or down. McKay's quotes in the paper are mere guesses -- as are the subsequent analyses of Free Press boffins. Probe has no particular data to show what's going on. They say infrastructure is a hot rising issue. It may be, but there is no info whatsoever to demonstrate it is driving voting preference.

The FP-Probe ongoing political polling is as unilluminating as it is frequently just wrong, like it was in the lead up to the 2003 election, significantly over-estimating NDP support (including reported massive support in the southwest quadrant of Winnipeg, including ridings like Tuxedo and Charleswood).

We feel forced to remind readers about the valid warnings from McKay's former boss, Angus Reid, that we featured back in July about the sorry state of public domain polling these days:

"Higher and higher refusal rates due to things like voicemail and call display screening are what Reid calls 'the big dirty secret of the industry.'

"Further, he warns, is that media organizations that pay for polling are doing it today increasingly on the cheap. 'No one's paying for really good high-quality polling,' Reid says in the same article."

Or, as we might otherwise put it, knowledge is power however a little bit of knowledge can be dangerous.