Polling the pollsters

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The urgent news of the day for New Brunswick is in. It’s now time to close the shutters, batten down the hatches, head to bed with a nice cup of steamed hemlock. For, the pollsters have spoken.

Those who moil for meaning in the nether reaches of the online world – the Internet, blogosphere, social media – have tendered their latest profile of public opinion about Canada’s most youthful premier.

Now we know, and now we may sleep, comfortable in the knowledge that half of this province’s grown-ups think Brian Gallant is just swell; the other half isn’t so sure.

Says Corporate Research Associates of Halifax: “The New Brunswick Liberal Party continues to be preferred, with just under one-half of New Brunswick decided voters supporting (45 per cent, down from 55 per cent in November 2015).

“Meanwhile, one-quarter back the PC Party of New Brunswick (27 per cent, compared with 25 per cent), while two in ten residents support the New Democratic Party (18 per cent, up from 12 per cent). Green Party support is stable (eight per cent, compared with seven per cent), while two percent of voters back the People’s Alliance (compared with one per cent).

“The number of residents who are undecided rests at 29 per cent (compared with 25 per cent), while seven per cent refuse to state a preference (compared with nine per cent), and five per cent support none of the parties or do not plan to vote (compared with three per cent).”

Of course, I’m reasonably certain that, should I turn the tables on the polling industry, itself, public responses would track along predictable lines.

Question: How much do you trust polling data?

Answer: About as much as I trust politicians.

Question: How much do you like being bugged by pollsters while eating supper or beating a deadline?

Answer: About as much as I like answering the door on a sweet, sultry Sunday afternoon.

According to writer Nate Cohen in the New York Times in January, “The polling industry has been hit hard by high-profile misfires in recent years. Exactly why the polls err often remains a mystery. Potential sources for error abound: The initial samples could be biased, the likely-voter models may not reflect the actual electorate, or voters could make last-minute decisions that make even an accurate poll wrong on Election Day.”

Mr. Cohen also references a Pew Research report that declares: “Polls have failed to accurately predict winning candidates in several recent elections, including the 2015 race for governor in Kentucky, several 2014 U.S. races for Senate and governor, the 2015 British general election, the 2015 Scottish referendum on independence, and the 2015 referendum in Greece on acceptance of the European Union’s terms for a bailout. In the 2012 U.S. presidential election, many surveys underestimated the share of the vote that Barack Obama would receive. Errors in modeling the likely electorate are suspected of contributing to many of these polling failures.”

Or could the problem simply be the intellectual triangle pollsters, politicians and the press have managed to forge over the past few decades? After all, these are the only “audiences” who seem to benefit from periodic public opinion surveys.

We, the great polled, couldn’t care less; except, of course, enough of us are more than willing to offer an opinion when gently pressed to do so.

Is Brian Gallant the greatest thing since sliced bread? Sure. Nope. Doesn’t matter. You’ve answered the question, done your civic duty. Now go to bed as images of real and important matters fail to dance in your heads.

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