Thursday, June 24, 2010

Grains of Salt

Nation, polls are an occupational hazard of punditry, and of politics in general. There are a million ways to manipulate the data to come to just about any conclusion you want - and that's if the poll was fair to begin with.

No matter who does the polling, the side with the LEAST to brag about always calls into question the pollsters, or the sample size, or the questions themselves, or the methodology, or the organization or office that commissioned the poll in the first place.

All that said, though, what polls DO give us is a picture - a snapshot in time. Of the people who were talked to, at that moment, here's what they were thinking.

This is critically important, because - and here's where we'll lose some of the politician readers of this blog - the opinions of the electorate MATTER. Not just on election day, but EVERY day. You can't govern by poll numbers - Paul Martin proved that - but it's important to be reminded, and remind those that would govern us, that the opinions, thoughts and ideas of the citizenry matter much, much more than the thoughts, opinions and motivations of those who cast votes on our behalf in our legislative bodies.

So, with that said... I received in my inbox this week a copy of a poll done by Spotlight Strategies. The poll itself was conducted between May 19th and May 26th - and yes, that would include the long week-end. 804 Albertans were asked their opinions about the way in which they're being governed, their values, and their political leanings.

This poll is interesting to me, in that I'm seeing questions asked that I don't normally see. In particular, they've eschewed the usual "how important is this issue?" question, and instead asked "How important will each of the following issues be in terms of deciding which party you vote for in the next election?". To the average voter, this might be a small distinction. To me, however, it touches on a major flaw in many polls that use the "how important is thie issue" question: They assume that because an issue is important to you, it will affect your voting choice. Which is not always the case. Is the health of our oil and gas sector important to me? HECK yes. It's the heart that keeps the Albertan economy going. But only 14% of respondents to this poll indicated that "encouraging more oil and gas exploration and production" was a very important issue that would affect their vote.

The full poll is linked here.

The "Snapshot Question", the one that's going to get the press, is about voting intentions. These always make me cringe, because the party that "wins" in the polls - particularly if they poll at over 40% - thinks they're doing everything right. Absolutely NOT the case. And, as the poll itself is quick to point out, before they even get into the numbers - campaigns matter. Local candidates matter. A Liberal campaign collapse could drive those who polled "solid Liberal" to the NDP and the PC's on voting day. A great PC candidate could poach local "solid WAP" support, despite the performance of the provincial campaign or either party's leader (I'm counting on it). I mean, 5% of respondents identified as "solid" supporters of a party that ceased to exist over a year ago. So, as with ALL polls, and as the title of this post suggests... take this with a few grains of salt.

Voting Intention: Solid
PC: 25%
WRA: 15%
Lib: 10%
NDP: 6%
Green: 5%
Other: 1%
Undecided: 24%
Wouldn’t vote: 5%
DK/NR: 9%

Voting Intention: Solid plus Leaning
PC: 40%
WRA: 24%
Lib: 17%
NDP: 8%
Green: 8%
Other: 3%

Voting Intention: Second Choice
PC: 21%
Lib: 19%
WRA: 15%
NDP: 11%
Green: 7%
Other: 2%
Undecided: 11%
DK/NR: 13%

The upshot: This poll is reason for optimism for the PC's, and a warning to the Wildrose Alliance that they have to come out of their internal organization phase (having now founded 83 constituency associations, they can start to come out of the shadows a bit) and try to appeal to voters with their freshly-minted policies (to be determined this weekend). By NO MEANS should this signal to the PC's that everything is hunky-dory. Their position as the ruling party is fraught with potential disaster - whenever ANYTHING goes wrong, it's their fault. Likewise, if Danielle Smith gets into the Legislative Assembly and voters get a chance to see her face to face with the Premier, perceptions can change in a hurry - and in either direction, depending on the performance she gives (remember when Ignatieff was going to make Harper look like a bumpkin within a week of entering the House?).

So, an interesting poll to be sure. The real question going forward is: How will the parties respond to what it tells them?

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