Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Poll Vaulting

I've seen it written in a couple of places that the SES nightly poll is like heroine for political junkies. Despite the CBC's reluctance to show them, polls are once again all over the place this election. The Globe & Mail led with an Ipsos-Reid poll this morning while the National Post led with seat projections based on a series of polls. I'll admit, I need my daily fix as much as everyone else but how will these poll results translate into voting day results?

If we look past the obvious margin of error, there are a few other things to consider. For starters, when everyone keeps predicting the lowest turnout in election history, not everyone will vote. Sure, 80% of Canadians polled say they will vote, but all this means that 20% of Canadians are liars. So which party will be hurt most by this? Since only 25% of young Canadians vote yet over 75% of seniors vote, this is a huge benefit to the Conservatives whose support increases among older Canadians.

There's also the question of whose supporters are most motivated to vote. I mean, sure, you could spend 10 minutes voting but since someone decided to call the election for the summer, there's BBQ, soccer games, Dharma & Greg reruns...for many Canadians, all of these take precedence over voting. In this domain, the NDP likely scores biggest since they have a core of rabid supporters. Among the two major parties, most Canadians will either want to "get rid of those bastard Liberals" or will grudgingly accept that the Liberals are better than Harper. My guess is the former will be far more likely to get out and vote.

There's also the organization to consider; Who has the ground forces who can get out the vote? This has been the Liberals strong suit in the past but with many Chretien Liberals sitting on their hands, the Big Red Machine may not be at full force this time around.

Finally, there are the voters that the pollsters just can't reach. Sometimes pollsters need to call 500 homes to get 100 people willing to take the poll. Are people who don't have the patience to talk to pollsters more prone to vote one way? Hard to say. Seniors may not want to take polls but then young people may be out in the evening and not home. Affecting the election day results are minor factors such as soldiers serving overseas who are most like to vote Tory, prisoners who would likely never vote Tory (which might actually make a difference in Kingston), and homeless who might lean towards the NDP for fear of Paul Martin killing them.

So, yeah, the polls are good for a quick fix but come election day, those who have become too addicted to them might be forced to suffer through some serious withdrawal symptoms.

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