Thursday, May 12, 2005

Opinion Polls Are Bound by Gravity

There are news stories all over the place saying that Canadians believe that Paul Martin is incompetent, and yet they don't want an election; that they believe the Liberals to be corrupt, yet the party still enjoys significant support; etc., etc., etc.

Some of the more paranoid among the Blogging Tories might consider the various polling agencies to be biased, based on their donations to the Liberal Party. However, there's a quick cure for that, provided courtesy of Andrew at Bound by Gravity.

Of particular interest is Andrew's last point: that results can vary depending on the question that is actually asked.

To draw on a recent example:

If you ask Canadians "Do you want an election?"
the latest results were:
61% - No
39% - Yes

However, if you ask Canadians "Do you support an election?"
the latest results were:
45% - Yes
41% - No

There are also a couple of other points which Andrew doesn't mention, but are worth pointing out:

First, opinion polls rarely ask just one question. Besides demographic information (age group, salary range, political affiliations, etc.) they can sometimes ask a series of questions that may produce different results for the same question at the end of a sequence. For example, a series of questions regarding awareness of the Gomery inquiry's testimony may yield a different answer to the question of an election, compared with a series of questions dealing with special provisions in the current budget.

Second, one poll on its own is merely a snapshot of a given sample population at the time of its data-gathering, as opposed to the time of its public release. A poll showing a drop in BQ support would be a surprise right after a Gomery bomb on the Grits -- until people check the dates and realize it was taken immediately after an accusation against the Bloc. That means it's very important for bloggers to check the date the poll was taken, as well as the methodology of the poll.

In short? Don't worry about the opinion polls. Corruption is corruption, it would take a catastrophic purge of the Liberal Party of Canada to root it out, and it's best accomplished if the Grits were out of power.