Thursday, January 19, 2006

Time to Ban Polls?

Political junkies love polls. We relish pouring over the results, watching trends, dissecting the internals. However, watching the campaign unfold, I wonder if Canadians and the political process in general, aren't best served by a ban on polling during election campaigns.

There is a certain fickle quality to the electorate. No one would dispute the fact that external influences often times slant our voting preferences. The media has become obsessed with polling and their coverage is often times influenced by the mood the surveys reflect. I don't suggest this fact as evidence of an anti-Liberal bias, because I think the dynamic works both ways. Would a stop Harper mood develop if the polling didn't show a potential majority, and the corresponding media speculation? Would Martin's ideas be given more coverage if the media was preoccupied with talk of failure, supported by polling? Would the NDP benefit from coverage based on substance and not king maker speculation?

My point is, wouldn't we have a more organic election if we banned election polling and let events unfold naturally. The media would be forced to take their cues from things such as rally sizes, campaign energy and the debate of ideas. News coverage wouldn't begin within the framework of what polls tell us. The electorate is volatile, and above all impressionable, these polls feed momentum and also blunt rebounds. Fickle people may decide to back the winning horse because that is what they have been told. Others may vote strategically to block certain parties they fear. More people cast their votes, based on perception, than they do the issues, primarily because of how polls shape the campaign.

I really think we have reached the saturation point with polling, they now dominate the landscape, instead of acting as interesting sidebars. We have also seen some curious developments with possible polling manipulation. Is it merely coincidence that the one poll that shows the biggest Conservative lead, is also funded by the same entity that threw its support behind that party? I think we are naive to believe that pollsters self interest has no influence on this supposed objective medium. Take this one poll out of the equation, and we would hear more talk of a Liberal comeback- of course this works the other way as well.

Imagine an election with no polling, where coverage relies on our own perceptions and feelings. More time spent on the substance, the issues and less on the speculation and trends. The media always trumpets their objective approach, but clearly we have reached a stage where the tail wags the dog and media merely mirrors the pollsters mood. What is the downside of a ban on polling?


CurosityKilledTheCat said...

The Conversion of Stephen Harper:

To change from voting Liberal to voting Conservative on Monday would mean accepting that Stephen Harper had undergone a conversion from the rightwing Saul of Canadian politics, to the middle-of-the-road Paul. Voters asked to believe this conversion need to satisfy themselves that the Harper who stood in front of a gathering of neocons in the USA in 1997 and lauded them as examples to be followed, praised their philosophy, denigrated Maritimers, decried Canada as a welfare state not to be emulated, has, in the course of the past 18 months, suddenly seen the light, and changed.

How credible is this Harper conversion? Well, let the man speak for himself: he said he has become more realistic, but his fundamental beliefs have not changed. Oh, and his comments were really in jest.

If so, how much stock can a voter place today on his program, on his statements that there will not be serious cuts, that he will not introduce legislation to take away rights entrenched by the Supreme Court? What assurance does a voter have that Harper will not turn around in six months time and tell the country: Sorry, folks – I was only joking when I said those things ....

Sorry, Mr Harper, I for one do not believe a leopard can change its spots. Not even a very smart leopard. But I do believe a leopard just might dress up in sheep’s clothing ...

Steve V said...


I blame the media for accepting the "new" Harper with no hesitation. Where is the critical eye? The media acts as a faciliator to the propaganda. I read a news article yesterday, wherein the American right wing is ecstatic at the possibility of Harper government to the north. There is a reason for this enthusiasm, and this sentiment is quite telling as to what this party is really all about.

HisHighness said...

I don't think so, if there is a possibility of a Conservative majority people need to be warned about that.

Ed Hollett said...

Media coverage over polling has led to what a friend of mine calls meta-campaigning.

People talk about the campaign itself rather than actually run one.

In teh case of the media, they have spent this campaign talking about strategies and polling to the exclusion of a substantive discussion of issues and content.

In this election, in particular, we have seen an excessive level of attention paid to polls. Some, like Gregg's stuff have gotten way more coverage than they warrant for the reasons you noted elsewhere.

Polls have a place but perhaps we need to get more people who understand their place to talk about them and put them in perspective.

The Jurist said...

While I'd agree that polls may have their negative effects, is it really any better for the media to take its cues from the last election results for lack of any more recent information? I'd think the problem is more in the way the polls are covered (i.e. the horse-race mentality) rather than the fact that they're available.

Steve V said...

ed hollett

"People talk about the campaign itself rather than actually run one."

I think that is a great way to put it.

Steve V said...


I don't think the media would take its cues from the past election, but instead focus on what our eyes and ears tell us, as opposed to reactionary coverage, based on trends.

For example, Harper had a huge rally in Montreal the other day, despite horrible weather. The numbers, coupled with the enthusiasm, would suggest momentum and this conclusion would be derived without the benefit of polling. Banning polls doesn't equate to banning perception and common sense. It might not be a perfect solution, but I still think it would be an improvement

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