Friday, December 23, 2011

When Not To Chase A Poll

Anyone following the NDP leadership race has probably heard of this Forum Research poll, perhaps the first public gauge of the race. I'd like to look at this poll, not in the sense of insight- primarily because it provides NONE- but because it highlights an almost reckless incorporation by journalists who are supposedly trained to know better. Everyone is dying to get a read of how the race is going, perhaps this flawed release, leading to disproportionate conclusions. In response to the Forum Research poll, we get this patently ridiculous headline from the National Post, "John Ivison: NDP’s Paul Dewar upbeat despite poor polling":
Thomas Dewar, scion of the famous whisky family, once said he would never invest in a going concern until he knew which way it was going. On that basis, if you believe a new poll on the NDP leadership, you might not invest too much time helping the whisky baron’s namesake, Ottawa MP Paul Dewar.

A poll by Forum Research for the National Post asked Canadians who voted for the NDP in the last election who they preferred as the next leader of the party. Of the 300 respondents, nearly half were undecided, which suggests there is still plenty to play for. But of the 163 decided voters, 45% said they favoured Thomas Mulcair, with support coming from right across the country. Peggy Nash came second with 16%, while Mr. Dewar and perceived front-runner Brian Topp languished at 8%.

Now, in fairness, the article also provides a couple cautions on this poll, but the headline is clear, based on what I view as an entirely irrelevant beauty contest poll, the perception is actually evolving that Mulcair is way ahead, someone like Dewar trailing badly. I'm just amazed that professionally trained journalists will extrapolate anything from a patently flawed PRIMARY source, not worthy of anything except to note the power of name recognition.

The Forum Research poll doesn't ask potential delegates their opinion, it asks people who said they support the federal NDP who they prefer as leader. Half the respondents didn't even denote preference, a testament to treading carefully with the result. Further, if someone told me prior to seeing these numbers who would come out on top, I would have picked this order without hesitation. Mulcair has NATIONAL name recognition, he was the NDP deputy, he was the heir apparent, he has received a steady diet of coverage since becoming a MP. Peggy Nash has been on the federal stage for sometime, giving her a marginal advantage over a just emerging Dewar or more meaningfully a BACKROOM person like Topp. This "poll" is really nothing more than stating the obvious, a very general NDP audience really doesn't have much of an opinion yet, but when pushed, they cite who they know with more regularity. And, don't even get me started with the less than 200 sample size of mere voters for a party with almost 100000 actual MEMBERS.

It really does irk me that races become shaped based on the most dubious of sources. I expect seasoned journalists to denote red flags and precede accordingly, otherwise they WARP the reality of the situation. This poll tells me absolutely nothing that can be extrapolated to ascertain true measures of support. However, I keep hearing about this poll, it is now someone woven into our perceptions of how the race is going. Truth be told, we've yet to get a serious poll on the race, about all we can look at empirically is things such as endorsements, which speaks to organizational strength, where people are starting to move, even here very much subjective and dicey, but at least within the real playing field.

I've seen this NDP poll syndrome happen too many times, rather than giving little weight, over zealous and lazy conclusions drawn, then subsequently picked up, evolving to almost a concrete viewpoint. The problem I have is that moving forward, a particular candidate has to fight against emerging perceptions, which are based on nothing of substance, an entirely false narrative, that doesn't pass any smell test I can understand, based on my own training of what constitutes solid sourcing and evidence based thesis development.

Dewar is "upbeat" despite poor polling, seriously? After all the heavyweights lined up behind Topp, Mulcair enjoys almost SIX times the support? When you give weight to suspect relevance, you can actually begin a self fulfilling prophecy journey, you can reinforce a notion that someone is trailing badly, when really you have nothing of consequence to assert that argument.

I expect better, as we all should... Hopefully Mr. Dewar can keep his chin up, in spite of this devastating result that will apparently haunt his campaign. Goodness.

1 comment:

daniel said...

This polling result isn't actually all that surprising, but I wouldn't count out someone like Dewar just yet.

If my read on the situation based on the opinions of my Dipper friends is accurate, Mulcair is probably indeed the favourite at this point. Brian Topp's result is unsurprising - it seems as though the average New Democrat doesn't see the same golden aura surrounding him as the party brass does, and I'm inclined to agree. In fact, there seems to be far more good will toward candidates like Nash and Dewar among the membership - and even some mild resentment toward Topp, who many see as an overrated backroom boy that the higher-ups are trying to foist on the party on the basis of "trust us - *we* like him, so *you* should, too."

Topp really needs to get out there and sell himself if he hopes to win this. It looks like he's banking on his resume and his endorsements to carry him through to the end, and that won't cut it in a party chock-full of community activist types who appreciate someone who can hit the pavement and get out there with the people. Of course, given that he has all the charisma and gravitas of a paper bag, and a penchant for making public addresses that are forgettable at best, he has more than an uphill battle.

Frankly, I see Mulcair winning this, with an outside chance of Nash or Dewar pulling a Dion (in the good, leadership convention way - as opposed to the bad, general election way). From an electoral standpoint, Mulcair is easily the best bet - he'd shore up the orange fortress in Quebec, and moderate the party enough to be reasonably competitive in the RoC in a general election. People bring up his bluster and temper as potential stumbling blocks, but given the current crop of gracious, sage, even-tempered individuals like Peter van Loan, John Baird, and Pierre Poilievre currently warming seats on the government side, I don't think Mulcair's go-for-the-jugular style will hurt him that much.