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Mediacheck

Rival Pollsters Declare Victory

Angus Reid and Ipsos Reid each say they predicted best.

By Tom Barrett 13 May 2009 | TheTyee.ca

Tom Barrett is a Tyee contributing editor.

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Pollster Angus Reid: rivals 'have some answering to do.'

The B.C. Liberals weren't the only ones claiming victory after Tuesday's provincial election.

Pollsters Angus Reid Strategies and Ipsos Reid were also quick to claim wins.

The election result -- Liberals, 46 per cent; New Democrats, 42 per cent; Green party, eight per cent; B.C. Conservatives, two per cent -- fell within the stated margin of error of both pollsters.

It's true that this claim is complicated by the fact that some experts and pollsters hold that online polls like the ones used by Reid should not carry a margin of error.

Pollsters will tell you that all they can do is hope the final result falls within their margin of error. But for what it's worth, Reid came the closest of the three main B.C. pollsters to the Election Night popular vote results. Reid's final poll, conducted May 5 and 6, showed the Liberals at 44 per cent (down two from the final result); the NDP at 42 per cent (identical to the Reid result); the Greens at 10 per cent (+2); and the B.C. Conservatives at two per cent (0) among decided voters.

The final Ipsos poll, conducted May 4-7, showed the Liberals at 47 per cent (+1); the NDP at 39 per cent (-3); and the Greens at 10 per cent (+2) among decided voters. Ipsos lumped the B.C. Conservatives in the "other" category.

Mustel slightly outside range

The final Mustel Group poll, conducted April 29 to May 6, showed the Liberals at 47 per cent (+1); the NDP at 38 per cent (-4); the Greens at 12 per cent (+4); and the B.C. Conservatives at three per cent (+1).

Mustel's results for the NDP and Greens fall slightly outside the poll's overall margin of error -- plus or minus 3.4 percentage points, 19 times out of 20. But those numbers are for all respondents to the poll. The horserace numbers quoted above are based on a smaller sample -- decided voters -- which carries a higher margin of error.

Therefore, Mustel might still be able to claim that its numbers fall within its margin of error. (Evi Mustel of the Mustel Group was not immediately available to comment Wednesday.)

Dueling press release boasts

In the aftermath of the election, Angus Reid Strategies issued a press release headlined "Angus Reid Makes the Best Electoral Prediction in British Columbia."

Ipsos countered with a release headlined "Ipsos Reid Posts Double Play for Home Run in BC Election: Only Pollster to Hit the Mark on Both the General Election and the Referendum on Electoral Reform."

As the duelling press releases indicate, election polling is a high-stakes game. Pollsters engage in it as a way of gaining media attention for the rest of their business, much of which tends to concentrate on market research.

The Ipsos release pointed out that the company's numbers exactly matched the outcome of the BC-STV referendum. British Columbians voted 61 per cent in favour of the current First-Past-the-Post system, compared to 39 per cent for the Single Transferable Ballot -- the same numbers quoted for decided voters in the final Ipsos poll.

Reid, in contrast, had 45 per cent of decided voters favouring BC-STV, as opposed to 55 per cent for First-Past-the-Post -- well outside the poll's stated margin of error.

Mustel did not quote a figure for decided voters on STV, reporting 33 per cent of respondents in favour of BC-STV, 43 per cent in favour of FPTP and 24 per cent undecided.

NDP respondents more likely to vote

Angus Reid, head of Angus Reid Strategies, told The Tyee Wednesday that "we didn’t really focus our attention on the STV issue.

"We said it was going to fail, it failed," he said. "If they [Ipsos] want to do a victory lap because they got the STV thing right, well, good luck, God bless."

Reid argued that the telephone pollsters consistently underreport the NDP's share of the vote.

"I think that my friends on the telephone side of the business have got a little answering to do in terms of just why there's this systematic underreporting on that side of the equation," he said. "I think the telephone guys are losing more than they're winning in terms of accuracy."

Ipsos vice-president Kyle Braid told The Tyee that the NDP appears to have done a better job of getting its vote out, which could explain why it did better than the results suggested by telephone pollsters.

"There’s really nothing pollsters can do to factor in the efforts of the campaigns at getting out their vote," he said. "We can look at measures of the intentions of people to go out and vote but that's not the same as the number of calls they get from the campaign teams asking whether they've actually gone out to vote."

Traditionally, the NDP has been better than other parties at getting their voters to the polls, while the Green party fails to deliver its supporters.

"It looks like that might be something that's always going to happen," said Braid. "You have to take the final poll, subtract two from the Greens and add two to the NDP and you'll have something that's pretty close to the result."

Online vs. phone polling: unresolved

Braid said he doesn't think this election will settle arguments about the merits of online versus telephone polling.

"As I’ve said before, either methodology is a valid methodology. Both our poll and the online poll hit within the mark.

"It’s going to be something that’s talked about as a result of this campaign because a particular group said it's all about online and everything else is wrong. And I think our results show that there are two ways to get at the same answer."

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