Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Is Coalition An Issue?

Despite all the election chatter about "coalition" it is not clear why it should be an issue.  One would expect it to be, for many voters, a parliamentary process issue.  Sure enough, a new Nanos survey that asked respondents to name the most important issue does not appear to have anyone saying "coalition" or "majority government". From CTV:
When asked to name, unprompted, what their most important national issue of concern was, almost 30 per cent said health care. However, it appears that the economy is again coming to the forefront as a key issue (percentage-point change from March 15 survey in brackets):
  • Health care: 28.5 per cent (-0.7)
  • Jobs / Economy: 19.5 per cent (+1.4)
  • Education: 7.9 per cent (-0.9)
  • Environment: 4.7 per cent (-2.8)
  • High taxes: 4.8 per cent (-0.1)
  • Unsure: 12.1 per cent (+3.0)
Economy, health care, education, environment. Makes sense to TC. Where is "coalition/majority government"?

Sunday, March 27, 2011

The problem with online polls

Several polling firms whose results are being widely reported in Canada during this election conduct their surveys via the internet.  Now new research, "rigorous work from researchers at the forefront of academic evaluations of survey data", suggests that such surveys are unreliable.  Gary Langer, who provides public opinion polling, analysis and consulting services to ABC News after having served as the network's polling director, says:

"Past research has thrown doubt on the ability of so-called “opt-in online panels” to produce results that accurately reflect the views of the broader population. The new study not only reinforces that evidence, it also calls into question whether such data are reliable for two other key purposes, evaluating changes over time and differences among groups."

Among online surveys being reported in Canada concerning the election are party preference results from Angus Reid and L├ęger Marketing, and issue and leadership preferences from Ipsos.  (It should be noted that, to date, the Ipsos party preference numbers come from telephone surveys.) Why are Canadian media uncritically reporting these online results when significant doubts about this type of research are being raised south of the border and have been in the past?

The new research was about the U.S. Census, not about party politics, but it is clear that it applies to party preference polls. Langer notes: "The paper was written by Josh Pasek, now an assistant professor of communication studies at the University of Michigan, and his Ph.D. adviser, Prof. Jon Krosnick, of Stanford University."

He goes on to point out that ABC News does not accept online data as valid:

"We ruled out reporting opt-in online panels at ABC News more than a decade ago. In 2008 David Yeager, then another student of Krosnick’s, along with Krosnick and several of their colleagues, wrote a groundbreaking paper questioning the accuracy of opt-in online data. And a year ago the American Association for Public Opinion Research issued a report saying such panels should not be used to represent population values, should not be described as representative and should not claim a margin of sampling error."

Online surveys are now routinely used for market research "because it’s cheap and fast. But it’s also problematic, because the nature of opt-in panels violates the most basic principles of probability sampling."

All polling needs to be treated cautiously and skeptically but it is clear from this Langer's commentary and the new research that we should view telephone polling as more trustworthy than the online variety.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Contradictory Polls

I don't recall an election where the early polling sent such contradictory messages.  The media mindset is on a possible Tory majority and the coalition "issue", but the polls offer clashing signals about just what is going on.

Here are average seat projections from two different sets of polls.

C.P.C. Liberal NDP Green Bloc Other Total
Nanos/Ekos/Decima 138 83 34 0 52 1 308
Ipsos/Leger/Reid 158 66 29 0 54 1 308

The difference reflects varying Liberal levels of support.  Note also that although a Conservative majority is anticipated by the most recent Ipsos/Leger/Reid surveys, it is just barely over the minimum 154 mark.  This continues to lead TC to believe that a Conservative majority remains unlikely.

As a measure of how difficult it will be look at the vote shares from 2008 from outside Quebec.

C.P.C. Liberal NDP Green Bloc Other Total
Canada excluding Quebec 43.3 27.1 20.3 7.9 0.0 1.3 100.0

We tend to forget the Conservatives did extraordinarily well in 2008.  Not only do they have to repeat that success, but they also have to exceed it.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

May Election

There will be a May election, just as so desired by the Harper government.  You don't buy time during the Super Bowl for ads unless you have something like this in mind.  I have been somewhat distressed although not completely surprised at the inability of the media to discern this obvious fact.

I expect a Harper government once the results are in but not a majority.  More on polls and projections at a later date, and I hope, more blogging between now and May 2 or 9.