The Ontario election campaign is fully underway, the Campaign Gears team wanted to take a few minutes to look at the effectiveness of polling. In a recent article on tvo.org by Steve Paikin, he writes on the stark difference between headlines and poll results and concludes that polls are only a snapshot in time and not conclusive of election day results. He’s not wrong, but he’s also missing a huge element of elections – the actual campaigns.
In our experience, the difference between winning and losing is in the campaign itself. It’s in our name, we should know!
What Paikin and so many others who write on the ineffectiveness of polling miss is that polls are based on a predetermined potential turnout of votes. That predetermination defines the sample size, demographics, and voter locations. Based on that, a snapshot of what the vote might be is taken. This is precisely where polls get it wrong.
Each political campaign begins with what we call a “win-number” the number of votes needed to literally win an election. That number is based on who we think will vote for a given candidate; who they are, where they live, what issues are important to them etc. Then we develop a campaign to secure those votes. Traditionally, the win-number was calculated based on prior elections and voter turnout, but in 2018 those numbers are less and less predictable as Canada’s electorate is more rapidly changing than ever before.
It’s not that polls are inaccurate, it’s that the sample size they are drawing from is inaccurate. The reasons behind chosen sample size vary, but what often is the issue is the cost of the poll. The smaller the sample size the less accurate it will be. A more effective poll would factor in the presumed demographics for each candidate running as well as the likely voter turnout, but that often costs more.
On top of that, in Canada’s Parliamentary system there isn’t one election happening, there are many, one for each riding. Ridings can vary widely in terms of party support. Rarely do the polls actually get enough sample in each riding to make accurate predictions.
As more and more candidates find niche voting groups, accurate polling needs to ensure that that those votes are factored in.
If you’re interested in running for office, running a campaign, or in fact based polling reach out to the Campaign Gears team today!