5 things to watch for in #elxn42 polls

I posted a brief Twitter essay tonight on five things to watch for when reading up on election polls. Admittedly, I viewed the work of an unnamed pollster which inspired my essay.

1/ Beware! Here are 5 things to watch for in polls. #1 There is no margin of error for online surveys. They’re not random.

2/ How much are they weighting 18-34 age group and other demos? Without weighted and unweighted numbers, can’t tell.

3/Are they showing the n values for regional breaks? Media are reporting based on some very small sample sizes.

4/ In diverse areas like and Toronto, are they representing Chinese and other significant populations?

5/Are they showing the results from all questions? Eg. If xtab shows how people voted in 2011, show that topline.

My comments led me into an interesting dialogue with Poli Sci Professor Peter Loewen (University of Toronto). We mostly agreed but he fairly points out that online surveys are not as perilous as my tweet suggests while landline telephone surveys have similar challenges.  True enough, but we violently agree on more transparency and openness from pollsters.  (See my Twitter timeline – @bcmikemcd – for this riveting debate but please don’t admit that you did to any friends or family).

Media are hooked on free polls by any pollster who has put together a website.  In some cases, the polls are clearly motivated by a political interest and in virtually all cases, the company is looking for a cost-effective way to promote their business.  All I’m saying is that if you are going to use the free polls, put more scrutiny on the product.  The embarrassments are piling up like cordwood heading into a Yukon winter.

What I do like about the embarrassments though is that voters are still in charge, and they know it.

The insurgencies of Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders, and Jeremy Corbyn

You wouldn’t necessarily think that Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have much in common, let alone Donald Trump and presumptive UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

Their politics are miles apart; kilometres in the case of Corbyn.  But whether it is on this side of the Atlantic or in the Olde Country, voters are going in the opposite direction of their ruling class – at least for now.

I was in the process of linking these three candidacies in what I believed was an original thought when Roger Cohen of the NY Times nailed it.  Says Cohen: “This is a season of radical discontent.  People believe the system is rigged.”  In Corbyn’s case, “He’s against everything Tony Blair stood for”.  On Sanders: “his suspicion of all things ‘feel good’ are part of his attraction”.  And “Trump’s ‘deal with it’, is the phrase du jour”.  In all cases, these three candidacies are thumbing their nose at party apparatchiks, media elites, and the winds of prevailing conventional wisdoms that flutter in the stale air until the next gust of change comes along.

Where I do disagree with Cohen is his belief that Corbyn’s leadership will be a “disaster”.  It may very well be, but just because the elites don’t like it, doesn’t mean he’s destined to fail.  Leaders have won against the grain of their caucus (Christy Clark), the party establishment (Jimmy Carter) or against a larger, like-minded rival (Preston Manning) and left their mark as they stabilized their support and moved forward.

Here’s a simple rule of arithmetic.  There are more outsiders than insiders.  There are more people who don’t feel they are part of the ‘elite’ than those who do.  When the outsiders move, they can upend the conventional wisdom.    Trump, Sanders, and Corbyn are giving voice to outsiders right now.  Everytime someone in the ‘ruling class’ decry the implications of their election, as Tony Blair and Gordon Brown have done, they embolden the insurgents.  Often time, these insurgencies give way to incoherence and a lack of discipline.  But they have accomplished one thing already, they have shaken up their parties in a way that no one saw coming.

Predictions: putting your money where your mouth is

Are you convinced there will be a minority government?  Put your money where you mouth is.

The UBC Sauder School is running a predictions market again where participants invest their own cash (up to $1000) to bet on the outcome of the election.  Anyone can register and invest.

As of August 11, a minority government will yield $1.00 if it is purchased at today’s price of 58 cents.  Not a bad return.  An even better return is a Conservative majority.  You can buy that share for 17 cents today for a $1.00 payoff.  600% return.  Of course, if it doesn’t happen, you lose your investment.

The popular vote market closely follows the public polls.  Intuitive campaigners can make a few bucks if they foresee polling inaccuracies or can see through emotional betting.

Alberta election – before the votes were counted

In April, I wrote a mid-campaign view of the The Alberta Election from my vantage point west of the Rockies and sent it around to friends and foes.  It appeared something historic was happening and I attempted to place it in the context of other elections – notably, Ontario 1990.

This led to my appearance on a panel convened by the Broadbent Institute along with NDP campaign manager Gerry Scott, former Wildrose/PC MLA Kerry Towle, and NDP 2015 national campaign manager Anne McGrath.  It was a lively discussion and it was an honour to share the stage with Gerry Scott who is a BC campaign legend – even if he was occasionally horrified.