Monday, June 09, 2008

Foul polling

It's bad enough when pollsters limit Canadians' perceived choices by omission - for example, by only collecting full leadership data about Harper and Dion. But Decima Harris's latest poll for the CP not only does the same with questions about the parties involved, but manages to take a couple more steps in the wrong direction by actively pushing for results which would exclude the NDP, Greens and Bloc in favour of the false dichotomy - then spinning those results to say something they don't:
A polarized electorate may be tilting toward the federal Liberals at the expense of Stephen Harper's Conservative government, a new poll suggested Monday.

The Canadian Press Harris-Decima survey compared attitudes toward the Tories and Liberals in a head-to-head, two-party format. The telephone poll of just over 1,000 Canadians found that 44 per cent of respondents said they'd prefer a Liberal government after the next election, compared with 37 per cent who preferred the Conservatives...

Since the 2006 election, the Conservatives "have not been able to enlarge their tent," said Harris-Decima president Bruce Anderson - notwithstanding a generally strong economy, fat government coffers and the incumbent's opportunity to control the agenda.

"If anything, the leaning and the second-choice support profile of Canadians is disproportionately headed in the direction of the Liberals right now," said Anderson.

He said the poll, conducted Thursday through Sunday, was premised on the idea of a sharply polarized election campaign in which the ballot question becomes a stark choice between the incumbent Tories and the only practical alternative.
Now, it's bizarre enough that the poll would be premised on limiting what "practical alternatives" voters have.

But the analysis manages to get even worse than the poll itself. After all, the numbers don't deal at all with actual "leaning" or "second choice" support (which would be exactly where the parties other than the Cons and Libs would have a chance to make up ground). And the poll didn't ask whether respondents were actually willing to vote for either the Libs or Cons - merely which would be the least distasteful of the two if no other options existed.

Having already limited respondents' choices for no apparent reason, though, Anderson then manages to pretend that a question where the Libs (or Cons) could be labeled as the preferred option based on being a respondent's fourth choice out of five says anything about their actual potential to win votes.

Fortunately, there's no indication that voters are in fact prepared to accept the assumption that their only choices are Harper and the non-opposition which has propped him up. And with the Cons and Libs thoroughly botching their respective government and opposition roles, there should be plenty of reason for Canadians to decide that the only practical option is to demand better than both.

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