Polling can't pick winner

Kamloops Daily News
January 23, 2013 01:00 AM

It's hard to know what to think about the accuracy of an Angus Reid poll showing a neck-and-neck horse race between the Liberals and the NDP in B.C.'s Interior.

A couple of options jump to mind. First, it's possible the poll is entirely accurate and the two city constituencies - and maybe a couple of the ones from other nearby areas, we don't know what Angus Reid considers to be the Interior - will be the stage for a political drama unlike no other in B.C. in May, when provincial voters go to the polls.

The other option is the poll is entirely wrong and the local political race reflects more closely the provincial race that has the Liberals well back of the NDP. Or maybe the provincial polling is wrong as well - remember the polls in the recent Alberta provincial elections - and the Liberals have the quiet support of enough people to return as B.C.'s governing party.

The only way we could possibly know which version is correct is to stage an immediate election in B.C. and compare the poll against the only results that matter - votes in the ballot box.

That's impossible, of course, which renders the Angus Reid poll as meaningless as a winner predicted by a gypsy soothsayer using tarot cards or tea leaves.

Polls have long been a contentious issue when it comes to elections. Some question whether political polling should even be allowed, suggesting polls skew results by affecting public opinion.

The charge is more serious if we think there is a possibility the results of polls don't accurately reflect the actual nature of public opinion.

The fact is, right or wrong, polls are nothing more than an interesting (potential) snapshot of opinion in a given instant of time, one that quickly fades into history. They provide the betting odds for the horse race, so to speak, but can't predict the winner.

This poll likely offers little insight about what will happen here in May, several weeks down the road.

The election, locally and provincially, will be decided by the political records of those who seek election (or re-election) and by the words and actions of the candidates themselves, which really, is the way it should be.

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