Thursday, March 15, 2012

Someone leads in Ontario

Two completely contradictory polls were released today, suggesting that the Ontario Liberals hold a 10-point lead over the Progressive Conservatives or trail by 12 points. There's no way to find a common thread in these polls, but perhaps something else is at play.
Forum Research released its poll to the Toronto Star today while Nanos Research's numbers appeared in The Globe and Mail.

Nanos suggests that the Liberals lead with 39.9% support, up 0.8 points since their last poll from November. The Tories sit at 30%, down 4.5 points, while the New Democrats have 24.7% support, up 3.1 points. The Greens trail with 4.3%, up 0.8 points.

Meanwhile, Forum has the Progressive Conservatives at 40%, up four points since their February 15 poll thanks to gains in suburban Toronto. The Liberals are down four points to 28%, dropping in the 905 and in northern Ontario, while the New Democrats are down three to 23%, in large part due to a slip in southwestern Ontario. The Greens gain three points to hit 8% support.

How can support differ by 10 or more points for the Liberals and the Progressive Conservatives in these two polls? Small differences are to be expected, even large differences can be within the margin of error. These are not, as you can only really stretch Liberal support down to 36% or so for Nanos and up to 31% for Forum, and PC support up to 34% for Nanos and down to 37% for Forum.

Nevertheless, comparing these polls is not exactly like comparing apples to apples. Nanos and Forum are two different firms using two different methodologies: live callers on the one hand and the IVR method on the other. Nanos surveyed 500 Ontarians while Forum surveyed 1,065. But most importantly, Nanos surveyed between March 3-5 and Forum on March 13 only. The field dates differ by as many as 10 days. Could opinion have shifted so violently? What was happening on those days?

When Nanos was in the field, the headlines were pretty good for Dalton McGuinty. He was criticizing Alberta, suggesting a wage freeze to teachers, and joining Jean Charest in harshly warning the federal government against off-loading costs to the provinces in a quest to balance their budget. All solidly populist fare.

When Forum was in the field, the headlines were pretty bad for the Premier. He was increasing the costs of driver's license renewals, talking about increasing revenues through new casinos, compromising on his green energy policy, and the ORNGE issue wasn't going away.

In this context, it seems plausible that Nanos and Forum were both accurate in gauging support on the days during which they were polling. But if that is true, it suggests that Ontario's voters are extraordinarily unsettled. Roughly one in four Liberal voters would have had to flip to the Tories in a span of one week, while one in four PC voters would have had to flip to the Liberals during the month of February.

Perhaps that is too much to believe. But if we take into account the margin of error and the vastly different headlines between these two field dates, it doesn't look so unbelievable. Of course, if in a few months we see Nanos and Forum at odds against one another again, we will then have a good indication that one or the other (or both) is not gauging things correctly.

15 comments:

  1. In my opinion, the shift in support could be plausible simply based on the media coverage.

    However, I think it should be noted that since the election, Forum has generally had the Conservatives in the lead while Nanos has had the Liberals in the lead.

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    1. You can say that about Forum, but Nanos only polled shortly after the election in November and has been silent since on the provincial scene,

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  2. Might be a matter of "Shy Tory" syndrome, since the Forum poll is IVR. They're more comfortable giving their true opinion to a machine.

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  3. This is a sad commentary on the state of polling in Canada.

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  4. I guess one thing we know for sure is that the Ontario NDP is between 23 and 25%

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  5. I think we have two polls that can be safely thrown in the garbage !!

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  6. Wait, what? McGuinty's baseless criticism of Alberta was a good headline for him? How does that make any sense?

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    1. I think a lot of Ontarians would disagree that it was baseless. And there's always political hay to be made out of Alberta-bashing in some quarters, in the same way Quebec-bashing can get a lot of praise.

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    2. Baseless what? Have you heard of Dutch Disease? There are plenty of Ontarians who've lost jobs in manufacturing as the dollar spiked who think that McGuinty hit the nail on the head.

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  7. What was the response rate for these polls?

    Given everything that's going on with robocalls, misdirection of voters, misrepresentation of political parties, voter intention databases', etc., I'm finding hard to believe there hasn't been a severe corrupting effect on the accuracy of polls.

    Just sitting here imagining if I had received a call from a polling firm, and wondering how I would respond; I'd be asking myself: is this a real polling firm or a political party compiling a database?, should I refuse to answer?, should I fear the consequence of my response?, should I lie?

    I think the polling industry is in for a real tail spin, and I am not quite sure if that is a good or bad thing.

    Palos Green

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  8. I'd be curious to see seat projections based on these two polls just for fun? Can you give an estimate for seat projections?

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    1. I don't have a model set up yet for Ontario, but Nanos would likely have a Liberal majority while Forum would have a Tory majority. In both cases, the NDP would be roughly where they were on election night.

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  9. The PCs are leading by default. Mr McGuinty is not popular (never has been) so many undecided voters would "support" the PCs when their decision does not matter. However, if there is actually an election, voters will realize Hudak is worse than McGuinty and thus they will switch back to the Liberals (evident in the previous election).

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    1. Anon

      It's called the "Mike Harris" syndrome.

      Until the PC party actually steps away from the Harris/Reform crowd they don't really have a hope. Oh dumping Hudak wouldn't hurt right now but the public has a very long memory and it takes very little to remind them of how bad Harris really was for the province !!

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  10. According to Wikipedia's "41st Ontario general election" article, Forum and Nanos have each released two polls since the election, with the Liberals having a wide lead in both of Nanos' and the Tories having a wide lead in both of Forum's.

    Between Nanos's 1st poll and their 2nd, PC support fell by 5 points while the Liberals held steady. Between Forum's first poll and their second, Liberal support fell by 5 points while the PCs held steady.

    Seems a bit comical, really.

    We saw this sort of trend before the last election, as well; Nanos always had the Liberals higher and Forum had the Tories higher. Shortly before the election, their numbers became closer to each other. But Forum was the closest to the final election result.

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