Friday, November 23, 2012

New Calgary Centre by-election poll

Late last night, Return on Insight released a new telephone survey of voting intentions for the upcoming Calgary Centre by-election race. The results generally fall in line with what Forum Research has been reporting, but the poll was heavily criticized on Twitter due to its source. After trading emails with Bruce Cameron, President of RoI, and after being provided with a copy of the raw data report, I believe the results of the poll are credible.
The live-caller survey was conducted November 20-21, so a few days after Forum's last poll of November 17 but just before the brouhaha over Justin Trudeau's newly rediscovered comments from 2010 about Alberta. However, the poll was conducted just as the comments made by David McGuinty were breaking, along with the lightning-quick apology and resignation as critic.

The poll found Joan Crockatt of the Conservatives ahead with 37% support, five points up on Harvey Locke of the Liberals, who was at 32%. That gap is within the margin of error, but again we see that in every poll Crockatt has had the advantage. The odds that all of these polls have been wrong in the same direction is quite low, making a Crockatt lead a very strong possibility.

Chris Turner of the Greens was at 17%, while Dan Meades of the New Democrats was at 12%. Another 2% said they would vote for other parties.

As this poll was done with live-callers, the undecided number is more reliable than what we get from IVR or online surveys (the last IVR poll had about 7% undecided). RoI finds the number of undecideds to be at 16%, while 12% of respondents said they wouldn't vote.

The cross-tabs of the poll has one interesting similarity with Forum's last survey. Though the sample sizes are very small, both Forum and RoI found that Crockatt was leading among voters aged 18-34, while the race was much closer among older voters. That is counter-intuitive, as Conservatives tend to do better among older voters. But there is some indication that younger voters in Alberta are far more conservative than their fellow Canadians, based on some other polling I have seen of Millennials. So, this may not be as unusual as it looks. If it is indeed the case, that does not bode well for Crockatt as this tranche of the electorate does not turnout in large numbers.

In terms of the gender gap, however, the polls are not in agreement. Forum's last poll found Crockatt with a three point edge among men and a seven point advantage among women, while RoI gave Crockatt a nine point lead among men and a two point edge among women.

As to the criticisms that Bruce Cameron is tied too closely to the Liberal campaign, this is what Cameron has to say:

"I am not doing any polling or paid work for the Locke campaign, despite a three second video clip of Harvey [Locke] ripped out of contest pre-writ by the Greens claiming I am ... Harvey is a good friend but I made it clear to him and the campaign manager Donn Lovett that I could not work on the campaign. Nevertheless, Harvey and I talk regularly as we have done often over the past 20 years."

At my request, Cameron sent me the poll's raw data. Having looked over the report, I have little reason to believe that this poll is any less credible than any other. The amount of weighting that was done was quite small (if only this sort of information was made available by some other firms), with the usual corrections being made to account for the low number of younger respondents. There are no major problems with the wording or ordering of the questions asked or anything of the sort. Though I do believe that pollsters should not get involved in politics or even give the impression of being supportive of or opposed to any party or candidate, there are many examples of this happening and I do not believe that it is necessarily a reason to discount a pollster's work without any other justification.
That being said, there is the potential that the poll is under-estimating Crockatt's support as the number of respondents who claimed to have voted Wildrose in the April 2012 election was about three-quarters of what it should be. This could be the "shy Tory"  effect at play, bad memory, or confusion between provincial and federal politics. We will find out on Monday. EDIT: An earlier version said that Wildrose support was registered as 1/3 of what it should be. After verifying with Cameron, this was apparently a glitch in coding. Nevertheless, Wildrose support was still somewhat under-represented, but perhaps not significantly so.

The poll included a few other interesting questions, including certainty to vote. The chart in the media report has some errors in terms of the certainty of all respondents to vote (and also contains a typo in the question, the actual question asked did indeed identify November 26 as election day), but the numbers for each of the parties appears to be correctly recording the certainty of decided voters. It says that 64% of Locke's supporters are certain to vote, compared to 67% for Crockatt, 72% for Turner, and 79% for Meades.

If we just use those findings and assume that it will represent turnout, Crockatt's advantage increases to 38% against 30% for Locke, 18% for Turner, and 14% for Meades.

The survey also asked non-Conservative-supporting respondents who they would choose if they could only select one 'progressive' candidate to defeat Crockatt. The result seems to be very favourable for Locke (40% to 17% for Turner and 14% for Meades), but if we remove the undecideds from the equation we get 56% for Locke, 24% for Turner, and 20% for Meades. That looks better for Locke than it actually is: on the regular voting intentions question, Locke is already getting 52% of the non-Conservative vote, compared to 28% for Turner and 20% for Meades. In other words, when asked this question most people were sticking with their original choice.

This poll does not disagree with Forum's last two surveys to any significant degree. Crockatt and Locke's support is well within the margin of error of Forum's last poll, while Turner's and Meades' is at the outer edges of it. We will have to wait and see if any more numbers will emerge over the weekend (Forum does enjoy the election-eve release). At this stage, Crockatt is still the odds-on favourite but both Turner and Locke could put up some impressive numbers. Will it be enough?