Thursday, February 2, 2017

The Pollcast: Does leadership race polling mean anything?

Kevin O'Leary is the favourite for the Conservative leadership, says one poll. Only he can defeat Justin Trudeau, says another. A majority of Canadians aren't familiar with most of the 14 contestants in the running, according to a third.

But do these polls tell us much about who will actually win the Conservative leadership race?

You can listen to the podcast heresubscribe to future episodes here, and listen to past episodes here.

While most leadership race polling takes all Canadians or supporters of a party as its sample, in the end the only people who will cast a ballot in the upcoming Conservative and NDP leadership votes are party members.

A small and dwindling portion of the population, members are difficult for pollsters to find — so the potential for pollsters to gauge a leadership race correctly is limited.

And it isn't much easier for those in the midst of a leadership campaign.

To discuss the challenges of polling a leadership race, as well as the role of the media in reporting on these polls, I'm joined by Paul Adams, associate professor of journalism at Carleton University and David Coletto, CEO of Abacus Data.

You can listen to the podcast heresubscribe to future episodes here, and listen to past episodes here.


  1. What poll says "Only he can defeat Justin Trudeau"?

  2. I think the pollcast was correct in pointing out the methodological difficulty of getting a random sample size large enough to provide any great degree of probability in leadership races. Instead producing the result of the most well known candidate(s) among the general public.

    How that can translate in a system where, similar to the U.S. electoral college, constituencies are just as important as votes: The winner is determined by points created by the per cent of support per riding. Is anyone's guess. It is a good place for him to start but, probably not enough for him to win, to re-state the obvious.

    O'Leary is from Montreal and that is another asset I think both in terms of access to relatively small ridings membership and his overall brand.

    My thought is that the winner will be from Quebec unless Andrew Scheer can sweep the West.

  3. The latest Ontario poll numbers are staggering. It is most likely an outlier but, even still. I don't see how Kathleen Wynne can stay on. If people really are moving from the NDP to the Tories to get rid of Wynne the wipeout would be unprecedented. It is one poll but, it is painfully clear the general public want her gone as soon as possible!

    She'll leave before the next election and Eric Hoskins will become leader salvaging the party from total annihilation. If Wynnes stays on (Heaven help us!) she'll make Ujjal Donsanjh look good in terms of electoral success.

  4. The bottom line is that for random sampling to be a valid prediction of what an entire population is like, you need to have access to the population of interest. Political party membership lists are not public, and are also not stable during events like leadership races or nomination battles. So, no polling methodology can have any validity whatsoever.

    1. It is a very good point on the stability of membership lists during events like this. I agree polling for leadership races is essentially a waste of time; unless access to the population is permitted.

  5. It's official the NDP has a leadership candidate. If they get a second it may even become a race! Peter Julian has announced he's running, has a website and everything!

    I have nothing against Julian but, going from Mulcair, who had cabinet experience, to Peter Julian, no matter how good a parliamentarian he may be, is a step down.

    Honestly, if I was a Dipper I'd want the Party to call the whole thing off, offer Mully his job back. The shine has definitely come off Trudeau, he's looks entirely beatable in 2019. Dumping Mulcair may have looked like the right decision ten months ago in Edmonton, but, now in a world of constant Trumpian instability, perhaps the decision was a little rushed. About the worst thing the NDP can do is go into the next election with a little known leader of limited geographic appeal.


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