What Are the Effects
of Public Opinion
Polls In Elections?
Was The Polling
In the 2010
Calgary Mayoral
Race Fair?

An introduction to the purpose of examining the
use of Public Opinion Polling in Alberta Elections
can never be exhaustive. Lindsay Rogers, an American political scientist, later coined the term 'pollster' in 1949 to evoke the word 'huckster.' It is the viewpoint of Democracy At Twilight
that the influence of opinion polls during elections is primarily a destructive and abusive influence on the democratic electoral process. Of this more will be said as this argument is developed below.

It is our job to educate on the decisive facts informing an Alberta Public Inquiry. And the sooner the better. For a paper examining both sides of the debate, see Public Opinion Polling In Canada by the Parliamentary Research Bureau below. -pdf
And take note of the footnotes, on various sources used in the writing of this paper.

To quote excerpts of this paper we selected the following:

"Public opinion surveys assumed an immense importance in Canada in the 1980's; not only did they become a familiar and seemingly indispensable feature of political campaigns - with various professional polling agencies being commissioned by different media outlets and political parties - they became an important aspect of public policy-making. Polling today is to the politician what the stock market is to the financial analyst."

"Although the term 'public opinion' is widely used to imply a unanimous viewpoint, it should be pointed out that members of the public hold diverse opinions on any issue, and that each issue usually interests only a certain segment of the population. Even within a group where members share definite views on some matters, they do so with varying intensity."

According to Claire Hoy ( Margin Of Error: Pollsters and the Manipulation Of Canadian Politics, Key Porter Books, Toronto, 1989.) "Pollsters often build a bias right into their questionnaire by the common device of listing options. For example, they'll ask a person to rate the importance of a series of issues facing the country....many of which the person on the other end of the phone probably never thought about, but feels obligated to respond to, to avoid sounding stupid or unconcerned about society." - p. 91.

"Because polls are generally perceived to be accurate and scientific, the debate on polling centres largely on whether it undermines the democratic process by influencing electoral behavior and election results. Some political strategists and observers argue that the publication of polls give an unfair advantage to parties or candidates whose fortunes are seen to be improving. The so-called "bandwagon" effect assumes that knowledge of a popular "tide" will likely change voting intentions in favor of the front-runner, that many electors feel more comfortable supporting a popular choice or that people accept the perceived collective wisdom of others as being enough reason for supporting a candidate."

"Indirect Effects - Some charge that polls detract from discussion of the 'real' issues. Indeed, many describe news coverage of Canadian elections as being analogous to that of a sporting event or 'horse-race', with serious analysis of the issues or investigation into areas of voter concern being ignored. The media's emphasis on who is winning and who is losing (as well as the campaign 'style' of leaders and their parties) may also result in so-called 'leader fixation.'...... As one scholar explains...In this sense the media coverage misrepresents the political system, narrows the focus of public debate, and denigrates political leaders and institutions."

"The publication of polls can also have a positive or negative effect on the morale of party workers and financial contributors, and on the 'momentum' of a campaign. Party strategists often complain that it is difficult to make up ground once the media have decided, on the basis of polls, that a particular party ( or candidate) is no longer a viable contender. Some commentators therefore call for a ban on the publication of polls during all political campaigns."

Federal Law now prohibits the broadcast, publication, or dissemination of the results of new or scientifically conducted opinion surveys that would identify a political party or candidate in the final three days of an election campaign.
(Canada Elections Act Revision - 1993)
In the light of the profound impact of Social Media Swarming Activity seen in recent campaigns and the potent effect of well timed, selective Media-trumpeted Public Opinion polls, perhaps the Province of Alberta needs to look at the option of a total ban on the publication of polls in an election period.

But Democracy At Twilight contends that not only the abuse of
Polls, but their very publication has a transformative effect
on the public mind, becoming either a willing or unintentional substitute for personal evaluation and responsibility.
Insights from the thinking of French Media Analyst Jean Baudrillard have proven to shed light on understanding the siren-like call of the Media Published Opinion Polls in the crucial days of the Calgary 2010 Municipal Elections. We hope
they will provoke you to study the phenomena at a closer range.
To encapsulate the argument in the link below, we summarize the following:
There are two ways to look at Public Opinion Polling upon the conduct of Elections. One is that the Pollsters and the Media who choose which ones to quote are addicted by the power and ability to manipulate the masses in the direction they want them to go.

The other is that the masses themselves, seek a diversion from the hardships of living life by their own will and desires, and call upon the Media to provide them with illusive showmanship, by which personal responsibility in life can be divested or forgotten.
Investigate this Issue further by reading the
Democracy At Twilight study paper
The Effect Of Public Opinion Polls
on the Democratic Process - pdf

Scrutiny of poll Results
in Calgary's Mayoral Race 2010
McIver, Higgins, Nenshi
Polling Company
Poll Spokesman Sponsor
and Release Date
Poll Size/
Date Polling was done

Decided Voters
for which Candidates

Special Qualifiers
Title of Release

NRG Research Group
Global TV News
July 30th, 2010


500 by telephone July 29th & 30th, 2010 51 % Undecided

McIver - 15 %
Higgin - 16 %
Nenshi - 1 %
i.e.. 5 out of 500
Others - 1% or less for each of declared.
Note: Question
Candidate Intending to Vote for
2nd Question who are you leaning toward.

Leger Marketing
for Calgary Herald & CTV
September 17th, 2010
500 Adults telephone September 13th - 16th, 2010 44 % undecided McIver - 42 %
Higgins -28 %
Nenshi - 8 %

Return On Insight
Bruce Cameron
for Fall 2010 Report

501 adults October
2nd to 4th, 2010
16 % undecided McIver - 37%
Higgins -33 %
Nenshi - 19 %
Ipsos Reid
Global News Calgary & QR 77 Radio
Oct. 8 -2010
500 random adults by telephone October 5 & 6, 2010 9 % Undecided

It's Time For A Major Change On Council - 70 %

"Calgary's City Council Deserves To Be Reelected"
- 21 %

Title - Calgarians In The Mood For Change On Council


Ipsos Reid
Ian Large VP
done for
Global News Calgary & QR 77 Radio
Oct. 12-2010
500 random adults by telephone October 5 & 6, 2010 19 % McIver -34 %
Higgins -37 %
Nenshi - 21 %

33 % of Decided?
described as just leaning towards a candidate.
Titled - Calgary Mayoral Race Too Close To Call.
Leger Marketing
for Calgary Herald & CTV
500 random adults by telephone October
6 - 11, 2010
Thanksgiving Weekend was
4 of the six days here.

37 % McIver - 33 %
Higgins - 3 1%
Nenshi - 28 %

Titled - 3 Way Race In Calgary: Too Close To Call

There are a number of observations which come
out only when the various polls are compared together.
Common Patterns begin to emerge and in particular, the
strategic release of the different poll companies in the way and timing of the media releases they make public.
(See Paper Below)
Note the fact that many polls are sponsored by the Media themselves.
What happens if a polling company releases results in a way that cannot produce
interesting headlines? Will they be hired again soon? Are the Media manufacturing their own news for consumption to the public. Do the Polling Companies offer discount rates to the Media sponsors for guaranteed advertising
space in the way the polls are publicized and the prominence given to the
Polling firms name?

See Paper by Public School Board Candidate 2010
on Calgary's Mayoral Polls

Should Public Opinion Polls Be Banned
From Publication In All Canadian Elections?

by Larry Heather
Is Media Sponsorship & Domination of Polls in
Calgary Mayor's Race in 2010 in danger of
Conflict of Interest in our most important exercise of Democracy?

Public Opinion Polling In Canada
by Called Emery - pdf.

Parliamentary Research Bureau Jan. 1994
Library of Parliament

Recommended Group Study Resources

Margin of Error: Pollsters
and the Manipulation of Canadian Politics
by Claire Hoy, Key Porter Books, Toronto, 1989

Other Quotes from Claire Hoy
in Massaging The Message Chapter 15

Effect of Public Opinion Polling on the Media
pp. 204-205

" In almost any other area, journalists tend to be skeptical,
, practitioners of the classic I'm from Missouri-show-me attitude.
But polls are routinely regurgitated as fact, taken at
face value, with journalists showing little interest,
and even less knowledge in exposing the
shortcomings of survey techniques. To a large extent,
polls, rather than complementing experience and
personal judgment, have replaced them in journalists,
just as they have in politicians. Journalists constantly attack
politicians for governing by polls, for lacking the guts to
lead in the face of computerized data. While they themselves
can't wait to rush off to the closest word processor in their
breathless eagerness to tell the voters how they're going
to vote long before the polling booths open."

" Somewhere along the line, it's impossible to say where,
exactly, pollsters have been elevated from being people
who told us, approximately, what public opinion was, to
clairvoyants, modern-day authors of Sibylline books whose
numbers possess the mystical qualities of being able
to divine the future with far more precision
than they could ever define the past.
Pollsters have achieved this status, have become
Merlin's of the court, thanks largely to the
reverential reportage of their efforts in the media.
....Journalist suffer a collective amnesia in not reminding
readers viewers, and listeners of the excesses
of past predictions from the same pollster...All of this
is wonderful for the pollsters. But it makes for
poor journalism, and shortchanges the public."

Einstein's Advice
Hoy includes a fitting quote(p. 221) from Albert Einstein who
gave this advice to a young man who was uncertain about
his career: " Become a public opinion pollster. There
you will never be unemployed. We know, after all,
that people are ruled by being told tall stories - so the rulers
must constantly test and see what they can get
away with."

We are open to anyone who would
like to sponsor Claire Hoy to speak
on this book by bringing him in
from Ontario


tumblr visitor