Some Pollsters Doth Protest Too Much…
Tuesday, February 15, 2011
Toronto, ON - While recent statements about the state of political polling in Canada might be delightfully apocryphal to those who detest what pollsters do, the problem is that the testimony doesn’t square with the facts. What’s especially discouraging is that many of these statements have been made by people who should know better.
One misstatement is that political polls in Canada aren’t based on “true” random samples so they are prone to error (supposedly, this is our “dirty little secret”). This statement is completely ridiculous. Nobody in the world does true random samples for political research. And, nobody has ever conducted a random sample for a political survey in Canada, EVER. True random samples take too long, are too expensive, and are overkill for the task at hand.
All pollsters in Canada do some form of cluster sampling. They always have. It’s standard industry practice. But, the question to ask is if our polls have suffered as a result? No. Canada’s major pollsters almost always predict the results of elections within the margin of error, and when we haven’t, it’s not because of a problem with sampling.
We’re not whistling past the graveyard on this. Response rates are indeed falling. But, we are also coming up with new techniques to fill the gaps. Whether it is through on-line surveys, mobile phone supplement samples, or innovative weighting schemes, market researchers are constantly inventing new ways to create valid and reliable surveys. This is because the multi-billion dollar (and growing) market research industry demands it. And, for the record, Ipsos Reid is the largest market research company in Canada. Our next closest competitor is several multiples smaller. And, Ipsos Reid is a division of Ipsos, the world’s second largest survey research company.
Second, because the media doesn’t pay commercial rates for political polls, research companies cut corners in terms of research quality. We can’t speak for everybody on this, but at Ipsos Reid we absolutely don’t cut any corners on the surveys we release into the public domain. The same quality controls that we apply to our commercial research are applied to our political polling. This isn’t a matter of money. When our name goes on a poll, it’s our firm’s priceless reputation that’s on the line. We expect that our responsible competitors take the same approach.
Next, concerns about pollsters distorting the true state of political play by torquing their results, are not without justification. More than once we’ve been shocked by some of the polling analysis reported by the press. Maybe some of the people who are being quoted should follow their own advice on this, because they have occasionally said some pretty questionable things.
Finally, Canada’s pollsters should remember that they perform an important public service. Our polls speak truth to power. Not doing polls, or doing fewer of them, means that there will be no checks on bad polls (in this sense, the more polls the better), and that the political elites (including the media) will push their own distorted view of public opinion. Some critics seem to have given up on this. We can assure you that Ipsos Reid has not.
Darrell Bricker, Ph.D. is CEO, Ipsos Global Public Affairs. John Wright is Senior Vice President and Senior Media Spokesperson for Ipsos Reid.
For more information on this news release, please contact:
Ipsos Public Affairs
SVP & Managing Director, Public Opinion Polling
About Ipsos Reid
Ipsos Reid is Canada's market intelligence leader, the country's leading provider of public opinion research, and research partner for loyalty and forecasting and modelling insights. With operations in eight cities, Ipsos Reid employs more than 600 research professionals and support staff in Canada. The company has the biggest network of telephone call centres in the country, as well as the largest pre-recruited household and online panels. Ipsos Reid's marketing research and public affairs practices offer the premier suite of research vehicles in Canada, all of which provide clients with actionable and relevant information. Staffed with seasoned research consultants with extensive industry-specific backgrounds, Ipsos Reid offers syndicated information or custom solutions across key sectors of the Canadian economy, including consumer packaged goods, financial services, automotive, retail, and technology & telecommunications. Ipsos Reid is an Ipsos company, a leading global survey-based market research group.
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