What led pollsters to get B.C. election wrong?
Andrea Janus, CTVNews.ca
Published Wednesday, May 15, 2013 6:39AM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, May 15, 2013 6:25PM EDT
As many as 11 per cent of voters in the British Columbia election made up their minds in the voting booth, which in part explains how the Liberals won their fourth mandate despite months of polling data suggesting an NDP victory, according to one pollster.
On Monday, polling firm Ipsos Reid released data that showed the NDP up by eight points over the Liberals. On April 19, just before the month-long election campaign got underway, the firm gave the NDP a 19-point lead.
But the Liberals secured 44.4 per cent of the vote to the NDP’s 39.5 per cent on Tuesday night, and increased their number of seats in the legislature from 45 to 50.
Ipsos Reid conducted a poll of 1,400 voters on election day. In data released Wednesday evening, the firm said that one in 10 B.C. voters decided in the voting booth which candidate they were voting for.
With voter turnout at one of its lowest-ever rates in the province -- 52 per cent -- the motivated voters who showed up were largely Liberal.
“The long and the short of it was that NDP voters did not get out and fulfill their promise to vote for the party of their choice -- they stayed home while Liberal voters showed up,” the firm said Wednesday evening in a news release. “As such, a small number of voters were able to influence the greater outcome.”
According to the new poll, nearly one-quarter of voters said they decided who they would vote for during the last week of the campaign. Among this group, voters decided to vote Liberal by a seven-point margin over the NDP.
“It’s clear that the negative-advertising campaign of the Liberals waged against the NDP had a slaughtering effect,” the firm said. “If ever there was a case to behold that negative advertising campaigns work, it is here where the Liberals were able to take the NDP lead at the outset of the campaign of 20+ points in some of the polls and put it in the hole.”
The overall results stunned most pundits who thought the Liberals were headed for certain defeat and predicted NDP Leader Adrian Dix was on his way to the premier’s office.
On March 21, polling firm Angus Reid gave the NDP a 20-point lead, and a nine-point lead just before election day. Forum Research was one of the closest to the end result, predicting an NDP victory with 43 per cent of the popular vote to the Liberals’ 41 per cent.
And in its last public poll ahead of the vote, Oraclepoll Research predicted the NDP would take 40 per cent of the vote, with the Liberals edging close to 39 per cent.
Paul Seccaspina, CEO of Oraclepoll, said that the methodology of some of the polls will inform their accuracy. In an interview with CTV’s Power Play Wednesday, Seccaspina also pointed out that in the end, polling figures are viewed as “manna from heaven when they’re really not. These are only snapshots of time, so you have to look at any one of these polls for what they are -- in the context, how they’re conducted -- and really that is the bottom line.”
The election results also reflected the Liberal supporters who had been considering abandoning the party this year, but ultimately did not see the Conservatives or the NDP as a viable alternative, said Max Cameron of the Centre for Democratic Institutions at the University of British Columbia.
“The Conservative Party really fizzled. What made the Liberal party vote look soft (in the polls) was the rise of the Conservative Party in the last year,” Cameron told News Channel.
“I think what happened is, it became clear to the disaffected Liberals that that was not really an option and so they returned to the Liberal Party in large numbers, and that’s what really helped Christy Clark.”
Alice Funke of punditsguide.ca said the results offer lessons for all parties on future voting trends, and how they should approach future campaigns.
“The left wing needs to get their people out to vote,” Funke told Power Play. “They don’t vote, they’re lower income, they’re younger people. The right wing can count on their older demographic, their more wealthy demographic to get out to vote. But of course they’re getting older, and they can’t count on that forever.”
Flashback to Alberta
The outcome echoes what happened in Alberta’s provincial election last year, when polling data suggested that the Wild Rose party under leader Danielle Smith was set to oust the Alison Redford-led Progressive Conservatives from power.
The Conservatives won 61 seats to 17 for the Wild Rose.
In that case, the polls appeared to be accurate until the weekend before the election, said Hamish Telford, a political scientist at the University of the Fraser Valley. However, there appeared to be a last-minute shift back to the Conservatives after a Wild Rose campaign that included controversial candidates and an untested leader.
However, "There was no reason to believe that a similar shift was going to happen (in B.C.)," he said.
But the B.C. results show the importance of taking undecided voters into account.
"Pollsters know there are a certain number of people who are undecided. That's something they are going to have to pay more attention to when we look at polls," Telford said.
Despite the Liberal victory, Leader Christy Clark lost her riding of Vancouver-Point Grey to the NDP’s David Eby by just over 700 votes, and will likely ask an MLA in a safe Liberal riding to step aside so she can run in a by-election.
But on Tuesday night, she was celebrating her party’s victory over the pollsters.
"I think people are going to re-examine the truthfulness of polls," Clark said shortly after learning her party would form the next B.C. government.
"If there is any lesson in this, it's that pollsters and pundits and commentators do not choose the government. It's the people of British Columbia that choose the government."
With files from The Canadian Press