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Death by a thousand polls


How many thousands (millions?) of dollars will Canadian news organizations spend polling public opinion in the leadup to the October 14 federal election?

How much of that would have been better spent explaining the concepts and relative merits of competing environmental policies like the carbon tax or cap-and-trade emissions policies so the public opinion they seem so eager to track hour-to-hour might be informed by something other than more meaningless poll results.

Meaningless? Yesterday’s (September 21) Sunday Herald headline touted: Liberal Support Slides, Poll Suggests.

The Canadian Press story is based on the latest polling results compiled for the news agency by the Harris-Decima polling group. It showed the Liberals at 23 per cent support, down two points from the survey results the day before.

“It really is coming down to a question of Stephane Dion,” Harris Decima President Bruce Anderson pronounced—because pollsters are required to pronounce meaning from what they report, even when there may be none.

The reality, as Anderson himself conceded in an afterthought, is that those results were within the poll’s margin or error, meaning Dion’s support might still be the same Sunday as it was the day before. Or it might even be better—or worse—than the poll suggested.

The unasked question is how will tomorrow’s results be affected by today’s headlines?

And what does any of it tell us about whether a carbon tax is a good idea? Or the details of what the Conservatives propose as an alternative?

I wish someone would start a Facebook group. How about National Lie to a Pollster Day? Followed by National Just Say No to a Pollster Day?


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