Pollsters' predictions proved less than stellar

By Michael Lightstone,
--  Halifax Chronicle Herald, Wed 28 July 1999 p.C1

The Conservative majority victory showed that polls done during the 39-day campaign fell short of their neck-and-neck predictions, says an analyst. "Polls are just a snapshot, they're not 100 per cent accurate," political scientist Agar Adamson said 'fuesday night. "They don't give you an exact picture, they give you a fuzzy picture of voting intentions." The most recent poll was done by Toronto-based Logit Group. Its results, released July 22, found 37 per cent of decided voters supported the Tories, 36 backed the NDP and 2S favoured the Liberals. Mr. Adamson said most voters still value poll results, though some people appear to "be getting tired of polling and pollsters." He said there are problems with today's polling and how findings are reported. "You can cook your results by the way you ask your questions," he said. "Also, I'm ... of the view that publication of polls should be limited. I would like to see the last two weeks of a campaign prohibiting the publication of polls."

Results from two other polls released July 19 indicated a too-close-to-call vote that would spawn another minority government. At that point in the campaign, a Corporate Research Associates poll showed the Tories with 32 percent of decided voters, the NDP 31 and the Liberals 28. A parallel Omnifacts Research poll had the NDP slightly ahead, with the backing of 35 percent of decided voters, the Conservatives 34 and the Grits 31. An early campaign poll from Corporate Research showed the Liberals ahead, with support of decided voters at 34 per cent, the NDP 30 and the Tories 26. Politicians have used polls to promote themselves and their parties, attack the opposition or pin a loss on the results.

In 1988, former Liberal leader Vince MacLean said a poll cost him the election. The poll had suggested John Buchanan's Tories were far ahead of the Grits. Mr. Adamson, who teaches at Acadia University in Wolfville, said poll results can cause a bandwagon effect, in which voters are swayed to support the projected winning party. "People like to support a winner," he said. "In the Maritimes, particularly in the rural areas, people don't want to be on the opposition side of the House. A lot of that thinking is outdated, but it's still there."

It turned out astrological indications were more accurate than polls. After analysing charts for the three mainstream party leaders, Dartmouth astrologer Mj Patterson predicted the Tories would win the election.

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