Polling Denial's Idiot Detector
Stop Spreading Disinformation Just Because It's Left Wing Disinfomation
Because I am a deeply broken individual, I decided to poke the bear that is anti-polling Twitter today, and now I’m really fucking mad. There are people who are flat out spreading disinformation about polling in the name of handwaving away the fact that as of right now Justin Trudeau is leading a government deader than the chances the Leafs can win the Cup, and unfortunately I actually believed what I say about disinformation being bad from all sides, so let’s get into this.
This will function like an old school #ScrimshawSix, so enjoy #ScrimshawSix, Poll Denialism Boogaloo.
The Polls Are Suppressing The Vote
Why did Naheed Nenshi win a third term?
One of the main complaints from the anti-polling crowd, whether currently on the left or in the past on the right, is that they’re some form of voter suppression tool designed to keep the voters of the side that is losing from voting. The lack of turnout in the 2022 election is blamed on this, but let’s follow the logic for a second. If that’s true, why did Naheed Nenshi win a third term as Mayor of Calgary, why did Christy Clark win the BC Libs a fourth term as Premier, why did Donald Trump nearly win the Presidency again in 2020, and why did Jeremy Corbyn deny Theresa May a majority government in 2017?
All four of those examples have severe evidence of pollster error – two showing the left beating their polls, two showing the right doing the same – should have cratered turnout amongst the “loser’s” coalition. And yet, despite that, all of them won? How is that possible?
The reason’s simple – polls don’t have that much influence on either outcomes of elections or turnout. That Mainstreet poll showing Nenshi down nearly 30 might have even helped Nenshi, in that it got him and his supporters to kick their asses into gear. The US polls clearly didn’t stop Trump supporters in what was the highest turnout election in US history, the drumbeat of BC NDP leads didn’t discourage Liberals out there, and Corbyn’s supporters weren’t unpersuaded to vote by the torrent of polls showing him down for his entire fucking leadership.
It is easier to blame the polling for why Doug Ford won again, and why the left failed to excite anyone to bother voting, but that fault lies squarely with the two main left parties in Ontario. If you want to blame anyone for the failure of the left to beat Ford, the blame lies firmly with the Liberals and the NDP.
What About The US?
Comparisons to the US are always fraught, because they’re a completely different polling universe than in Canada. In the US, there are literally dozens of different pollsters who range from clients of specific political parties, clients of specific campaigns, partisan pollsters for biased organizations/interest groups, Universities, and then public media polls (often done by a Democratic pollster and a Republican one working together).
Plenty of those pollsters are, yes, hacks trying as much to influence the campaigns as they are meant to accurately assess the state of play. And because of the sheer number of races, you have to use campaign and partisan polls to get a read of the landscape.
None of this applies to Canada.
In Canada we have basically a dozen pollsters, all of whom are nominally non-partisan and all but three who actually are. For whatever you think of the drunken musings of a certain man, the polls these people do are solid. One of the biggest shock polls of the fall was from Frank Graves’ EKOS, who are not exactly fans of Pierre Poilievre and yet they accurately had him leading by a ton. Mainstreet, an object of a lot of ire, is often quite correct even when they’re doubted for weeks on end (*cough* Toronto Mayor *cough*), because that’s the point of the polls.
For all the delusion, these pollsters care more about being right than they do about their partisan agendas, because if you’re wrong, you lose money. Remember Forum, when they were the Star’s monthly federal pollster and had the Tories winning majority governments for most of the 2015-19 Parliament? They got fired when they were wrong! Being wrong can kill a company! People want to get this right! But more importantly, we’re not the US.
“The Problem Is That The People Are Ill-Informed”
Okay, that’s not a pollster problem!
Pollsters’ job isn’t to inform the electorate or to prime the electorate with facts that make us feel better, it’s to accurately describe the way the public is thinking. If the public is “wrong”, then it’s on the government to sell their agenda better. This is fairly basic shit, but the problem is people love blaming ills that are rightly directed at the government on the pollsters.
This also ties into the next one, so let’s combine them.
The Media Is Responsible For The Bad Polls
Then how does the left ever win any election in this country ever?
If the media are all powerful, how has Justin Trudeau won three elections and how did Kathleen Wynne get a majority in 2014 and how did Rachel Notley win in 2015 and et cetera. It’s easy to blame the media for things, and I criticize them as much as anything. But the problem much of the left doesn’t want to reckon with is that the Canadian voter usually gets things right. As much as I don’t like to admit it, Harper was the best choice for the three elections he won – Martin had run out of gas and ran an actively bad campaign in 2006, Dion was dismissed for not being coherent in English and for radicalism in the face of an economic crisis, and Ignatieff was a disastrous leader and Layton wasn’t ready for government. The public generally get it right.
The reason this is key is that the media is biased against the left in almost all of the country, but somehow David Eby is cruising to a vote share that’s still in the mid 40s despite 7 years of office for the BC NDP and Wab Kinew just won despite the best efforts of the Winnipeg Sun. Oh, and Rachel Notley got 44% in Alberta despite Postmedia owning both major dailies in the province.
There’s So Many Polls!
This is slightly true, but not really.
Abacus has increased their polling input, because they now have a deal with the Star to provide more polling, and I think it’s also that Abacus is sensing an opportunity to take up a mantle as the pollster that polls everything. Oftentimes Mainstreet has been the only national pollster to poll some of these races, and (this is complete speculation) but I think Abacus is trying to take some of that away.
Nanos has always been a weekly tracker, but we cared less what Nanos said when it was good for the government because it felt like less of a crisis. Now, when it shows the NDP and LPC tied in a given week, it’s an event. From the others? It’s mostly monthly or quarterly releases, as usual.
Is the media writing more polling stories? Maybe, but again, that’s not the fault of the pollsters. What people do with their data once it’s been supplied is really up to the news agencies, not the polling firms, and there’s no reason to think that if Postmedia had space to fill with non-polling things, they’d fill it with detailed reporting of Poilievre’s failures, as opposed to more bad op-eds from people complaining the Liberals spent too much money on carpet cleaners for Rideau Hall or some shit.
The Polls Are Undermining Our Democracy
This is the original claim that sparked all of this, and it’s the one that’s going to take the most to unpack.
Today, a Leger/Postmedia poll was reported in the TJ, the local Saint John newspaper. It has the Liberals up 6, 41-35, on Blaine Higgs’ Government. Is this poll undermining democracy in New Brunswick? Of course not, because it’s a poll that shows the left ahead.
Remember when Mainstreet released that shocking, couldn’t be true under any circumstances BC poll this summer that had the BC Conservatives above BC FC? Turned out to be true, as almost every poll has shown since. What we choose to believe or dismiss from pollsters is almost never about the actual truth, but about what we want to believe. It takes almost no effort to dismiss a poll that disagrees with your partisanship. It takes a lot of it to dismiss one that agrees with it. It’s why Dippers always believe these polls that show them knocking on the door of the mid 20s every Parliament, without ever realizing it won’t happen under the current leadership.
The argument that polling should be in some way banned or curtailed is conspiratorial, because it alleges a fundamental conspiracy. It alleges that the point of polling is not to inform people what we think, but to change it, on either fraudulent or incorrect grounds. If you’d like to dismiss me as a dick for attacking left wing brain rot, go ahead, but it doesn’t change the fact that the arguments against polling are brain rot.
The polls correctly captured the NDP surge and then the levelling off in 2011, they saw the NDP surge and then the Liberals eating the NDP vote in 2015, in 2019 they correctly saw the Liberals as vulnerable in the spring during SNC but their vote strengthening over time (until the Bloc surge cratered them in Quebec), and in 2021 the phone pollsters wobbled in the first couple of weeks, but at the end the polls were all deadly accurate.
The surge of left wing poll denial is disinformation. It’s led by people you like so you don’t want to admit it but it is. It’s lies and mistruths told to slander the names of good people and make us all dumber. And if you engage in it you’re a fucking idiot.
And don’t think for a second any of your supposedly principled objections would survive first contact with a poll showing Bonnie Crombie or Marit Stiles leading Doug Ford, because they wouldn’t. And that’s why the denialists are fucking hacks.