Toronto Mayoral Race: Pollsters As Source

There is nothing more frustrating than watching trained journalists abandon the idea of "reliable" sources. Seems to me, when you’re cobbling together a thesis, the evidence you rely on should withstand scrutiny, should have an inherent quality that can justify its use as foundation.

When it comes to polls, it seems everyone merely reports on the findings, extrapolates storylines from said poll, without any critical thought attached. All polls are not created equal, all findings don’t deserve the same stature. This notion is clouded because certain organizations pay certain pollsters, so there is an inherent investment that must be considered. However, we see time and again, a certain poll move from the "house" organization to the wider media, used by everyone in universal fashion. 

There is much at stake with polls, they feed narratives, coverage is coloured, right or wrong, they shape the mood in Ottawa. We’ve seen time and again how a couple percentage points can make the difference between stable to crisis, momentum to stalled. With the "high stakes" in mind, it is imperative that journalists do their due dilligence, which means TRACK RECORD is king, predictive past a marker, not every poll deserves the same attention.

The results are in for the Toronto mayor race. The pollsters largely missed the huge Ford win, with one exception, that being EKOS. A feather in the cap for EKOS, but also further evidence that some others have a very poor predictive record. All I would ask, when we hear all these opinions, based on a certain poll, there is some acknowledgement of RELIABILITY. A mere mention, like "in the past, this poll has an excellent record", or "one caveat, this pollster has a poor track record", something, anything, that shows a hint of source inspection instead of just lapping up every result and extrapolating based on sketchy source data.

You can’t just take one result, but you can investigate a body of work and make informed decisions. Public polls are hugely important, moreso than they should be, but that’s another discussion. I believe no poll should be put into the public domain unless the pollster releases all internal data, the phrasing of the questions, full transparent disclosure to protect the integrity of the findings. If a poll will be released into the public domain, then it should be open to scrutiny. Wording of questions are important, nuance can shift findngs in a massive way. Why we just eat up everything as it comes and run with it escapes me, it seems to betray a core tenet of journalism.

Next time we get a poll release, the first question isn’t what it means, it’s how trustworthy is the data. If we start with that predisposition, then Canadians will get a clearly picture of the true reality, rather than murky conclusions based on dicey data. 

Two cents. 

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