Monday, August 08, 2011

Recent Nanos poll shows Conservative support slipping nationally - The Globe and Mail

This is not at all interesting:

Recent Nanos poll shows Conservative support slipping nationally - The Globe and Mail

Some people like polls. I have a love/hate relationship with them. I use them all the time when I'm teaching but I also point out how one has to carefully contextualize the meaning, report on methodology, error rates, and that sort of thing. Of course, one might expect Canada's "national newspaper" to do the same sort of thing: exercise the same sort of care ...?

Consider the litany of errors in the reporting on this story:

1. The Conservatives are described as back in "minority territory": how can that be? The election is over; the Tories have majority and will for the next four/five years. End of discussion. Polls can't put them in a "minority" only an election can. Alas ... those reporting on this poll neglected this fact and so produced the biggest error I have ever personally seen in news reporting.

2. The opening paragraph describes the NDP "tumble" in Quebec, which is corrected later in the story to note that the NDP is actually either within the polling marin of error in Quebec month over month or increasing in support. Hmmm ... how does one's support both go up and down? The, after reporting that NDP numbers in Quebec both went down and up; the reporter notes the "chill" on NDP support in Quebec suggesting that they went down again. One is tempted to sarcasm: that was quick, down, up, and down in the span of one news story.

3. The reporter provides not context regarding this poll other then Jack Layton's illness (which supposedly explains the rapidly fluctuating numbers in Quebec). It is as if nothing else happened when the poll was done.

4. We are also told of the dramatic Liberal resurgence but no other information is provided. When and where? And ... who cares if we are X years away from an election?

Polls are easy political reporting. Someone else does the work for you, passes it along and even gives you a couple of key quotes to fill in to the story. Polls are also useful. However, properly assessing polls is hard work. It requires some understanding of stats, and ability to communicate that, a knowledge of history, and a current events, and that is to start. Moreover, a poll -- such as this one -- one be irrelevant to public life. There will be another one next month. Trust me. It is really too bad that no one in a national media outlet can bother to take the time to properly report on polling.
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