Monday, May 2, 2011

Polling ain't what it used to be

For one thing, dwindling numbers of people, given our abhorrence of telemarketers, answer their home phones, much less agree to take the time and energy to complete an interview, says Scott Mathews, co-director of the Canadian Opinion Research Archive at Queen's University. And pollsters rarely report response rates, he says, but the reality is that the 75 and 80 per cent rates of a generation ago have slipped to as low as 15 to 20 per cent today. And it's not a random 15 or 20 per cent of that random sample; instead, " it's the people who are easily contacted and these tend to be people who are unrepresentative in various ways, maybe older, maybe unemployed, just something that makes it more likely that they'll be home to pick up the phone and complete a survey."

Add to Mathews and the Citizen reporter's observations here is the fact that cell phone users, many of whom are the 18-24 demographic, seldom get calls or pick up if they do, and we have a very suspect process in all the current polling. The votemob crowd has not been participating significantly if at all in this polling, in other words, and they appear to be a serious factor in this election. Will we be surprised on Monday night if the numbers are radically different from what the pollsters have been hyping all week? They could be higher; they could be lower. In any case, nothing will surprise me.

In the Ottawa Citizen

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