Strategic Thoughts

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March 26, 2009

Competing Polls and Messages

You can't entirely blame Vaughn Palmer, he doesn't write the headlines for his columns, let alone the sub-heading on March 25th which read: "Premier gets 50-per-cent approval rating in latest poll after 16 years in provincial politics". How could Palmer have known that within hours of his column appearing, Angus Reid would release a poll of 800 British Columbians, showing an approval rating of only 34% for Premier Campbell?

Ipsos-Reid, the Mustel Group and Angus Reid are B.C.'s foremost polling companies, and their findings with respect to B.C. politics haven't been in agreement lately. There is a lot of argument about Internet vs. telephone polling, as well as whether a polled-out public simply isn't telling the truth. Wherever truth is found, it is clear that no one should put too much faith in any single poll.

If you believe the Ipsos-Reid poll, the NDP has had the bun - down 11% on the eve of the election. If you believe the Angus Reid poll, the NDP is in contention, down 6%, reduced to 2% amongst voters who are certain they will actually vote.

The media, and this blog, frequently follow the horserace rather than focusing on the issues. The polls will always provide good entertainment, but the only one that counts is the actual vote on May 12th. In the meantime, it might be worthwhile to hear from the competing parties on what real differences they offer to British Columbians.

Like Ipsos-Reid, Angus Reid found that the economy is the major issue (highest ranked but not by a majority). Angus Reid reported that while the economy was on top, it was so for only 36% of those polled. In other words, for 64% of those polled, issues other than the economy will dominate their voting decision, including crime (19%), health care (8%) and social services. Social services are tricky because Angus Reid broke them into subcategories: homelessness (5%), drug use (5%), poverty (4%), housing (3%) and child care (1%). Perhaps one social service category would have gotten a double digit rating, while the subcategories got single digits. He found that only 5% ranked the environment as the most important issue facing BC.

Political parties use polls to drive their advertising. It is a waste of money for a party to run an ad that carries a message no one believes. Angus Reid reported that 45% of those polled said that Carole James "understands the problems of BC residents", compared to 31% for Gordon Campbell. Don't be surprised to see advertisements that emphasize which party understands the problems of BC residents. Likewise, Angus Reid found that 45% of those polled said Gordon Campbell "is a strong and decisive leader", compared to 23% for James.

The question is which ads would be more effective, those emphasizing Campbell's leadership or those emphasizing James' understanding?


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