POLLING IN CANADA
Prepared by Claude Emery
Political and Social Affairs Division
OF PUBLIC OPINION SURVEYS
IMPACT OF POLLING ON THE ELECTORAL PROCESS
A. Direct Effects
B. Indirect Effects
POLLING AND REGULATION
Regulation in Canada
in Other Jurisdictions
OPINION POLLS AND
POLLING IN CANADA
Public opinion surveys assumed
an immense importance in Canada in the 1980s; not only did they become
a familiar and seemingly indispensable feature of political campaigns
-- with various professional polling agencies being commissioned by different
media outlets and political parties -- they became an important aspect
of public policy-making.(1)
Polling today is to the politician and policymaker what the stock market
is to the financial analyst.(2)
Although governments have other means of gauging public sentiment -- party
activists, members of caucus, public servants and their numerous client
groups, legislative debates, the print and electronic media -- polls are
now acknowledged to be one of the most significant communication links
between governments and the governed.(3)
Jean-Jacques Rousseau is
said to have been the first to use the term "public opinion"
in its modern sense when, in 1744, he was France's foreign affairs secretary.
Lindsay Rogers, an American political scientist, later coined the term
"pollster" in 1949 to evoke the word "huckster." Though
newspapers in the United States have used polling techniques since the
1820s, national polls have been a phenomenon in Canada only since the
1940s. The Liberal Party conducted the first such survey in 1942 in an
attempt to determine the likely outcome of a forthcoming plebiscite on
conscription. The first election poll was carried out by the Canadian
Institute of Public Opinion in 1945. One of the first political polls
used to assist in the development of an electoral strategy was undertaken
for the Quebec Liberal Party in 1959, on the eve of the 1960 provincial
election. Only during the 1965 federal election, however, did polling
really take off in the Canadian press.(4)
The better-known pollsters
have been the Canadian Institute for Public Opinion (CIPO), the Canadian
branch of the U.S. Gallup organization; Decima Research (owned by the
lobby company Hill and Knowlton); Environics Research Group; Sorecom;
Canadian Facts; CROP (Centre de recherche sur l'opinion publique);
Angus Reid; and Insight Canada. More than half of the major polling companies
are attached to either a political party or media outlet.(5) In cases of media sponsorship, a newspaper
or television network either commissions a poll or adds on questions to
a regular commercial survey. Pollsters frequently work for the media because
poll results have become news in themselves.(6)
Fifteen of the 22 polls of the 1988 federal election campaign were sponsored
by the print media; two broadcasters (CTV and CBC/Radio Canada) also either
sponsored or conducted polls during the campaign.(7) For many Canadian firms, however,
election polling is less lucrative than private sector (consumer/product)
or government (policy) research.(8)
The most common and best
known survey technique is to select a representative (random) sample of
people, ask them carefully worded questions, and report on their responses.
Three other methods deserve mention: "tracking" entails telephoning
people during an election in order to see how certain factors (e.g., speeches,
announcements) are affecting a party or campaign;(9) in a "focus group,"
several people -- sometimes observed from behind a one-way mirror -- are
encouraged by a group leader to voice their reactions to various issues
or slogans; "exit polls" are surveys that ask people leaving
the polling place to reveal how they voted.(10)
THE ACCURACY OF
PUBLIC OPINION SURVEYS
Although the term "public
opinion" is widely used to imply a unanimous viewpoint, it should
be pointed out that members of the public hold diverse opinions on any
issue and that each issue usually interests only a certain segment of
the population.(11) Even within a group where members share definite
views on some matter, they do so with varying intensity. Moreover, in
Canada, pockets of opinion have tended to be based on regional considerations;
issues concerning the forest industry or fisheries, for example, obviously
evoke more sharply defined opinions in some areas of the country than
in others. Not only are there great differences in the amount of knowledge
each individual possesses, opinions may also be internally contradictory(12) and some, especially those
on moral or social matters (e.g., abortion, capital punishment) may be
generated more by emotional reactions than by rational assessments.(13)
Opinions are likely to be
more transient and dynamic than attitudes and values. At best, an opinion
poll therefore constitutes a snapshot of many viewpoints held by a segment
of the population at a given time. Indeed, one prominent pollster warns
that "the way in which one deals with information gleaned through
public opinion polls must be conditionalized through a sensitivity to
the limitations of the information which is being measured," and
that "the activities of the pollster must always be understood as
a combination of science and art."(14)
When two or more pollsters
are seeking essentially the same information yet produce different results,
doubts naturally arise about their methodology. The chosen sample or sub-samples,
the way a question is worded, the range of possible responses available,
the sequence of the questions asked, the length of the survey, the degree
to which respondents are telling the truth, etc. can account for such
discrepancies,(15) as can
the faithfulness with which questioners pursue their task. One should
not be blind to the possibility that interviewers occasionally "make
up their interviews or to substitute easy to contact individuals for members
of the sample group they were supposed to reach but found it difficult
to do so."(16) A most
important consideration is how "undecided" responses in a survey
In very many polls a large
percentage of respondents answer questions by saying they "don't
know," or are "undecided" or they "won't say."
It is not unusual for 20, 30, or even 40 per cent of a sample to make
such a reply. Yet Gallup and most other pollsters round up the total
in published figures to 100 per cent as though every one had given a
specific positive reply. They may mention that a certain proportion
was undecided but when they give the figures of how the vote breaks
down, say in a pre-election contest, they give figures...which total
100 per cent.(18)
It is noteworthy that it
is easier to translate voting intentions into potential seats in a two-party
system than in a multi-party arrangement. The accuracy of election polls
is also determined by actual voter turnout; pre-election surveys can sometimes
be out of date by the time they are reported. In Canada, another problem
is that national surveys must be drafted in both French and English and
it must be ensured that the questions asked are equivalent. Last, polls
can present an opportunity for deliberate misrepresentation or connivance
by those who publish survey results; many examples of this practice by
political parties have been cited.(19) Advocacy groups seeking to
influence the public agenda can also commission polls for public release
and may draft questions to support their case or point of view. In short,
public opinion surveys are blunt instruments of prediction and are susceptible
to many forms of error.(20)
Opponents of political polling
point to notable failures like the predicted victories of Landon over
Roosevelt in 1936, of Dewey over Truman in 1948, and of Wilson over Heath
in Britain in 1970. Most pollsters considered the outcome of the 1980
presidential election in the United States too close to call, yet Ronald
Reagan won by a landslide. The 1992 surprise victory of the Conservatives
over Labour in Britain is another similar example. In Canada, however,
gross inaccuracies in assessing the state of public opinion are believed
to have been relatively few.(21)
OF POLLING ON THE ELECTORAL PROCESS
Because polls are generally
perceived to be accurate and scientific, the debate on polling centres
largely on whether it undermines the democratic process by influencing
electoral behaviour and election results. Some political strategists and
observers argue that the publication of polls gives an unfair advantage
to parties or candidates whose fortunes are seen to be improving. The
so-called "bandwagon" effect assumes that knowledge of a popular
"tide" will likely change voting intentions in favour of the
frontrunner, that many electors feel more comfortable supporting a popular
choice or that people accept the perceived collective wisdom of others
as being enough reason for supporting a candidate.(22)
The bandwagon phenomenon,
however, is dismissed by those who argue that voters do not pay much attention
to poll results in the first place, that not everyone believes them, and
that it is not important for everyone to be on the winning side.(23)
Furthermore, while some voters may want to be on the victorious side,
at least a few will rally to support the expected loser out of sympathy
-- the so-called "underdog" effect -- which would cancel out
or annul any shifts in preference.(24)
Although academics in the
United States have long been divided over the impact of published polls
on the outcome of elections, recent research supports the proposition
that their publication can influence a close election, with the most impact
occurring late in a campaign.(25) Recent studies in Canada also support the
notion that polls published during political campaigns can create the
"politics of expectations," a situation that stimulates the
bandwagon effect and promotes "strategic voting," in which voting
is influenced by the chances of winning. For example, citizens may cast
ballots for their second-choice candidate who appears to have a better
chance than the first choice of defeating a disliked candidate or party.
Such behaviour is said to be increasing in Canada as close three-party
races become more common.(26)
It is therefore argued that voters making such strategic choices have
every right to expect that the results of opinion surveys are scientifically
Polls may have a "demotivating"
effect (when voters abstain from voting out of certainty that their candidate
or party will win), a "motivating" effect (when individuals
who had not intended to vote are persuaded to do so), and a "free-will"
effect (when voters cast their ballots to prove the polls wrong).(28)
Lastly, opinion polls have a direct impact on the timing of elections
because parliamentary governments often use polls when deciding on the
The indirect effects of
polls during elections may be as important as their possible direct influence.(29) Because of the multiplicity of published
surveys and the attention they receive from the media, some charge that
polls detract from discussion of the "real" issues. Indeed,
many describe news coverage of Canadian elections as being analogous to
that of a sporting event or "horse-race," with serious analysis
of the issues or investigation into areas of voter concern being largely
ignored.(30) The media's emphasis on who
is winning and who is losing (as well as on the campaign "style"
of leaders and their parties) may also result in so-called "leader
fixation." As one scholar explains:
Polls conducted throughout
the campaign...focus on leadership in an attempt to predict the outcome
of the election and to explain it in terms of leader appeal. The polls
are presented as measures to gauge how the leaders' campaigns are fairing.
In this sense the media coverage misrepresents the political system,
narrows the focus of public debate, and denigrates political leaders
The publication of polls
can also have a positive or negative effect on the morale of party workers
and financial contributors, and on the "momentum" of a campaign.
Party strategists often complain that it is difficult to make up ground
once the media have decided, on the basis of polls, that a particular
party is no longer a viable contender. Some commentators therefore call
for a ban on the publication of polls during all political campaigns.
POLLING AND REGULATION
The proponents of regulation
argue that opinion polls, because of their authoritative presentation,
have undue influence on elections; that they can be erroneous or misleading
and subject to manipulation; that they are often presented without the
necessary background (e.g., as to how and when the interviews took place,
the sample size, sponsorship, etc.) to permit a rational assessment of
their validity; and that they essentially transform parliamentary (representative)
democracy into a form of "direct democracy." It is also pointed
out that, while journalists, for obvious reasons, are not allowed to work
for political parties, no such restrictions are placed on pollsters.(32)
The concern over publishing exit poll results before the end of a voting
period is that this may lead to the bandwagon effect or depress voter
turnout. Others object to the use of such findings on the grounds that
the data generated do not meet the standards of a scientific survey.(33)
Many who oppose regulation
base their arguments on the rights of free speech. They also assert that
there is no evidence that polls have significant or undue influence on
voting, that polls are reasonably reliable, that they are a more systematic
means of gathering public opinion than methods traditionally used by journalists,
that they add to the public's understanding of the dynamics of a campaign,
that they provide interesting (if not useful) information, and that the
publication of many polls is sufficient to ensure that the information
presented is a true reflection of public opinion (at least until the election
results are known).(34) In a related vein, a prohibition
on the publication of poll results would not prevent governments, parties,
candidates and others from conducting their own polling; thus, a ban would
confer a considerable advantage on those interests who could afford their
own private surveys.(35) Some also argue that opinion polls provide
a legitimate counterbalance to the pressures brought to bear on government
by special interest lobbies or pressure groups.
In brief, there are many
ways to regulate polling during and outside election periods.
leave it up to the participants, particularly the media and polling
organizations, to regulate their own professions and to ensure that
certain basic ethical standards are respected. The main responsibility
would fall to pollsters and journalists. Pollsters would have to establish
their own code of conduct. Journalists would have to ensure that the
public was accurately informed by presenting and commenting on poll
data responsibly and appropriately. In a free market or laissez-faire
situation, competition among polling institutes would oblige them to
produce higher-quality polls, at the same time forcing self-regulation.
In this case, organizations with dubious qualifications would soon be
exposed...Government regulation is obviously still an option that some
would qualify as elitist, especially if it is based on the notion that
opinion polls influence the public and that this influence must be limited.
Government regulation is also seen as the first step toward political
despotism; making decisionmakers responsible for determining what can
or cannot be published could represent a threat to democracy.(36)
One option is a mixed approach
where the state imposes certain restrictions but leaves the task of defining
standards for the presentation of polls to the organizations involved.(37)
Regulation in Canada
Several Private Members'
bills were introduced over the years to regulate or ban the publication
of polls during federal elections; however, none was endorsed by the House
of Commons.(38) At the provincial level, only British Columbia
has had a prohibition: in 1939, the province's Elections Act was
amended to make it unlawful to take "any straw vote" after the
issuance of the writ for an election. The provision was repealed in 1982.(39)
In Quebec and for over a
decade, the Comité des sondages of the Regroupement québécois des sciences
sociales -- a group of academics specializing in opinion surveys --
have tried to convince journalists and the media of the importance of
presenting polling methodology along with polling results. In 1979, the
Comité recommended that this information (in the form of a survey
specifications sheet outlining the technical elements of a poll) accompany
the publication or broadcasting of all poll results to allow the general
public to judge their quality. It was also proposed that all data and
reports of polls published or broadcast be legally deposited so that everyone
has access to them, and that a polling commission be established to verify
the validity of polls.(40)
On 13 February 1992, a federal
Royal Commission on Electoral Reform and Party Financing(41) tabled a four-volume report, Reforming
Democracy, which recommended, among other things, that:
publication or announcement of opinion polls be prohibited from midnight
the day preceding election day until the close of all polls on election
news organization that sponsors, purchases or acquires any opinion
poll, and is the first to publish or announce its results in Canada
during an election campaign, be required to include technical information
on the methodology used in the poll;(42)
such news organization be required to make available to any person
within 24 hours of publication and for the cost of duplication, a
full report on the results of the questions published, including technical
information and the results on which the publication or announcement
in the news media of polls done privately or by other news organizations,
when presented for the first time in Canada in a manner similar to
formal reports of media polls, be subject to the same disclosure rules
concerning technical information on methodology;
engaged in election campaign polling for publication develop a professional
code of conduct and an association to promote adherence to it; and
organizations work with the media to improve the standards of poll
On this last point, both
journalists and broadcasters have adopted codes of ethics and interpretation
with respect to polls. The first ever code for the polling profession
was proposed by the Standards Committee of the American Association for
Public Opinion Research in 1948. There is also an International Code of
Fair Practices in Market Research, which was prepared jointly by the International
Chamber of Commerce and the European Society for Opinion and Marketing
Analysis and Research and adopted in April 1971. In Canada, the Canadian
Advertising Research Foundation and the Canadian Association of Marketing
Research Organizations have established reporting standards. The Canadian
Daily Newspaper Publishers Association also has a proposed checklist of
questions journalists should ask themselves whenever they receive poll
results. Canadian broadcasters for their part have developed their own
rules and standards, and in January 1991, the Canadian Association of
Broadcasters and the Association canadienne de la radio et de la télévision
de la langue française established the Canadian Broadcasting Standards
Council to address ethical standards.(45)
In February 1992, the House
of Commons appointed a special eight-member committee to undertake a comprehensive
review of the Royal Commission report and to recommend changes to the
Canada Elections Act.(46) The Act was subsequently amended
in the spring of 1993. Federal law now prohibits the broadcast, publication
or dissemination of the results of new or scientifically conducted opinion
surveys that would identify a political party or candidate in the final
three days of an election campaign.(47)
C. Regulation in Other
The concerns outlined above
are not unique to Canada. Many other countries impose various restrictions
on polls and their publication. In the United States, the National Council
of Public Polls and the American Association of Public Opinion Research
have long-established codes and have been considering mechanisms for adjudicating
complaints. In 1972, at the initiative of a private member, France introduced
a publication ban on polls during the final days of an election campaign.
France has a full-scale regulatory agency -- a commission that receives
and investigates complaints, requires polling organizations to register
and deposit technical information, and enforces a seven-day blackout.
Media reporting of polls, however, remains a source of controversy in
Poll results in Belgium
and New York State are also submitted to a designated agency.(49)
Since 1978, the New York regulations require that the methodology used
in private polls be made public if their results become public.(50)
The polling industry in the United Kingdom responded to concerns raised
in Parliament and elsewhere by attempting to improve the level of professional
conduct among the media and the polling organizations; in 1987, the major
pollsters reconfirmed their adherence to the guidelines of the World Association
of Public Opinion Research and committed themselves to making public their
methodology and publishing a guide for journalists. Among the 20 countries
examined by Canada's Royal Commission on Electoral Reform, three banned
the publication of opinion polls during campaigns, while others had blackout
periods varying from 48 hours to the entire duration of the election period.(51)
OPINION POLLS AND POLICY-MAKING
The pollster not only operates
in the context of electoral politics, but also within that of public policy
development. Governments and political parties use polls to assist them
in defining and prioritizing their positions on various contentious issues.
Government departments have in the past sponsored polls to "test
the waters" of various policy options. In the 19-month period between
April 1990 and November 1991, over $10 million was reportedly approved
by the Department of Supply and Services (which acted as a coordinating
agency) and spent by the federal government on opinion surveys, an amount
that does not include contracts awarded directly by individual departments.(52)
One common view is that
the use of government-sponsored polls constitutes an abdication of leadership.(53) On this, one observer remarked, "the
essence of democracy is that we elect politicians to lead, to take risks,
to stand for something more than the latest popular sentiment or the collective
wisdom, which may be based more on short-term emotional or outright ignorance
than anything else."(54) A related argument is that an important aspect
of good leadership in government is the ability to create an informed
public opinion, instead of simply pandering to it.(55)
Opposition parties often express concern that polling done by governments
on matters of public policy (and at taxpayers' expense) constitutes an
unacceptable form of assistance for the party in power, especially if
the information is not released to the public and if it is used for partisan
If information is power,
then political information is political power. Whether opinion polls have
significant or undue influence on the conduct of election campaigns and
the decisions of voters continues to be the subject of debate. Proponents
of regulation believe that polls not only invade the privacy of respondents
and influence party fundraising morale and the media's coverage of issues,
but also promote strategic voting and stimulate bandwagon effects.(57)
Polls can be deliberately
misused and misinterpreted if the technical information accompanying them
is too sketchy to permit assessment of the validity of the results. As
in many other democratic societies, the treatment of polls by the media
therefore remains an important issue in Canada, with many calling for
increased efforts on the part of the polling industry to ensure that opinion
surveys are reported with the necessary background information. The dilemma
for the media, in turn, is how to provide good polling information without
overloading their audiences with less interesting technical data. Some
have argued that the media are not trained in the interpretation of polls.(58)
The "public choice"
approach views opinion surveys as a means for the authorities to identify
the concerns of strategically located groups within the electorate (i.e.,
segments of the population according to age, income level, ethnicity,
life-style, etc.). The extensive use of polls by political parties, however,
would also confirm certain claims: that parties make calculated promises
in order to get elected; that they tend to "ignore their committed
supporters as well as those who are hostile, and then within a certain
ideological range, promise whatever their polls tell them will maximize
their electoral success"; and that governments "rarely do what
is in the long-term interest of the country if it conflicts with short-term
According to "élite"
analysis, when only élites (i.e., well-organized and well-heeled interests)
can afford to do proper polling, they yield a disproportionate amount
of influence and control over the public if they are allowed to keep the
results of their polls secret.(60) This approach therefore strongly favours
"access to information." "Pluralists," on the other
hand, emphasize the opportunity that polling provides for ordinary citizens
to influence the policy-making process and see nothing but good resulting
from frequent surveys of public opinion. The "state-centred"
approach criticizes the amount of money spent on polling by governments
suspect that pollsters have become a dangerous new breed of political
advisor, emphasizing numbers instead of issues and usurping the traditional
informational role of political parties.(62) Although the actual impact
of election polls is difficult to measure, it is certain that governments
find them to be a reliable and useful tool, political strategists consider
them to be indispensable, the media have adopted them to augment their
news reports, and the public seems eager to see the results. The appeal
and popularity of polls would seem to lie in their apparent ability to
quantify something which by its nature is not easily quantifiable. The
use of polls by governments does not necessarily mean that they will refrain
from pursuing unpopular policies and doing "what is right."
Good governing may have less to do with polling than with ability to lead.
(1) Claire Hoy, Margin of Error: Pollsters
and the Manipulation of Canadian Politics, Key Porter Books, Toronto,
1989, p. 39; W.L. White, R.H. Wagenberg and R.C. Nelson, Introduction
to Canadian Politics and Government, Holt, Rinehart and Winston of
Canada Limited, Toronto, 1990, p. 123.
Martin Goldfarb, "The Art of the Pollster," in Authority
and Influence: Institutions, Issues and Concepts in Canadian Politics,
Carla Cassidy, Phyllis Clarke and Wayne Petrozzi, editors, Mosaic Press,
Oakville, Ontario, 1985, p. 306.
Rand Dyck, Canadian Politics: Critical Approaches, Nelson Canada,
Scarborough, 1993, p. 205-206, 224, 277; Jeffrey Simpson, Spoils
of Power: The Politics of Patronage, Collins Publishers, Don Mills,
Ontario, 1988, p. 141-142; Goldfarb (1985), p. 312. According
to the theory of party decline, opinion polls during elections have usurped
the campaign role of party workers as a source of political information
and have largely replaced the local party organization as a line of communication
between the public and elected representatives.
Guy Lachapelle, Polls and the Media in Canadian Elections: Taking the
Pulse, Volume 16 of the Research Studies of the Royal Commission
on Electoral Reform and Party Financing, Dundurn Press, Toronto, 1991,
p. 10. See also Hoy (1989), p. 9-22; Christopher Hitchens, "Voting
in the Passive Voice: What Polling Has Done to American Democracy,"
Harper's, April 1992, p. 46; Alan Frizzell and Anthony Westell,
The Canadian General Election of 1984: Politicians, Parties and Polls,
Carleton University Press, Ottawa, 1985, p. 81.
Dyck (1993), p. 220-221. A similar trend of sponsorship is found
in the United States. See Thelma McCormack, "The Problem with Polls,"
The Canadian Forum, July/August 1992, p. 12.
George Bain, "Polls, News and Public Cynicism," Maclean's,
21 June 1993, p. 56; Frizzell and Westell (1985), p. 81,
83. Because polls have become a major source of information and interpretation
on the nature of public opinion, the role of journalism is said to have
changed from that of articulating the public mood to merely reporting
on events. See Goldfarb (1985), p. 304; McCormack (1992), p. 12.
There were also 37 regional and constituency polls released in the daily
or weekly press. The number of national polls published during the eight-week
campaign in 1988 was nearly twice that of 1984: Lachapelle (1991), p. xviii,
3, 10, 86, 116.
Bertrand Marrotte, "Numbers Game: Researchers under Fire for Blurring
Line between Polling, Marketing," The Gazette (Montreal),
19 October 1993.
Frizzell and Westell (1985), p. 84.
Dyck (1993), p. 220. Exit polls, if properly conducted, provide a
good basis for assessing the reasons for an election result. See Royal
Commission on Electoral Reform and Party Financing, Final Report,
Volume 1, Supply and Services Canada, 1991, p. 461; McCormack (1992),
Dyck (1993), p. 219.
Ibid. People often form their opinions first, then search for information
to confirm them. See Edwin R. Black, Politics and the News: The Political
Functions of the Mass Media, Butterworths, Toronto, 1982, p. 168.
An "opinion situation" may be viewed as comprising three parts:
an individual's belief system, an object that is being judged (e.g., an
issue, candidate, policy, etc.), and a situation that either promotes
or limits the expression of the opinion: see Goldfarb (1985), p. 315.
White et al. (1990), p. 122-123. See also Stephen Rogers,
"Round Table: Public Opinion -- Myths and Realities," Canadian
Parliamentary Review, Summer 1991, p. 21. According to Hoy (1989),
"Pollsters often build a bias right into their questionnaire by the
common device of listing options. For example, they'll ask a person to
rate the importance of a series of issues facing the country, listing
these issues for the respondents, many of which the person on the other
end of the phone line probably never thought about, but feels obligated
to respond to, to avoid sounding stupid or unconcerned about society"
(p. 91). To overcome the problem of hasty or non-committal answers
to polls by respondents, James S. Fishkin, in his book Democracy and
Deliberation, has proposed a new technique of survey research that
he calls "deliberative polling." This would involve randomly
selecting at least 400 individuals (statistically representative of the
population) who would be transported to a site for several days, where
they would be briefed by impartial experts, given research papers and
the opportunity to question political leaders and debate among themselves.
A portion of the debate would be televised. Participants would also be
polled on their views at the moment of selection and at the end of the
experiment. The "deliberative poll" would thus demonstrate what
the public would think if it had a better chance to reflect upon the issues.
See James S. Fishkin, Democracy and Deliberation: New Directions for
Democratic Reform, Yale University Press, 1991. See also Carol Goar,
"In Search of a Better Way To Take the Public Pulse," The
Toronto Star, 1 February 1994; Ross Howard, "In Search of
the Rational Side of a Nation's Pulse," The Globe and Mail
(Toronto), 12 February 1994; "At Last, the Thinking Person's
Opinion Poll," The Independent, 22 September 1993; Richard
Morin, "A New Way To Take the People's Pulse," The Washington
Post, 27 September-3 October 1993.
Goldfarb (1985), p. 303, 313-314.
Dyck (1993), p. 221. See also Eric Allaby, "Round Table: Public
Opinion -- Myths and Realities," Canadian Parliamentary Review,
Summer 1991, p. 20; George Bain, "The Perils of Poll-Driven
Journalism," Maclean's, 20 April 1992, p. 20; Sharon
Begley, Howard Fineman and Vernon Church, "The Science of Polling,"
Newsweek, 26 September 1992, p. 38-39; Robert Fulford,
"A Matter of No Opinion: How Pollsters Create a Reign of Terror,"
The Financial Times, 22 June 1992; Lachapelle (1991), p. 90-95.
An election questionnaire can have up to 40 questions: Frizzell and Westell
(1985), p. 77.
Goldfarb (1985), p. 314. See also Rogers (1991), p. 20; Hitchens
(1992), p. 52. "Survey fatigue" is said to be a growing
problem for opinion pollsters; annoyed by telephone solicitations (telemarketing),
people are said to be increasingly reluctant to disclose personal information
and unwilling to participate in telephone interviews. Don Hoyt, "Survey
Fatigue Causing Pollsters Problems," The Telegraph Journal
(Saint John), 20 September 1993.
"Adventures in the Number Trade: How Public Opinion Polls Decimate
the Truth," This Magazine, June-July 1993, p. 27; Frizzell
and Westell (1985), p. 80; Begley et al. (1992), p. 38;
Lachapelle (1991), p. 109. Different pollsters mean different things
when they report on "undecided" voters (e.g., those who say
they will not vote, or are unsure whether they will vote, or those who
intend to vote but are undecided as to how they will vote).
Paul Fox, "The Danger is Private Polling," in Politics: Canada,
Sixth Edition, Paul W. Fox and Graham White, editors, McGraw-Hill Ryerson
Limited, Toronto, 1987, p. 316. Polls are more costly when they are
"filtered," that is to say when the undecided responses are
separated and labelled. See Hitchens (1992), p. 50.
See Albert H. Cantril, The Opinion Connection: Polling, Politics and
the Press, The Congressional Quarterly Press, Washington, D.C., 1991,
p. 67; Hoy (1989), p. 189-202; Royal Commission on Electoral
Reform..., 1991, p. 457; Hitchens (1992), p. 50; Fox (1987),
p. 315-316; Frizzell and Westell (1985), p. 81; Lachapelle (1991),
p. 80. On more than one occasion, to lessen the impact of an unfavourable
result, parties have used the political tactic of arguing that their own
internal polls differ from the latest public polls.
See Angela Mangiacasale, "The Problem with Polls," The Ottawa
Citizen, 10 October 1992.
See Robert J. Jackson and Doreen Jackson, Politics In Canada: Culture,
Institutions, Behaviour and Public Policy, Second Edition, Prentice-Hall
Canada, Scarborough, 1990, p. 511; Ray Hnatyshyn, "Don't Ban
Pre-Election Polls," in Politics: Canada, Sixth Edition, Paul
W. Fox and Graham White, editors, McGraw-Hill Ryerson Limited, Toronto,
1987, p. 312; Robert Fulford, "Polling Has Become a Form of
Disinformation," The Globe and Mail (Toronto), 24 March
1993; Anne McIlroy, "Sometimes Pollsters End Up the Big Losers,"
The Ottawa Citizen, 20 October 1992; Chris Cobb, "Getting
it Wrong: Pollsters and Pundits Take a Beating in Britain," The
Ottawa Citizen, 19 April 1992; Dyck (1993), p. 221; McCormack
(1992), p. 11; Frizzell and Westell (1985), p. 81.
Patrick Martin, "Do Opinion Polls Influence Voters?" in Politics:
Canada, Sixth Edition, Paul W. Fox and Graham White, editors, McGraw-Hill
Ryerson Limited, Toronto, 1987, p. 303. See also Hnatyshyn (1987),
Dyck (1993), p. 221; Frizzell and Westell (1985), p. 85; Lorne
Bozinoff, "Round Table: Public Opinion -- Myths and Realities,"
Canadian Parliamentary Review, Summer 1991, p. 16-17. For
example, Dr. Bozinoff, Vice-president of Gallup Canada has said that "Polls
are a measure of public opinion. A thermometer does not create weather,
and a poll does not create public opinion" (p. 16).
Martin (1987), p. 311; Hnatyshyn (1987), p. 313. Opposition
leader John Turner's election in the riding of Vancouver Quadra in 1984
is often given as an example of the sympathy or underdog effect; prior
to his victory, the polls had indicated that he would lose.
Parties and candidates often cannot respond to last-minute polls. Royal
Commission on Electoral Reform... (1991), p. 457-458; Martin (1987),
Tom Barrett, "Opinion Polls: They are Influential, They Affect Elections
and They'll Influence the Outcome Oct. 26," The Vancouver Sun,
14 October 1992; Royal Commission on Electoral Reform... (1991),
Royal Commission on Electoral Reform... (1991), p. 458.
Lachapelle (1991), p. 14.
Royal Commission on Electoral Reform... (1991), p. 458; Dyck (1993),
Robert J. Samuelson, "The Dilemma of Democracy," Newsweek,
13 April 1992, p. 51; Dyck (1993), p. 221-222; Martin (1987),
p. 311; Frizzell and Westell (1985), p. 83; Lachapelle (1991),
Jackson and Jackson (1990), p. 512.
Chris Cobb, "Probing the Polls: Should Media Accept Data from Pollsters
with Ties with Politicians?" The Ottawa Citizen, 23 August
For example, the sample is not deemed to be representative because different
segments of the population vote at different times during the day. Exit
polls, also called "election-day polls" and "street polls,"
are mainly a television phenomenon, with networks jockeying for first
place in the race to report election results: Royal Commission on Electoral
Reform... (1991), p. 461; Lachapelle (1991), p. 38, 63-66.
Royal Commission on Electoral Reform... (1991), p. 456; Oleh Iwanyshyn,
"Polls are Often Poor Barometer of Public Opinion," The Gazette
(Montreal), 17 May 1993; Royal Commission on Electoral Reform, "Summary
of Issues..." (1990), p. 4.
Dyck (1993), p. 222; Fox (1987), p. 314-317; Frizzell and Westell
(1985), p. 86. "A Faulty Measure," The Ottawa Citizen,
20 July 1993; "The Public's Right to Know," The Globe
and Mail (Toronto), 21 September 1993; "Newspapers Challenge
Ban on Polls," The Globe and Mail (Toronto), 16 October
1993; "The Hamburger Poll Act," The Globe and Mail (Toronto),
22 October 1993.
Lachapelle (1991), p. 15-16.
Ibid., p. 16, 69.
Ibid., p. 37-38.
Prior to 1982, determined pollsters found their way around the ban by
naming hamburgers after party leaders and then counting the number of
each kind sold: Hoy (1989), p. 221; Dyck (1993), p. 222; Royal
Commission on Electoral Reform... (1991), p. 459; Lachapelle (1991),
p. 6, 35.
The political program of the Parti Québécois in the early 1970s included
prohibiting the publication of opinion polls during the final week of
an election campaign. The party later ignored the stipulation. See Hnatyshyn
(1987), p. 313; Royal Commission on Electoral Reform... (1991), p. 459;
Lachapelle (1991), p. 40, 70-71.
The Royal Commission was established in November 1989 with a mandate to
report on the principles and process that should govern the election of
members of the House of Commons and the financing of political parties
and candidates' campaigns.
For example, the name of the polling organization, the sponsor who paid
for the poll, the dates of the interviewing period, the method of data
collection (e.g., mailed questionnaires, telephone surveys), the number
of respondents, the exact wording of the questions, the margin of error,
Among the qualifiers mentioned are: information on the population from
which the sample was drawn, the sampling method, the number of ineligible
respondents, the number of completed interviews, the refusal rate, the
response rate, and weighting factors, if any.
Royal Commission on Electoral Reform... (1991), p. 461, 464-467.
See also McCormack (1992), p. 9.
Lachapelle (1991), p. 72-84. See also Hoy (1989), p. 120.
See James Hrynyshyn, "Electoral Reform Wants Poll Reports Put in
Context," The Hill Times, 13 May 1993.
See Mollie Dunsmuir, "Bill C-114: An Act to amend the Canada Elections
Act," Legislative Summary LS-167E, Library of Parliament, 2 April
1993; Doug Fisher, "Media Angered by Reach of Poll Publishing Ban,"
The Ottawa Citizen, 17 July 1993; "Ban on Polls Cuts
One Way," The Toronto Star, 10 August 1993; "Censoring
Polls on Eve of Vote," The Toronto Star, 24 October 1993;
Stuart McCarthy, "New Rules Deterrent to Candidates," The
Ottawa Sun, 29 August 1993.
Lachapelle (1991), p. 52, 56-60. See also Hoy (1989), p. 219-220.
Lachapelle, p. 68.
Ibid., p. 50-52, 68.
Ibid., p. 55-56; Royal Commission on Electoral Reform... (1991),
"Public Opinion Samplings Costly," The Ottawa Citizen,
10 January 1992. From April 1992 to just after the October 1992 constitutional
referendum, federal departments reportedly spent $5.2 million on
polls; over half of this was spent by the Federal-Provincial Relations
Office on constitutional opinion surveys. Gord McIntosh, "Much Federal
Polling in '92 Done by Firms with Tory Ties," The Ottawa Citizen,
13 May 1993. See also Geoffrey York, "Pollsters Profit from
Unity Issue," The Globe and Mail (Toronto), 3 October
1992; Frank Howard, "Chrétien Orders New Guidelines to Govern Use
of Opinion Polls," The Ottawa Citizen, 11 January 1994.
Samuelson (1992), p. 51. See also "Worthless Polls," The
Winnipeg Free Press, 12 January 1994.
Hoy (1989), p. 7.
White et al. (1990), p. 122.
Goldfarb (1985), p. 312. See "Mulroney's Office Knows Best on
Releasing Polls, Lawyer Says," The Globe and Mail (Toronto),
13 August 1992.
According to Hoy (1989), "Most politicians who call for a ban on
public opinion polling share two characteristics: they, or their party,
either just lost an election or are behind in the polls, and they want
to retain the right to conduct their own private polls" (p. 219).
See Bozinoff (1991), p. 17.
Dyck (1993), p. 225, 258, 569. See also "Poll Secrecy Betrays
Low Opinion of Public," The Times Colonist (Victoria), 22 February
1992; Lachapelle (1991), p. 4.
See, for example, Hoy (1989), p. 228.
Dyck (1993), p. 226, 259, 268. See also "Opinion Poll Ban Crimps
Democracy," The Toronto Star, 8 March 1993; Hnatyshyn
(1987), p. 313; Goldfarb (1985), p. 316.
James Wilson, "Round Table: Public Opinion -- Myths and Realities,"
Canadian Parliamentary Review, Summer 1991, p. 19; Ross Howard,
"The Man Who Fell to Earth," The Globe and Mail (Toronto),
18 December 1993.