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Public opinion research standards body to announce details of inquiry into Calgary election poll results

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, apparently as puzzled by the results of some polls last fall as many other Calgarians were. (Photo: David Climenhaga)

The Marketing Research and Intelligence Association will announce this week the details of its promised independent inquiry into the problems with polling results in the Oct. 16, 2017, municipal elections in Calgary.

"We are going ahead with the review," Kara Mitchelmore, chief executive officer of the national standards body for public opinion research, said late last week. "We are in the process of finalizing the review panel's membership, mandate and scope of work."

On Oct. 27, MRIA issued a press release saying it would launch the inquiry "into underperforming and conflicting election polling results published during the recent municipal elections in Calgary."

"We call on the pollsters involved to submit their data and methods," MRIA said -- an important request since Mainstreet Research, the polling company responsible for polls commissioned by Postmedia's Calgary newspapers that predicted Conservative candidate Bill Smith would win by big margins over incumbent Mayor Naheed Nenshi, is not a MRIA member.

On Oct. 7, Mainstreet said Smith had a massive 17-percentage-point lead.

On Oct. 13, another Mainstreet poll said Smith was still leading the progressively minded Nenshi by 13 percentage points.

On election day, of course, Nenshi won with a lead of eight percentage points.

Mainstreet President Quito Maggi immediately took to social media to describe his "utter shock and embarrassment" as the results came in, and to admit the company's results were "completely and totally wrong."

Mitchelmore confirmed last week the MRIA panel "will look at all research companies that publicly released polls over the course of the Calgary elections."

And Maggi said he and his company "intend to co-operate with and participate in the MRIA review."

However, Maggi called on MRIA to request data from all polls done during the campaign, not just those that were publicly released.

"Claims are being made online, as recently as yesterday, that there were accurate polls available to some," Maggi said in an email. "Surely, at this point months after the campaign it would serve everyone's interests, including the MRIA, to look at all polls and determine what frame design, methodologies or scripting worked to accurately capture voter intentions in Calgary. The MRIA's mandate is to serve the best interests of public opinion research and as such it should not limit the review to just publicly released research."

This, of course, may be easier to call for than to be made to happen since the nature of private research is that it's private.

In his email, Maggi also said that "contrary to what MRIA has publicly stated, they have not directly or indirectly communicated with us to date about their review, and noted that his company "is a member of the World Association of Public Opinion Research and follows standards that meet or exceed Canadian standards."

Reaction to the Mainstreet polls was highly critical, before Oct. 16 and after.

"We have great confidence in our internal numbers," said Chima Nkemdirim, chair of Nenshi's reelection campaign, immediately after the Oct. 7 poll was released. "We'll leave it up to the media to question the validity of the polls. We strongly believe that Calgarians will vote to move forward ... not backward."

Mount Royal University political science professor Duane Bratt was very sharp in his criticisms of Mainstreet -- prompting what sounded very much like a threat of a lawsuit from another company official. However, Maggi later apologized to Bratt.

In its Oct. 19 report, the CBC said there had been "allegations that Mainstreet co-ordinated with its media partner, Postmedia, to influence the campaign" in favour of Smith, a former president of the Alberta Progressive Conservative Party.

Maggi responded to the CBC: "It was suggested that we coordinated polling with the Bill Smith campaign, conducted push polling, and/or worked for the Calgary Flames organization. None of that could be further from the truth."

MRIA said in its October news release that its main concern is the results of various polls had "shaken confidence in our industry."

"It is the reality of our industry that bad election polls or the undisciplined conduct of pollsters can tarnish the industry's credibility and call into question the reliability of all survey research," the news release said.

Last week, a Mainstreet poll of Alberta voters' intentions was reported to indicate Jason Kenney's United Conservative Party has a huge lead over Premier Rachel Notley's NDP. "They also lead among every single demographic that's out there," Mainstreet Vice-President Joseph Angolano told media.

That poll also showed very strong results for both the Alberta Party and the Alberta Liberals, plus a high percentage of decided voters, which, if true, would signal additional difficulties for the NDP.

However, while other recent private polling has shown similar levels of support for the two major parties province-wide, it indicates far higher levels of undecided voters, continued strong support for the NDP among young voters, women and in Edmonton, and the Liberals and Alberta Party barely on the radar.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca

Photo: David Climenhaga

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