Forum Research Inc. of Toronto was back in the field yesterday doing another Friday night poll of Alberta voter intentions.
The questions asked by the poll, the weird way it asked them and their timing may all provide some insights into why Forum’s surveys have consistently produced better results for the Wildrose Party than other public opinion polls by other pollsters.
First of all, as you can hear from this recording of last night’s demon-dialer phone-button poll from the Toronto-based polling company, it uses a faintly creepy electronically generated voice that’s mildly off-putting, and possibly scary if you’ve been getting too much science fiction. (“Just what do you think you’re doing Dave? Dave? I really think I’m entitled to an answer to that question…”)
Actually, it sounded to me like The Voice was generated at Xtranormal.com – which tells potential users, “If you can type, you can make movies.” Apparently if you can type you can make polls too. The thing is, I kept expecting a mean joke about the Alberta Party.
My guess is there’s a simple explanation for this: Cheap as voice talent may be, a type-and-talk voice generator has got to be cheaper.
As for the timing, it’s well known that Friday night is the worst time possible to run a public opinion poll. Who’s going to bother answering oddly enunciated questions like these on a Friday night? Only the politically committed and losers with nothing better to do than record poll questions on their iPhones. (Not to name names, of course.)
This may be part of the reason why the Forum polls seem to have been boosting Wildrose support while underestimating Progressive Conservative voters compared with other polls that rely on interaction between real human beings. The last one, on Jan. 17, had the Wildrose brushing 30 per cent and the Conservatives close to a 40-year low, at 38 per cent.
That makes for a nice tight horserace story, but consider Martha and Henry, those fictitious Albertans trotted out by former premier Ralph Klein to explain things to the public. Martha and Henry don’t think about politics on Friday nights. If they’re under 50 in this province, they’re probably thinking about getting a babysitter and going out for a well-deserved drink!
Are Martha and Henry going to hang on the line listening to this tedious robotic voice drone on about politics? Not very likely! They’ll be bored, and they’ll have better things to do. So they’ll do what any sensible person would do under the circumstances: hang up.
Instead of hanging up, committed supporters of parties like the Wildrose Party are much more likely to hang in there. But we need to remember that despite the fact they’ve headed out for the bar, young Martha and Henry may think Premier Alison Redford and her reconstituted Progressive Conservatives are doing just fine.
This could be a particular problem if, as Forum seems to have been doing, you also do your polls over only one night.
Then there are Forum’s questions, about which plenty can be said:
First, if you’re going to ask voters to rate the performance of Premier Redford, Wildrose Party Leader Danielle Smith and Alberta Liberal Leader Raj Sherman, why the heck wouldn’t you ask them their thoughts on the performance of New Democratic Party Leader Brian Mason? After all, Mr. Mason’s party may well have more seats after the next election than Dr. Sherman’s or even Ms. Smith’s.
What’s more, just including the Alberta Party arguably exaggerates its support – as we may also have seen in other recent Forum polls – because the party will be lucky to find candidates in more than a couple of dozen ridings while its wistful coffee-party supporters press the phone buttons for it in plenty of communities without a candidate.
Those questions about the pipelines should make a good news hit on Monday, but what about that scary query about a pay freeze for all provincial public sector employees? Is Ms. Redford actually proposing this? Or off-loading “all provincial services possible” to volunteers or the private sector? Both these questions significantly overstate what the premier has proposed, bad as that may be.
And why conduct a roboticized poll on a Friday night? Well, I’m just speculating, but if the brain trust at Forum listened to Thursday’s Alberta budget, cobbled together a poll in a hurry and now can get it out to the newspapers before anyone else publishes a poll, that’s pretty darn good publicity for the firm’s services.
It’s not exactly free, but it’s cheaper than some of the options. If this speculation is right, look for the results of this poll to be published quickly by Forum – possibly as soon as tomorrow or Monday.
And look for it to have a higher percentage of voters shown supporting the Wildrose Party in particular than show up in other polls.
This post also appears on Rabble.ca.