Your Insights on Why Pollsters Missed the Mark…

…Predicting the BC Provincial Election Outcome

Vancouver, BC  –  Election night is usually the night pollsters get their 5 minutes of fame, and get to showcase why polling works so well. Not this time. Why did pollsters get the results so wrong? What happened? Our two pre-election polls that Insights West conducted followed by a recent post-election poll point to a number of reasons why the polling didn’t properly predict the outcome, and why the final outcome changed the way it did.

Reason #1: A large undecided group of voters leaned Liberal.

Our two election polls completed over the course of the campaign showed that there was a large number of undecided voters at the start of the campaign (20%), which narrowed to 15% in our second poll conducted after the leader’s debate. Insights West was the only research firm that showed that the undecided vote leaned towards the Liberals in the two polls that we had released, and cautioned that this could narrow the gap considerably.

Reason #2: Christy Clark made a huge impact on debate night…

…that started the turnaround. Industry polls prior to the debate night showed a 15-20 point gap in support between the NDP and Liberals. Our post-debate poll showed a statistical tie in terms of who won the debate, while other polls showed that Christy had the edge. This was the pivotal point of the campaign that helped to sway voters that Christy Clark was a viable option, and started the narrowing of the gap.

Reason #3: A significant number of voters decided who to vote for in the final days of the campaign.

Our most recent poll shows that 11% of BC voters decided who to vote for on voting day, and another 10% decided on the day or two prior. This number jumps to 22% for Liberal voters, compared to 15% of NDP voters, who decided only a day or two prior to the election. Other than with an exit poll, it was impossible for previous polls to pick up on this late-stage opinion change.

Reason #4: Liberal voters who were considering voting NDP switched last minute.

Our overnight poll shows 17% of Liberal voters had considered voting for the NDP at some point during the election campaign. There was a large range of reasons why Liberal voters ultimately decided not to vote NDP (we tested 8 reasons). Number one was the Liberals were ultimately seen to be better for the economy (40%), followed by the Liberals ran a stronger campaign (38%), and a lack of policy statements from Adrian Dix (33%). Voters also felt they couldn’t trust Adrian Dix (33%), Christy Clark would make a better Premier (31%), and were unimpressed by Dix’s flip-flop on the oil pipelines (17%).

Reason #5: The low voter turnout.

Elections BC published that only 52% of eligible voters turned out to cast their ballot. Our two pre-election polls showed that 75% to 80% indicated they were ‘very likely’ to cast their ballot. Our poll of the BC adults who didn’t cast their vote shows that 26% would likely have voted NDP, and 32% Liberal. While this alone was not enough to change the outcome, ultimately, getting Liberal voters out to the polls was a key factor in their win. Our survey found that a shocking 37% of those who didn’t show up to the polling booth regret not casting their vote.

Final commentary & Observations:

Insight’s West view on election polling is that there are a number of factors that led up to the discrepancy between the polls and the final ballot-box tally, but the story is pretty clear: Undecided voters and Liberal voters who were considering voting NDP ultimately came out in droves to support the Liberals—whereas there simply weren’t enough NDP voters who showed up at the polling stations to counter the wave. A combination of Adrian Dix missteps and Christy Clark’s dual message ‘economy’ and ‘don’t trust Adrian Dix’ combined with her engaging, personal style ultimately swayed voters in a late wave of support.

And finally, market research and polling does a good job taking a snapshot at a point in time. In a volatile election race, voters can change their minds last minute, and this election proved the point. Standing back a bit, ultimately, Insights West believes that too much emphasis had been placed on horse-race polls. My goodness, there were overnight polls every day in the final 10 days of the campaign. Ultimately, there is a reason for the ballot box. This provincial election will go down in Canadian history as one of the most shocking meltdowns and conversely, comebacks of any provincial political party, and a reason to be skeptical of polling as a predictor in election outcomes no matter how well the polls are designed.

About Insights West:

Insights West is a progressive, Western-based, full-service marketing research company. It exists to serve the market with insights-driven research solutions and interpretive analysis through leading-edge tools, normative databases, and senior-level expertise across a broad range of public and private sector organizations. Insights West is based in Vancouver and Calgary and has eight full-time and five part-time employees.

Results are based on an online study conducted May 15 -17, 2013, among 839 residents of BC aged 18+ who are Your Insights panel members. YourInsights.ca is Insights West’s in-house access panel offering on-demand samples for both clients and research suppliers looking for Western Canadian populations. The data has been statistically weighted according to Canadian census figures for BC for age, gender, and region of BC. While statistical margins of error are arguably not applicable to online panels/online studies of this nature, we have assumed that the same margins of error apply as if it were a true unweighted random probability sample with a margin of error of +/- 3.38 percentage points, nineteen times out of twenty. Follow the link to our detailed data tabulations.