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I like to believe Mario Canseco holds a special place in his heart for this magazine. The researcher, a vice-president of Angus Reid Public Opinion, appears in many local media, but for us he’s more than just a source; he’s a contributing editor, one of a dozen folks we rely on to help us keep abreast of events. We’re not the only ones who rely on his perspective; in May, the whole province was listening to the results of his research in the run-up to the election.
Mario and I had lunch the other day, and talk turned naturally to the startling gap between his (widely shared) predictions of an NDP sweep and the final outcome. The piece pollsters missed, it turned out, was an accurate characterization of voters. In representing the province, they leaned on the wrong type of people: too little thought went into capturing the intentions of non-English speakers; the young were represented in polling samples (and happy to share voting preferences), then didn’t bother to cast votes; and in fact that abysmal voter turnout had a fatal effect on forecasts.
Canseco is no greenhorn. He’s been studying elections since he joined Reid fresh off UBC journalism school and internships with Time, Global News, and CTV. (He’d been a sports radio reporter in Mexico City before all that.) He’s covered dozens of campaigns and called almost every one of them right. I mention this because following the surprising events of May 14, the storytellers became the story: “Pollsters Got It Brutally Wrong” (Toronto Star), “Dogs Know Best What to Do With Polls” (National Post), and, my favourite, “We’re Just As Surprised As the Rest of You” (Province).
Swing and a miss aside, polling still has its place-as does Mario (that’s on page 25 of this issue, reporting on attitudes toward shy people). What the research needs to in order stay relevant, as Frances Bula points out in her election-night report, is to bear in mind the context of our culture and our times. It’s so easy for us to react instantly, to speak (and post and Tweet) without thinking, that we don’t always consider the consequences of our actions. Perhaps the real lesson of the 2013 election is not that pollsters can mispredict results but that it’s so alarmingly easy for us not even to know our own minds.