Media

Polls, Strategic Voting, and Media Meddling

By Ben Bull
Published October 21, 2010

I don't like polls. Here in Toronto, the local paper is using the latest numbers to tell us how to vote:

In these dying days of the hotly contested Toronto mayoral race, Joe Pantalone has become an increasingly lonely guy.

He placed a distant third behind Rob Ford and George Smitherman in three new polls this week, many of his one-time campaign supporters are deserting him, calls for him to quit the race are increasing, and his campaign events are lacklustre.

In short, his campaign has run out of steam...

The polls show he has no momentum. After six months of non-stop campaigning, this decent man who truly loves Toronto has failed to budge the numbers at all.

But unlike Rocco Rossi, Sarah Thomson and Giorgio Mammoliti who saw the light and withdrew from the race, Pantalone keeps plugging away, insisting he's there until the bitter end because he is fighting the "good fight" on behalf of the progressive movement in Toronto.

Polls don't help us decide who to vote for. At least, they shouldn't. So how do polls help us exactly? In the case of Joe Pantalone, it's clear that they don't help at all.

I think it's time we banned the publication of poll numbers. After all, how can a race be over before it's finished? A campaign isn't like a marathon or a sprint. Stragglers can make up a lot of distance in a short space of time - just ask Fred Eisenburger.

Another thing I dislike is strategic voting. Here, again, the Star takes a stand: "Pantalone soldiers on." Continues the article.

It's a sad ending to a respected political career because Pantalone, once it was obvious that he wouldn't win, could have been a kingmaker.

Now he may be a spoiler.

Pollsters have found that much of Pantalone's support is soft. Some 63 per cent of Pantalone's supporters who indicated they might change their minds before voting day say they would switch to Smitherman.

And Smitherman needs a lot of Pantalone supporters to come his way if he is to defeat Ford, whose poll numbers may have peaked but remain strong.

Nudge nudge, hint hint...

Thanks, Toronto Star. If we stick with the race analogy, your article is akin to hauling your boy over the finish line. (Of course, if you did that in a real race you'd get disqualified.)

Scrap the campaign... What a noble idea.

Joe's not going to do that, of course. Pantalone has run a well-organized and honest campaign. Many Torontonians have already voted for the man and many more want to show their support on Monday. What does an abandoned campaign say to those supporters?

I am one of those supporters. Contributing to our democracy is important to me. I'm a landed immigrant so I don't get to vote, but unlike many people who can vote I take the time to get to know the candidates and their issues so that I can be informed when talking to people about the campaign.

Volunteering and being informed are the only tangible ways I have of contributing to Canada's democracy. What am I or anyone else supposed to make of this country if my efforts, and those of the hundreds of other volunteers and voters, is literally thrown away?

Our democracy should not be circumvented to keep the bad guys out. It should enable us to channel our support.

Star columnists, and all other media outlets, should stop their meddling. On Monday let the votes be cast and let the chips fall where they may.

And may the best candidate win.

Ben Bull lives in downtown Toronto. He's been working on a book of short stories for about 10 years now and hopes to be finished tomorrow. He also has a movie blog.

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By allantaylor97 (registered) | Posted October 21, 2010 at 18:55:27

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By JMorse (registered) | Posted October 21, 2010 at 20:03:07

turbo, your comment makes no sense. Is it necessary to attempt a contradictory comment, even if you have nothing to say? Go figure? Go figure what!??!

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By allantaylor97 (registered) | Posted October 21, 2010 at 20:10:19

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Comment edited by turbo on 2010-10-21 19:11:48

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By z jones (registered) | Posted October 21, 2010 at 21:41:22

Is it necessary to attempt a contradictory comment, even if you have nothing to say?

It is when you're a troll.

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By allantaylor97 (registered) | Posted October 21, 2010 at 23:12:01

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Comment edited by turbo on 2010-10-21 22:39:02

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By frank (registered) | Posted October 22, 2010 at 08:48:53

turbo, I defy YOU to come up with a shred of evidence that your statement is true! You're the one who made it. Oh and btw your "belief" doesn't count as evidence. I've always disliked polls and if I were supporting someone who was ahead in the polls, I'd suggest for that person to work harder. Polls are subjective and they're generally conducted on a specific audience. If you were to poll diehard CHML listeners, you'd probably find that Bob Bratina is way ahead in the polls, if you were to poll spec readers you might find a mixture of support for say Di Ianni and Eisenberger and if you were to poll RTH you'd probably find that Eisenberger would be way ahead in the polls. It all depends on who you're polling and therefore polls should be taken with a grain of salt.

Comment edited by frank on 2010-10-22 07:49:50

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By allantaylor97 (registered) | Posted October 22, 2010 at 09:44:47

Sorry but that is my belief based on many years of personal experience. You can't disprove what I know to be true. I agree polls should be taken with a grain of salt but losers simply dismiss them out of hand at their own peril. One thing is for sure is that the Spectator poll would be the most unbiased of the 3. Even then if you know how the poll is done you can figure out useful information. To suggest a ban on polls is foolish. I use them a lot in strategic voting. Often times my choice trails very far behind and I either stick with my principals or vote for someone who has a chance to win that will best serve my interests. Voting for 6th place finisher with 8% of the vote might only serve to help the person I oppose the most. I know that in this election that is very true. I would vote for anyone but the top 3 if there was a viable candidate. There isn't. Not only do the lesser knowns not have any council experience which automatically disqualifies them IMO but none have generated a populist movement that gives them a chance. This really shows up in the polls here in town. So thanks to the polls I know that for my vote to count I'll have to decide between the big 3 because if I fail to do so I may very well be voting for a candidate I don't want by not registering a vote with one that I don't want a little less. This election the polls are critical. I have 2 choices and I would really like to know which one has a better shot to unseat the candidate I don't want to win by default under any circumstances

Comment edited by turbo on 2010-10-22 08:57:13

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted October 22, 2010 at 09:52:22

I defy anyone to dispute my belief using some kind of evidence.

Translation: "I am allowed to make statements based on observation of my experiences and treat them as fact, but I won't accept anyone else's experience-based rebuttal unless it's backed up by peer-reviewed scientific evidence"

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By allantaylor97 (registered) | Posted October 22, 2010 at 09:58:20

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted October 22, 2010 at 09:58:47

Strategic voting is mathematically necessary in a first-past-the-post system. If you want to eliminate it, you have to fix the voting system, not the polling.

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By allantaylor97 (registered) | Posted October 22, 2010 at 10:00:16

Very true Pxtl. Thats actually my point

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted October 22, 2010 at 10:12:52

No, your point is to crap all over the people who are on the wrong of the gun when it comes to strategic voting. Your first post in this thread was an insult, not information.

Comment edited by Pxtl on 2010-10-22 09:13:47

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By allantaylor97 (registered) | Posted October 22, 2010 at 10:24:01

Funny how you can agree with what I say and down vote it. Even funnier is how I can agree with what you say and you down vote that too. Hilarious. You guys really need to be more open if you want to have honest discussions and not just some fringe minority rah rah sessions that don't help your cause. You need to engage the viewpoints you oppose rather than mock and dismiss them

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By synxer (registered) | Posted October 22, 2010 at 10:30:44

I think polls game human intellect. No one wants to be stupid, so often people may view the results and vote based on the majority.

Poll options are also almost always aimed at enticing an emotional response over an educated one.

For example,

What type of transit system should Hamilton build?

a) A LRT system which will cost taxpayers 3x the cost of BRT

b) A BRT system using state-of-the-art hybrid models

For the uninformed reader, this is an easy choice. For the informed reader, it's a massacre of misinformation. The uninformed reader will chose what looks intelligent and so will everyone else.

Instead, perhaps a column-stack of the candidates, like this: http://synxer.com/poll-from-the-future.p...

Comment edited by synxer on 2010-10-22 09:31:16

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By joejoe (anonymous) | Posted October 22, 2010 at 10:49:00

"Strategic voting is mathematically necessary in a first-past-the-post system. If you want to eliminate it, you have to fix the voting system, not the polling."

Which was the very point I made in the blog :) (don't fix a leaky pipe with a blob of glue...).

I think the reasons why people are swayed by polls and why they vote strategically are easy to understand. The fundamental problems are, 1. The current electoral system and 2. The media's interference.

Banning the publication of poll results is one way to help with #2. Tweaking our electoral system would help with #1. Easier said than done. In the meantime I wish that folks would try and ignore published polls (hard to do I know) and vote for who they want to vote for. Otherwise the results will always be scewed.

And PS, pls stop engaging the troll! Just because he, or she, keeps dropping snippits of seemingly sensible data into the conversation, doesn't mean they aren't just trolling for attention. Turbo is a troll - leave him alone!

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By bobinnes (registered) - website | Posted October 22, 2010 at 11:11:56

Turbo, you are half right but you are forgetting about the other half - people can actually divorce their thoughts about polls from their candidate bias. The real problem is the media which always prefers developer's money therefore always supports incumbents who vote developments into being. Think of all those huge adverts for new housing. The Spec would die without it.

Therefore they manipulate coverage and slur 'fringe' candidates with their vomit logic. Future academics and historians will trace this out as the main reason Hamilton is as it is. Polls are just one way to manipulate unthinking minds - perhaps the best.

The problem with voting strategically is that the political class can never understand what people actually want if they do not vote their conscience. So I'm forever done with strategic voting AND reading the Spec/ watching CHCH. RTH, CATCH & Hamiltonian is all I need.
Please folks, vote your conscience.

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By allantaylor97 (registered) | Posted October 22, 2010 at 11:14:46

I am not a troll. You can get off that hobby horse. I am trying to get meaningful discussion going. Its actually working. Other than your personal attack the last few posts were more open and honest rather than just a cheerleading section

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted October 22, 2010 at 11:16:17

@joejoe

Saying they should ignore polls is telling people to vote against their own best-interests. It's not a psychological problem, but a mathematical one - if my support for Z is less than my rage if X wins the election, then I'm voting against my own best interests if I support Z when Y stands a better chance of defeating X.

Look at the Toronto election where this is a far bigger issue (Hamilton's 3-dog race is a dead heat, so no strategic voting there) : you're really telling me Pantalone supporters who are terrified at the idea of a Rob Ford mayoralty should vote for Pantalone? Their vote will have exactly as much impact on preventing Rob Ford from taking his seat as if they'd stayed home, where a Smitherman vote could have a real impact.

Yes, it sucks for the 3rd man, but ignoring the math means sacrificing your agenda.

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By allantaylor97 (registered) | Posted October 22, 2010 at 11:21:48

@bobinnes The spec may able to create a bias but so too can RTH. Its a fundamental way that communications work. The main problem the candidates other than the top 3 have is that they have no record to illustrate their competency if they were given equal time. The other problem they have is that people know who the incumbents are. Even in a ward like Ward 2 the candidates that are going to garner the most votes are those with name recognition. Matt Jelly Jason Farr Marv Caplan and Ian Deans are recognizable names and they will all probably get more votes than they warrant on merit when compared to the lesser known candidates. This doesn't guarantee success but it sure helps and the Spectator or RTH have very little to do with it

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By allantaylor97 (registered) | Posted October 22, 2010 at 11:25:38

I'd say strategic voting is going to take place in Hamilton because of the extreme views held for every one on the top 3. In fact the Bratina lead will likely cause quite a shift away from both DiAnni and Eisenberger as both men are not only not the choice of many but the anybody but choice of many. Your Toronto analysis is spot on

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By Kevin B (anonymous) | Posted October 22, 2010 at 12:03:22

A good point Turbo, although Bratina's lead could well be a statistical error.

I think strategic voting has its place but it shouldn't in this election. You have a very tight 3-way race and any slight shift in support could make the difference. Dreschel's analysis today was spot on. Who does Bratina steal more votes from? Does the incumbent benefit from a 3 way race? Does the similarity in Bob and Fred's ideology give an advantage to the more right-leaning Larry?

I don't know. No one does. Interesting election.

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By bobinnes (registered) - website | Posted October 22, 2010 at 14:46:22

Well Turbo, the reason that i (and many) like blogs is that commenters quickly undo any bias that exists, which helps my overloaded brain cells, compared with having to extract the truth from the Spec. If i must, I do find it helps to restrict my reading of that or any rag to copies older than a year. Six months aging is not long enough. Business section excepted.

I reject your contention on the record issue. The only competency that might be important is herding cats! My yappy border collie comes to mind. From a mayor one wants direction, from councilors, one wants un-moneyed honesty above all (abolish contributions). Competency resides in the high priced bureaucracy, not politicians. Unfortunately for democracy, only crisis seems to be able to overcome petty bickering and skimming. For this reason I've become a proponent of Athenian Democracy, which rests on random selection, limited terms and direct voting.

You may be right about the familiarity angle, which is mere herdism but I keep hoping that the internet and blogosphere will permit folks to leap outside the narrow bounds of money politics that so restrains our adaptation to the future.

Cheers -- time to get back to the (Ward 4) campaign trail. Don't forget to scrutinize your trustee candidates -- they will be spending fully half your taxes but there is so little discussion!

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By allantaylor97 (registered) | Posted October 22, 2010 at 14:58:04

And I see blogs as mostly misinformation and extremism based on falsehoods. Truthfully I'd rather read several mainstream newspapers and listen to the likes of CHML and CHTV to have as broad a range of reporting that I can figure out where the truth really is. I'll read Coleman and McGreal too. They attempt to be professional and I don't consider their reports like the vast majority of blogs. The key is to get out there and gather up as much credible information you can and know enough to weigh each source according to their particular bias. Everyone has a bias and nobody is always right. I am a fiscal conservative and find this site informative in spite of the reaction I get when I post views that are contrary to everything this site believes in. Its important to know how the other side feels and to shut out or shout down opposing views is undemocratic and really not very constructive. Active debate between opposing views is good for everyone.

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By tonybaloney (anonymous) | Posted October 24, 2010 at 22:54:08

Joe pantalone has about as much to offer toronto as tony maroney has to offer hammertown.

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By Cityjoe (anonymous) | Posted October 30, 2010 at 09:34:40

Wrong tonybaloney!
While the Provincial & Federal Tories & Liberals were having canniptions about would RULE Toronto. Joe P. was the only candidate who was not blatantly affiliated with either party.

I think we all remember how Hamilton felt about interference from both the big parties, on the Provincial & Federal levels about the Pan Am Stadium. We didn't like it at all!

In the best possible world, local politics should stay local & deal with local issues with autonomy. I don't know how long this will continue, & I doubt that in most places it is reality anymore. I think that Joe Pants might have been the last Inde. candidate in Toronto, & that's Too Bad!

Toronto might 'get more' by wearing a political sign, but it also might loose more if it's wearing the wrong one. Now it has a mayor who is seen as 'Conservative', but if Harper does not win the next fed. election then what?

I also doubt that Ford fits with Harper's bunch very well. He's far too 'out there', & not in the same way that they are 'out there'. They are not going to try to groom him for Prov. or Fed. politics. The man is 'ungroomable'. :D

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