Shafted by a Poll?

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Aylward's accusation of bias doesn't hold water

October 4, 2011 – Liberal Leader Kevin Aylward has come out swinging against the latest poll by MQO Rsearch, showing that the Liberals are in trouble.

The poll shows the Tories at 54 percent, NDP at 33 and Liberals trailing at 13. According to MQO, the MQO poll was based on a sample of 464 Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, with a margin of error of +/- 4.6%. It was conducted between Wednesday, September 28 and Friday September 30, 2011. The respondents were weighted regionally to ensure proper representation of the province as a whole.

Aylward and the Liberals issued a news release yesterday, claiming that the poll has been “bought and paid for by the Tories” and must be dismissed. Here is an excerpt, direct from that release:

“It is completely irresponsible for a company that works for and donates heavily to the Tory Government to produce a poll that is based on regional bias, a focus group that has been resurveyed with data gathered online. This is not a scientific poll,” said Aylward.

The Liberal Leader noted that the company that produced this poll contributed $30,000 to the PC party and none to either the Liberals or NDP. Further, and most infuriating, is that the parent company of MQO is under contract to NALCOR for Muskrat Falls and other government agencies.

The Dunderdale Government has bought and paid for this online survey. “In my twenty years of public service I have not seen such a brazen attempt to influence the voter,” said Aylward. “Ms. Dunderdale bought this survey just like she is trying to buy the people of Newfoundland and Labrador with their own money. I am putting her on notice that this is irresponsible and unacceptable.”

That’s quite an accusation that Aylward makes. And I don’t buy it. To me, it’s like suggesting that, because the publisher of a newspaper supports a political party, then all the reporters at that paper will have to support the party as well. And that’s not likely. It would be an affront to the reporters’ integrity, and some wouldn’t stand for it – they’d quit and go public with their concerns.

For companies that specialize in public opinion research, integrity and reputation is everything. It’s pretty much all they’ve got. To suggest that a company would sell out for any one client is too much of a stretch for me.

And I’m not alone. Karen Ryan of Ryan Research & Communications expressed similar sentiment, when I contacted her.

“This poll could have been about bananas or pickup trucks,” Ryan said, in an interview. “My company, Market Quest and others are professional service companies. Our inventory walks out the door every day – all we have is our staff, our people, and our reputation. We get our work based on our reputation and the results of our staff. No credible research company is going to fudge market research data and risk their reputation on one poll or one survey, no matter who it’s for.

“I really take offence to anyone, whether it’s a political person or someone commenting online, saying that the poll was fixed,” Ryan added. “A reputable company would not do that. It’s not going to benefit the client in the short or long run… I don’t tell my clients what they want to hear, I tell them what they need to hear. You can’t sugar coat the information. It is what it is. A poll is an objective snapshot in time. Yes, those results could easily change based on any number of events. But at that point in time, that poll is a measure of how the province feels about the three parties.”

And Ryan made it clear that she is not taking a partisan stance in defending MQO. “I don’t want this to sound like an anti-Liberal stance, because I’ve done work for the PCs and the Liberals,” she said, adding that she remains neutral for all clients.

Mr. Aylward’s accusations are almost a moot point now. Another, more recent poll, conducted by Telelink for NTV, had numbers very similar to the MQO poll. And if anyone benefits from the poll’s findings, it’s the NDP – who seem poised to grab some seats on the Avalon – not the Tories.

In closing, I asked Ryan is she has ever had a client ask her to fudge numbers that weren’t going in their favour. “I’ve been doing this for 20 years, and I’ve never had a client say that. I really don’t think a client would. It’s very underhanded and, really, who’s it going to serve in the long run?”

In his news release, Aylward criticized the poll as “a focus group that has been resurveyed with data gathered online,” adding that it is “not a scientific poll.” I had questions about the online portion of the poll as well. How did the firm select online respondents, while maintaining the random sample selection process? I sent this question in writing to the company, and received this reply:

The poll was conducted through iView Atlantic, a proprietary research panel developed by MQO Research. This panel consists of over 12,000 Atlantic Canadians who have agreed to provide their opinions on Atlantic, provincial and local topics that matter to them. To ensure the representativeness of all Atlantic Canadians, iView Atlantic also includes a component of phone-based membership to reflect those Atlantic households who still spend limited time in an online environment. iView Atlantic is unique from other opt-in online panels in that panellists are recruited randomly by telephone, and indicate their preferred method of contact (either by phone or online). This means that individuals without Internet access are recruited and can participate in our panel surveys therefore enabling coverage of the entire population. iView Atlantic is a probability-based panel, meaning that every member of the population has an equal chance of being selected for participation.

As well, a statement was issued last week by Carolyn O’Keefe, President of MQO Research. Here is that statement, in its entirety:

MQO Research welcomes the opportunity to respond to comments made by the Liberal Party of Newfoundland and Labrador concerning its recent election polling.

MQO Research is a leading research firm, one of the largest on Canada's east coast. We are very proud of our work and of the 150 people who work in our research company. While we have offices in Halifax, Moncton, Richibucto and St. John's, the majority of our professionals are located right in St. John's, NL.

MQO Research is an accredited Gold Seal member of the only national research organization, Marketing Research and Intelligence Association (MRIA). Every piece of research carried out by the firm meets and exceeds the Code of Conduct and Good Practice put in place by MRIA. The same is true of the recent election polling done in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Being a large force in the Atlantic region, we feel responsible to share important information on major public issues with Atlantic Canadians. That's why we have released election polling information in Newfoundland and Labrador; furthermore, it's why we issued the results of polling on the PEI election just last week. That poll clearly showed the Liberal Party of Prince Edward Island in the forefront.

It's unfortunate that the Liberal Party of Newfoundland and Labrador has taken the position that it has. MQO Research speaks with great confidence in the results of its recent polls, and of the independence with which they have been carried out.

Let me assure the people of the province that MQO Research has carried out this polling independently. The research has not been paid for by any other organization.

MQO Research, formed in 1987, works with many blue chip clients in the region and across the country. We are proud of our work and look forward to sharing our intelligence with clients and the people of this region for years to come.

Sincerely,

Carolyn O'Keefe, President

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Recent comments

  • Shannon Reardon
    October 06, 2011 - 01:53

    The Navigant example IS a tad different. It was a review of a project that the client (NALCOR) has a vested interest in, to say the least. MQO conducted polls involving respondents with varied interests. Questions being raised about both are kosher, but the former example demands the scrutiny far more than the latter does, and this damnation certainly does not help the Liberals' cause here.

  • Suzanne Norman
    October 05, 2011 - 16:19

    Polls should be conducted using a methodology that uses a random sample drawn from the entire affected population. Why are polls that are based on a panel of people who have agreed to be polled on any given occasion being given the credence that they are in the media? And the panel itself - is the same panel used to draw the each polling sample from? Is there a new panel used each time? Is the panel ever refreshed? I don't really care who is leading where, but it bothers me that those polls are given any serious coverage. They may be accurate, but if they are it is more to do with chance than anything else, because they are not scientific. Unless I have missed something.

  • newsey batch
    October 04, 2011 - 11:02

    I agree, Aylward is way out on a limb with this approach he has of attacking the messenger. First he attacked the consulting firm Navagant who produced an analysis of the Muskrat Falls project by saying since the review was paid for by NALCOR the consultant simply said what NALCOR wanted them to say. Now we have him slandering the reputation of a polling firm as well by saying they faked the numbers to please the PC party. I'm surprised neither of these companies, both of whom live or die by their reputations, have hauled Mr. Aylward into court for slander and defamation.

    • Suzanne Norman
      October 05, 2011 - 15:52

      Polls should be conducted using a methodology that uses a random sample drawn from the entire affected population. Why are polls that are based on a panel of people who have agreed to be polled on any given occasion being given the credence that they are in the media? And the panel itself - is the same panel used to draw the each polling sample from? Is there a new panel used each time? Is the panel ever refreshed? I don't really care who is leading where, but it bothers me that those polls are given any serious coverage. They may be accurate, but if they are it is more to do with chance than anything else, because they are not scientific. Unless I have missed something.