British Columbia

Why were polls so wrong about the B.C. election?

The unexpected NDP defeat in the B.C. election last night has left many of the party's supporters wondering how all the pollsters could have gotten it so wrong.

Not one pollster predicted a Liberal majority

Polls were way off on B.C. election

11 years ago
Duration 2:08
Featured VideoQuestions are mounting over the usefulness of popular surveys

The unexpected NDP defeat in the B.C. election Tuesday night has left many of the party's supporters wondering how all the pollsters could have gotten it so wrong.

Not one predicted the overwhelming Liberal victory that occurred.  

"Wow, fire all the pollsters. It’s a new world out there. A real opportunity to use analytics to predict, not phones," tweeted Brent Holliday.

"Good lord. We sure called that one wrong. Baffling," wrote another tweeter, Jessica Linzey.

Mario Canseco of Angus Reid says low voter turnout and fickle younger voters are possible explanations for the inaccuracy of the polls. (CBC)

"Dear pollsters: I hate you for getting my hopes up," Rob Maguire tweeted.

B.C Premier Christy Clark, however, told reporters she wasn't as surprised as everyone else, adding she has always been skeptical of polls.

"The polls do not tell us how people are going to vote. Because voting day is the only day that they vote," she said.

"You guys get the stuff for free, and you should take it for what it's worth.… Elections are unpredictable things … I was always hopeful that we would get a majority."

Polls forecast NDP win

Angus Reid forecast in its last poll before the election that the NDP was the party of choice for 45 per cent of decided voters and leaners, with the governing Liberals in second place with 36 per cent support.

But in Tuesday's election, the Liberals won 44.4 per cent of the popular vote while the NDP ended up  with 39.5 per cent. The win gave the Liberals 50 of the province's 85 seats, five more than the party had going into the election.

A pollster with Angus Reid said voters failed to reveal their true intent prior to the election.

"We’ll be looking at B.C. as a group of residents who say they’re going to vote in some way, but then you have this difficulty, particularly when you look at younger voters who said they were going to vote NDP two to one," said Mario Canseco, vice-president of Angus Reid Public Opinion. 

Canseco said the calculations are based on a voter turnout of 57 per cent of registered voters.

But last night, Elections B.C. calculated only 52 per cent of eligible voters cast a ballot, just one per cent higher than the voter turnout in 2009.

Reasons for shift

Canseco said there was a shift in the final weeks of the campaign with voters formerly planning to vote for the Conservative Party of British Columbia being disappointed by the campaign of Conservative Leader John Cummins, and those who were really concerned about financial issues looking at the Liberals as their choice.

Another factor in why the polls were wrong was that the two main leaders, the NDP's Adrian Dix and the Liberal Party's Christy Clark, didn’t have high popularity numbers among respondents.

"One of the reasons why this is so complex, is it’s not something that happened because of a specific methodology," Canseco said.

"It’s a situation where everybody, even in internal numbers, never suggested the outcome we saw last night."

Canseco said there were no other noticeable shifts in the final days of the campaign.

Previous wrong predictions

During the Alberta election campaign in April 2012, polls predicted incorrectly that the Wildrose Alliance would win over the incumbent Progressive Conservatives, but in the end the Conservatives trounced the upstart Wildrose Alliance, proving the pollsters wrong.

Canseco said there will be some analysis not just within his firm but other pollsters of methodology and what needs to be done to get more accurate results.

But he notes, his polls have been right 34 times before.

Pollsters face backlash on social media

With files from the CBC's Petti Fong