Demise of polling industry association leaves Calgary election polling review in limbo

Alberta pollsters are wondering what will come of a review into polling failures surrounding Calgary's civic election last year.

Marketing Research and Intelligence Association was looking at Mainstreet polls that were far off base

Mayoral incumbent Naheed Nenshi, right, defeated challenger Bill Smith by eight percentage points in Calgary's 2017 municipal election despite several polls released by Mainstreet Research showing Smith with a comfortable lead. (CBC/Canadian Press)

Alberta pollsters are wondering what will come of a review into polling discrepancies surrounding Calgary's civic election last year. 

The Marketing Research and Intelligence Association (MRIA) — the association that was conducting a review of the pollster at the centre of controversy — is shutting down.

MRIA announced that a panel of experts would "review underperforming and conflicting election polling results" that were published in the news media during Calgary's municipal election campaign last fall. 

MRIA intended to put poll results that left many Calgarians scratching their heads under the microscope.

Mainstreet Research released three polls during the campaign before the Oct. 16 election. All showed mayoral challenger Bill Smith with a comfortable lead of between nine and 17 percentage points over incumbent Naheed Nenshi.

Nenshi went on to win the election by eight points.

Another poll conducted by Asking Canadians for LRT on the Green, a pro-transit non-profit group, suggested Nenshi had a 15-point lead in popular support prior to the vote.

And an academic survey conducted in partnership with Forum Research and released, in part, prior to the vote suggested Nenshi had a 17-point lead in voter preference.

The MRIA said its inquiry would be conducted by a group of "academic experts in political science and polling standards," which would look at three things in particular:

  • The degree of inaccuracy in the Calgary election polls.
  • The reasons for the inaccuracy.
  • Whether the polling results were adequately communicated to the general public.

Anastasia Arabia, a partner with Edmonton-based Trend Research and previous president of MRIA, says she hopes the three independent experts reviewing Calgary's conflicting polling results will still be able to release their report.

"I certainly hope that they will wind the association down in a way that allows the current task that they are working on to be released to members, because certainly that's been an ongoing project for months now — and I'm also keenly interested in those results," she said.

'Big, big polling failures'

After the election, Mainstreet president Quito Maggi admitted to "big, big polling failures" and said one of the surveys had a "wonky sample."

The polls were commissioned by Postmedia, the company that owns the Calgary Sun and Calgary Herald.

Maggi promised after the vote to take full responsibility and launch his own investigation.

Mainstreet released the results of that investigation in December, saying its polling failures were caused by a "perfect storm" of factors.

They included a failure to poll in non-official languages, a tendency among Nenshi voters not to respond to the firm's polls, and — most crucially — a misgauging of youth voter turnout and their voting intentions, Mainstreet said.

One of the independent experts reviewing the polling told CBC News in an email that the panel "needs to sort out copyright and legal issues" in order to release the Calgary polling review.

MRIA has not responded to requests for comment. 


  • This story adds details about the scope of MRIA’s investigation. It details the efforts the association took to investigate polling discrepancies surrounding Calgary's civic election last year. It also adds details about the results of Mainstreet's investigation, released in December.
    Aug 01, 2018 9:02 AM MT