Mainstreet responds to allegations it coordinated polls to influence Calgary mayoral race

The polling firm that predicted Bill Smith would be elected mayor of Calgary over incumbent Naheed Nenshi published a lengthy response to criticisms of its methods.

Polling firm that predicted Smith win over Nenshi releases statement

Mainstreet Research has released a statement after predicting Bill Smith would defeat Naheed Nenshi in the Calgary's 2017 mayoral race. (CBC/Canadian Press)

The polling firm that predicted Bill Smith would be elected mayor of Calgary over incumbent Naheed Nenshi has published a lengthy response to criticisms that its methods were scientifically unsound and allegations it coordinated its polls to influence the campaign.

Mainstreet Research called a 48-31 per cent win for Smith over Nenshi — a whopping 17 percentage point gap — in early October, then lowered Smith's lead to 13 points three days before the election. On Oct. 16 Nenshi was elected with an eight-point lead. 

That's a variance of 24 percentage points, well over Mainstreet's 2.53 percentage point margin of error. 

In a statement posted to the company's blog Thursday, president Quito Maggi conceded that his firm's results were "completely and totally wrong."

Maggi wrote that he watched with "utter shock and embarrassment" as the results came in. 

He said the company will be making the following moves in the hope of ensuring their results are more accurate in future:

  • Mainstreet's head of analytics will conduct a review of the Calgary poll and research methods in general.
  • All Alberta polls will be moved to live call sampling, rather than the automated interactive voice response (IVR) polls that were used leading up to the Calgary election.
  • The company's vice-president will lead an internal technological assessment to review the systems used.

Allegations of 'push polling'

Maggi also addressed allegations that Mainstreet coordinated with its media partner, Postmedia, to influence the campaign.

"It was suggested that we coordinated polling with the Bill Smith campaign, conducted push polling, and/or worked for the Calgary Flames organization. None of that could be further from the truth," Maggi wrote.

"We sampled using the same methodology we have used to accurately predict hundreds of election outcomes across North America, including dozens of others across Alberta on Monday night and reported those numbers."

Personal attacks

Maggi also noted that personal comments he made during the campaign may have gone "too far," but suggested criticism was unfounded and based on "false information."

As concerns were raised over Mainstreet's methods in the days leading up to the election, Maggi fired back on Twitter, calling out critics as "tinfoil hat"-wearing conspiracy theorists. He was similarly bullish after the results came out, calling out "sore winners" and arguing that "all the polls were terrible, ours included."

One detractor Maggi singled out in particular was Mount Royal University political science professor Duane Bratt, who had questioned Mainstreet's methods and pointed out that the firm's results were significantly different from other polling agencies. 

Maggi challenged Bratt's credibility and Mainstreet vice-president David Valentin told 660 News the company planned on responding individually to political commentators after the vote.

Maggi did end up responding to Bratt, with an apology, but Bratt sent out a lengthy string of tweets Thursday morning letting Maggi know that his apology was not accepted. 

Bratt accused Maggi and Valentin of making the conversation personal, public bullying and intimidation. 

This isn't the first time Mainstreet has been criticized.

In early 2017, polling industry association Marketing Research and Intelligence Association (MRIA) sanctioned Mainstreet and Maggi. The association alleged Mainstreet had erred by violating its articles of basic principles, honesty, professional responsiblity and published findings, claims that Mainstreet disputes