Calgary election polling failures to be investigated by industry group

The conflicting and inaccurate polls released prior to Calgary's municipal election are going to be investigated by a polling industry association.

Marketing Research and Intelligence Association wants to look at all polls released publicly prior to vote

Mayoral incumbent Naheed Nenshi, left, went on to defeat 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. (Justin Pennell/CBC)

The conflicting and inaccurate polls released prior to Calgary's municipal election are going to be investigated by a polling industry group.

The Marketing Research and Intelligence Association (MRIA) says it plans to conduct an independent inquiry into what went wrong with publicly released poll results that left many Calgarians scratching their heads and one polling company apologizing after the election.

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 says its inquiry will be conducted by a group of "academic experts in political science and polling standards" who will 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.

"The Calgary election was very odd in a number of areas," association CEO Kara Mitchelmore said.

"We, as the standards-setter … felt it was imperative that we get involved and do an inquiry to figure out what went on in the Calgary election and how we can learn from that so that, as we move forward, those same mistakes aren't made."

She said the inquiry will aim to look at every publicly available poll that was done during the election campaign.

The MRIA is calling on pollsters involved in the election to submit their data and methods to the inquiry.

Mainstreet not an MRIA member

A year before the Calgary election, Mainstreet was involved in a dispute with the MRIA that led the two groups to part ways.

The MRIA sanctioned Mainstreet over public comments it made about another polling firm and announced it was suspending Mainstreet's membership in the association.

But Mainstreet says it purposely let its membership lapse in November 2016.

Mainstreet and the MRIA are now engaged in a legal battle in civil court.

Nevertheless, Mitchelmore said Mainstreet will be asked to participate in the inquiry, as will Forum Research and Asking Canadians.

"We're not out looking for any one particular firm," she said. "We want to have a full look at what happened in the Calgary election."

Mainstreet announced shortly after the election it would be conducting its own investigation into its polling methodology and results.

What is the MRIA, exactly?

The MRIA is a voluntary, self-regulatory body that represents the market and survey research industry in Canada.

It counts about 1,200 people and 150 corporations among its membership, including research agencies and purchasers of research services.

The MRIA says more information about the full scope, mandate and makeup of the inquiry will be released as the process goes on.