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Professor Robert MacDermid shares last-minute insight on interpreting polls

Professor Robert MacDermid shares last-minute insight on interpreting polls

Elections Canada requires the publishers of public opinion surveys during elections to publish some facts about the methodology, so readers can gauge how reliable the poll is, wrote Global Television News online April 28:

Anyone transmitting the results of a poll has to include the name of the sponsor and the company that did the poll, which will help readers determine if the poll is objective.

Readers should also have access to the date when the poll was conducted and the size of the sample that was consulted to test reliability.

Finally, organizations have to disclose the margin of error, one of the most important pieces of information, according to Robert MacDermid, a political science professor at York University.

If a poll says Jack Layton has 20 per cent of Canadians supporting him, but there is a margin of error of +/- 3 per cent, that means the support is actually between 23 and 17 per cent, he explained.

. . .

Polls aren’t the only way to gauge progress, according to MacDermid, who uses Layton’s recent rise in Quebec as an example.

“There are all sorts of evidence that people, especially in Quebec, are considering voting for Jack,” he said. “You’d report these other things; that he is spending all his time there; that 1000 people showed up at a rally; and that other political parties are attacking him.”

And polls aren’t the only way to determine how you want to vote, MacDermid says. Voters should consider the party platforms and what the leaders say about the issues that matter to the individual voter.

MacDermid was also in the media concerning his research on Toronto Mayor Rob Ford's election fundraising drives and the upcoming sale of the City of Toronto's waterfront assets; the The Globe and Mail covered the story April 29:

Mayor Rob Ford’s administration is preparing to hang a huge for-sale sign on the city’s waterfront real estate assets and is now in the process of auctioning off the first parcel – the new Corus Entertainment building, as well as the land it sits on at the foot of Jarvis Street, just south of Queen’s Quay East.

. . .

An influential Vaughan developer, who donated generously to Mayor Rob Ford's pre- and post-election fundraising drives, controls a long-term lease on the Port Lands' Hearn Generating Station, which has been proposed as a site for an NFL stadium by the mayor's brother Doug.

Developer Mario Cortellucci, together with various relatives and individuals who listed his company's premises on their donor forms, contributed $30,000 to the mayor's campaign, about half of which was raised following the election as part of a multi-candidate effort to eliminate campaign deficits. He also secured a private meeting with Rob Ford, according to scheduling documents released under access to information laws.

The figures, based on election contribution filings, were compiled by York University political scientist Robert MacDermid [Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies].

"The important point here is that when a councillor or mayor runs a deficit and wins, every person seeking influence crowds into the subsequent fundraising events," [said MacDermid].

While Cortellucci's development companies in the past have pledged hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions to right-of-centre municipal and provincial candidates, MacDermid's analysis shows the 2010 race was his first serious foray into Toronto politics. In 2006, Cortellucci and another relative gave just $2,500 to Jane Pitfield's mayoral campaign. In 2010, he donated $4,000 and $2,000 to George Smitherman and Joe Pantalone respectively.

Posted by Elizabeth Monier-Williams, research communications officer, with files courtesy of YFile– York University’s daily e-bulletin.