Political Perspectives is produced by the students and faculty of Carleton University's School of Journalism and Communication, Canada's oldest journalism school.


When the poll fits the story….

Posted by padams under All, Media Commentary

Paul Adams

We’ve all done it, but that doesn’t make it right…Cherry pick the facts, that is, to make them fit a smooth journalistic narrative.

Talking of the NDP, this morning, an article in the Globe and Mail comments that, the party has “slipped to 12 per cent in the polls, according to one recent opinion survey…”

Well that doesn’t even make sense. Slipped in the polls, plural, according to one survey?

Many reporters are having trouble understanding the exact motivation for the NDP’s lack of enthusiasm for an election, so they have seized on one poll, that produced by Ipsos Reid this week, which shows the NDP at just 12%, a whopping one-third below their support in the last election.

However, every other recent poll  — and there have been lots of them — put the NDP in the 15-17% range, only slightly below their 2008 performance.

Of course, Ipsos may be right. Generally speaking, the consensus of polls is a more reliable indicator of what is happening in the real world than one outlier, though it is undoubtedly true that occasionally outliers prove to be more accurate than the consensus.

What we can say for sure, however, is that one poll can’t be many, just for the sake of bolstering a journalistic narrative.

A good rule of thumb: if your sentence doesn’t make literal sense, give it a re-think.

Paul Adams teaches journalism at Carleton and is executive director of EKOS Research Associates, a polling firm.