The head of Mainstreet Research has denied reports that he is considering legal action against pollster Brian Singh, on the same day the company released the results of a review looking into what he called a “catastrophic polling failure” in the Calgary municipal election.
“We are in no way seeking legal action against Mr. Singh,” Mainstreet Research president and CEO Quito Maggi said in a statement Monday. “The letter our lawyer sent weeks ago made that clear and has now been rescinded.”
Singh is the managing director of Calgary-based Zinc Tank market research.
Maggi confirmed in a tweet that the company’s lawyer had sent a letter asking for a retraction of comments made by Singh “suggesting we rigged the polls,” but again, said the letter was rescinded.
Singh responded in a tweet of his own that he had not received formal confirmation the letter had been rescinded.
In another tweet, he asked if Calgary media “should cover Mainstreet’s poll of the upcoming Calgary-Lougheed byelection.”
Maggi said he has apologized “unreservedly” to Singh and added the polling error in Calgary was “my mistake and mine alone.”
Mainstreet Research predicted a 13-point lead for Bill Smith amongst “decided and leaning voters” in the lead-up to the Oct. 16 election. In fact, Nenshi was re-elected with a 7.6-point lead over his top competitor.
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Maggi said Monday in a statement on his website that a “perfect storm of factors” led to the polling failure in the Calgary election.
“Putting it lightly, we blew it,” he told 770 CHQR’s Gord Gillies.
But, one political analyst wasn’t satisfied with Maggi’s explanation of what went wrong.
“This strikes me as posturing to try to save face after a credibility disaster and I don’t think it actually helps salvage much,” said University of Calgary professor Melanee Thomas.
LISTEN: Mainstreet Research president and CEO Quito Maggi discusses the results of an internal review into the polling failure in the Calgary election
“That ratio is double what the national average is and close to double the provincial average in Alberta,” he explained.
“If there’s even a slight interest in turnout and in the voting patterns of youth, it can have a huge effect – a much bigger effect – on poll results.”
Maggi said his polling firm “had trouble reaching people under 35” but that there was also a response bias among voters that did respond. He said 30 per cent of voters who answered the poll prior to the election revealed afterward they had changed their vote.
Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi also questioned that explanation Monday.
“There seem to be some assertions that people who vote for Nenshi won’t answer polls,” he said. “Well, doesn’t that mean the poll is wrong? Because isn’t the whole point of polling to get a random sample.”
Thomas suggested Monday that in addition to creating a “credibility disaster” for Mainstreet Research, the polling failure may have also “messed with the democratic process.”
“What’s interesting is how the election tone and the campaign tone and coverage were set. For people who were trying to decide, during the election campaign, who they wanted to vote for, this would have weighed heavily in some of their calculations – and that’s the problem.”
Maggi reiterated that he believed another factor was Mainstreet Research’s failure to poll in multiple languages. He pointed to Statistics Canada data released after the election that found about 90,000 new first-generation immigrants had come to Calgary between 2011 and 2016.
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“We knew that number had increased, but not quite so dramatically,” he admitted.
Maggi suggested the final factor contributing to the polling failure was the frame redesign.
“After the first poll, we changed the way we were polling – instead of polling city-wide, we did the 14 wards individually – and that was an attempt to make it better,” he said. “Instead, it just made it worse.”
Bill Smith suggested the greater frustration – more so than the incorrect polling data – was problems with the actual election process.
“We were frustrated, as I’m sure the other campaigns were, with the way the city actually carried out their election process – because they had no ballots,” Smith said. “So to me, that is a much bigger issue.”
But Andre Chabot said the polling was a problem not just for candidates, but for Calgarians.
“Polls, if you look at crowd mentality, can lead people to support one candidate or another. In hindsight though, ultimately, who was the winner or the loser out of all of this; I think Calgarians were the loser.”
Maggi said Mainstreet Research has already implemented recommendations from the report but that he expects the firm will have to win back Calgarians’ trust.