I hadn’t written about this last week because I didn’t want to come across as complaining just because Ryan didn’t do well during the first online polls conducted by CTV in Saskatoon and Regina about the leadership race.
But I saw that Accidental Jurist wrote about how online polls can indicate a candidate’s support today but neglected to mention the single most significant factor about online polls.
The single most significant factor about online polls isn’t that they can indicate how quickly a candidate can mobilize support or how widely they’re supported, how strong their social media presence or which candidates are stronger in Regina vs. Saskatoon.
No, the single most significant factor in online polls is how easily they can be gamed.
In the 2009 leadership race, this was most evident during a poll on the ActUpInSaskatchewan web site which Dwain Lingenfelter ended up winning by a huge margin over all other candidates. Given the audience of the ActUpInSaskatchewan web site (probably more in line with Yens Pedersen & Ryan Meili’s worldview than Dwain’s), the approach Lingenfelter’s campaign had shown in terms of a win-at-all-costs philosophy in other aspects of the race and the way the votes for Dwain would come in spurts, it was pretty clear that this probably wasn’t a representative poll.
In any online poll, even if every vote recorded is legitimate, campaigns can still game these polls by getting supporters from outside the province (or even the country) to vote in the poll, thus distorting the results. Or one individual can vote repeatedly from multiple devices and/or locations. Or some polls will allow you to vote again after a set period of time has passed (say, once per hour) so if you’re dedicated enough, you could go back on an hourly basis and vote nearly fifty times in a one weekend period.
The other factor (and I’m not saying any campaign did this in the CTV polls) is that it’s also a relatively simple matter to have just one single individual repeatedly vote in these polls, even without waiting for a period of time to pass or using multiple devices.
If someone has the time and a bit of tech know-how, they can simply vote, clear their browsing history, vote again, rinse, repeat. If they have a slightly higher level of tech savviness, there are browser plug-ins, script hacks and probably dozens of other techniques as well which allow you to game online polls.
How do I know so much about this? When it appeared that the CTV polls were being gamed, I asked someone connected to Ryan’s campaign whether we should do something similar. And they replied (and I quote): “I think it’s better to just leave it be…this is just the first temptation of many but it’s not what Ryan’s campaign stands for.”
And you know what? They were absolutely 100% right. We don’t serve ourselves, our campaign or our party by any slight advantage it may gain us in the eyes of the viewers of the 6pm news (especially on day four of the leadership campaign) if we use these tactics. After all, it’s a short slope from being willing to game online polls to buying illegitimate memberships and other less-than-above-board tricks.
That answer reminded me of why I support Ryan and also why I love the level-headed, positive team he’s surrounded himself with (er, myself excepted. I tend to over-react to this stuff!)
The take-away? Don’t be taken by what online polls say – they’re beyond meaningless.