Why polls still matter - even when they can't agree

The only poll that matters is election day. Really? Vassy Kapelos, host of Power & Politics My question to the Power Panelists was dismissed within seconds."Guys, what do you read into these numbers right now?" I asked.Two of the panelists rejected the premise of my question almost immediately, reminding me that "the only poll that matters" is the one that happens when Canadians cast their ballots on election day.I take their point. I think I've heard their point (in scrums, interviews and Power Panel discussions) about 300 times by now. Of course the only vote that "matters" is the one on election day (which, by the way, is exactly three months away). But these pre-election polls matter, too. And at least one (OK, only one) panelist agreed with me. "We do look at those numbers," said former New Democrat MP Françoise Boivin . "Anybody who says otherwise is kidding you."A woman enters Maple High School in Vaughan, Ont., to cast her vote in the federal election on Oct. 19, 2015. Voters go to the polls this year on Monday, Oct. 21. (Peter Power/Canadian Press)But how do they matter? There's no easy answer to that one. Polls, and how journalists report on polls, get a lot of scrutiny in the run-up to an election. I'm OK with that scrutiny; we in the media have gotten polls wrong before. And a lot of people are sick of the horse-race reporting. I get that. Still, there's value in examining a poll's description of voters' feelings at certain points in time. We know, for example, that the SNC Lavalin story had an impact on Canadians' perceptions of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the Liberals — because polls told us it did. We also know (from polls) that the impact of that controversy has faded since. Regional polling breakdowns are helpful too: we know the NDP is struggling in Quebec and we know the 905 area surrounding Toronto will be a key battleground.All of which helps us to understand why politicians choose to campaign in certain ridings, why they embrace certain policies and which demographics they're trying to target. Polls also help us understand their vulnerabilities and evaluate whether they can overcome them. But not all polls say the same thing — recent polls have shown a wide inconsistency in federal results — and interpreting them can be hard. My colleague Éric Grenier is better equipped to tackle that question, as he does a bit later in this newsletter. Parties do their own internal polling, of course, and it helps to drive a lot of decision-making during a campaign. Notice how Justin Trudeau talks about Doug Ford far more often than he mentions Andrew Scheer? There's a reason for that: internal polling shows the Liberals that it's an effective approach.So three months out from E-Day, polls tell us how Canadians are feeling about their representatives and which issues are important to them. They don't tell us for certain what's going to happen in October. As long as everyone gets that, we're good.After all, the only poll that really matters is the one on election day. (Or so I've been told.) Vassy Kapelos is host of Power & Politics , weekdays at 5 p.m. ET on CBC News Network. Power Lines The Power & Politics Power Panelists on where the big parties will be focused this week. Amanda Alvaro  president and co-founder of Pomp & Circumstance Liberals will be highlighting how the Canada Child Benefit is increasing again this week to keep up with the cost of living and help families get ahead. They'll be reminding Canadians that the Conservatives voted against the CCB — a program that has provided more money to families tax-free, and has lifted 300,000 kids out of poverty — in favour of their practice of sending cheques to millionaires. Rachel Curran senior associate at Harper & Associates Consulting Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer will be spending next week in Quebec, meeting as many Canadians as possible. He will be continuing to highlight the cost-of-living crunch that many Canadian families are facing and pointing out that Justin Trudeau is "Not as Advertised." Kathleen Monk principal at Earnscliffe Strategy Group New Democrats are in "The Six" (Toronto) this week, talking about the affordability crisis. Jagmeet Singh kicks things off with the nomination of three Brampton candidates. He'll then spend the week doing GTA media. New Democrats plan to engage as many voters as possible, arguing that if we want better results for people, we must make different choices than the ones Liberals and Conservatives have made. Poll Tracker Takeaway  Éric Grenier's weekly look at key numbers in the political public opinion polls.  If you were confused by the polls this week, nobody blames you. Nanos Research says the Liberals are ahead by six percentage points. Campaign Research gives them an edge of just one. Then there's Ipsos , which puts the Conservatives ahead by six points, and the ...Read more

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