At least once a month some financial institution or another puts out a poll on something. They typically hire a polling firm to ask a couple of questions about certain financial products, buying intentions, or whatever. Then, their PR department sends out a press release and it gets picked up by everyone from Bloomberg news to radio stations and newspapers.
Why do it? It’s free advertising (other than paying for the poll) and generally gets wide coverage. And that builds their business and gives them a great deal of mileage on building credibility. For the media outlets, it’s something they can talk about for a day or so that takes zero reporting effort because they have the press release that just needs to be copied and pasted.
But there’s a problem: Most of them are somewhere between junk or wrong and questionable at best. A few years ago it was something like: 20% of Canadians plan to buy a new home next year. Well, that one doesn’t even pass the logic test of houses for sale vs around 50 million people wanting to buy one… But it got a lot of coverage. The real figure, if someone wants to go back and a) find the poll and b)find the actual home sales that year, is probably less than a tenth of that.
In the non-financial world, here’s my best example of poll nonsense from the September federal election: 71% of Canadians are “completely certain” they will vote in the election next week. It was an Ipsos poll done for Global News between September 15th and 18th – so a week before the election. That was close enough where you’d think people would actually know., We’re not talking about a hypothetical question a year out. We’re talking about the following week!
In reality, according to Elections Canada the voter turnout rate was 62.5%! That included everything from advance polls to mail, special ballots and election day voters. Would it be fair to say some people who thought they wouldn’t vote actually did? Of course! How many? Who knows – we can only guess. But that would have been at least a few million or so. That makes the 71% “completely certain” more like 50-55 percent….
It might be worthwhile to think of a lot of these polls more as entertainment than anything you can take to the bank.