It’s called a “dead cat bounce”. It’s based on the premise that even a dead cat bounces when it slips off a 12th floor balcony and lands on the sidewalk (contrary to popular belief most sky-diving cats aren’t lucky enough to land in a rose bush).
This distressing analogy is used in business when share prices, commodity prices, or any measure of corporate performance, blips up and the reason for that blip is unsustainable—a hurricane that temporarily disables petrochemical manufacturing plants in the US Gulf Coast will cause an uptick in commodity prices because supply can’t keep up with demand, but that uptick vaporizes the minute conditions return to normal.
A wise CEO never deludes himself into thinking that the dead cat bounce is real—that poor kitty ain’t going anywhere–he looks for the real story elsewhere.
The Leger survey
Okay with the image of a dead cat firmly in mind, let’s turn to the Leger survey commissioned by the Calgary Herald* You know where this is leading, don’t you?
Leger surveyed 1,208 Albertans between Sept 11 and 17. The survey had a margin of error of plus or minus 2.8% (which means absolutely nothing to me. I took basic statistics twice and still can’t remember the difference between the mean, median and that other thing).
Here are Leger’s results for approval ratings:
- Alison Redford (PC) up from 26% to 32%
- Danielle Smith (WR) up from 39% to 41%
- Raj Sherman (Lib) up from 28% to 30%
- Brian Mason (NDP) remained steady at 30%
So what did the statistically-challenged learn from this data? That 1,208 Albertans like Ms Redford a little more than Dr Sherman and Mr Mason but a lot less than Ms Smith. Oh and kudos to Ms Redford’s PR guys, those teary eyed photo ops with flood victims paid off.
Leger continues. If an election were held tomorrow the Wildrose would capture 34% of the vote, the PCs 33% and the NDP and the Liberals each 15%. This means that either the WR or the PCs would win and the NDP and Liberals would lose.
What does all this mean? Absolutely nothing. The Herald describes the Leger poll “the first major poll” since the flood. This is utter nonsense. It’s nothing more than a pulse check, and guess what, there are at least four parties charging down the track in a horse race that isn’t even half over.
The thoughtful pollster
Instead of wasting our time with superficial surveys conducted by “for-profit” corporations who do market research for anyone from Blackberry to Walt Disney (I wonder whether Leger will remove Blackberry from its list of “prestigious clients” when BB completes its death spiral) it would be more helpful to engage a thoughtful pollster, someone like Michael Adams for example.
Mr Adams is a pollster and founder of the Environics Institute, a non-profit organization engaged in research related to public policy and social change. He also wrote Fire and Ice: The United States, Canada and the Myth of Converging Values which demonstrated, much to my relief, that contrary to popular belief Canada was not turning into the US.
Mr Adams believes that pollsters’ data, if gathered in a thoughtful and rigorous way, can “catalyse discussion and action among the engaged public” in much the same way as “persuasive prose from an accessible academic or a respected journalist.”**
Hear! Hear! Engaged Albertans aren’t interested in which politician is the most “likeable”. They want to know more about the values that guide our government. Are Albertans prepared to fight for universal healthcare or do they believe that healthcare is a privilege and those who can afford it, earned the right to jump the queue? Are Albertans prepared to risk the environment (and if so how much) in order to develop the oil sands? What is an acceptable baseline for primary, secondary and post secondary education?
To paraphrase Mr Adams, thoughtful people are not just curious about the world, they are curious about themselves. We want to know who we are as a society and what we’re becoming. Intelligent pollsters can play a vital role in helping us understand these issues. If nothing else the progressives want to know that they’re not alone!
So this is a long winded way of telling you media types that if you’re going to publish a full page analysis of poll results under the banner Inside Politics you need to do a lot better than reciting a few numbers from a pollster who in the last provincial election got the percentages right but the parties wrong, and fluffing it up with a few quotes from local political scientists who summarize the poll results by saying that despite the issues facing the government “…the Tories aren’t losing ground”.
Hand me that dead cat will you, it’s time to smack someone upside the head.
*Calgary Herald, Sept 21, 2013, A4
**The Public Intellectual In Canada, ed Nelson Wiseman, 2013