POLITICS

New association aims to enhance quality of public opinion polls and research

06/11/2015 05:54 EDT | Updated 06/11/2016 05:59 EDT
TORONTO - A new association that demands members subscribe to a code of ethics is being set up in hopes of enhancing the quality of public opinion research in Canada, it's chairman elect announced Thursday.

The aim of the Canadian Association for Public Opinion Research is to bring greater professionalism, transparency and accountability to an industry that has seen some spectacular misses in recent years.

"This is not only a good day for the practice of public opinion (polling) in Canada but also for the media and the public," Darrell Bricker, global head of Ipsos Public Affairs and the group's chairman elect, said in a statement.

"(The association) will fill a critical void in this country."

The association will only be open to individuals, who will be subject to peer oversight and have to adhere to a code of professional ethics and practice.

"If they don't, then they can be censured or expelled," John Wright, one of the founding members of the board of directors, said in an interview.

"If you are part of this organization, then you are upholding those things which are important."

Members will have to report on the methods behind their polls with transparency — increasingly important in a new world of social media, online polling and changes in the use of phones.

Besides pollsters, the founding board announced Thursday includes political science academics, a lawyer and members of the media.

Opinion research is a multimillion-dollar industry but wildly inaccurate election polls have frequently prompted hand-wringing and questions about the methods and influence of such surveys.

For example, Wright was fiercely critical of some of the "ridiculous" polling methods and predictions that were published during the Ontario election in 2011.

He blamed both polling companies and gullible media, and fretted the problems could lead to a ban on all polls during campaigns.

"Everybody can dance around on the heads of pins claiming that they were (accurate) on the last day, but what we witnessed during this campaign was unforgivable," Wright said at the time.

"Because you put a poll out, it's given credence and it's covered. This is the beginning of an assault on democracy."

The hope is to have the new organization up and running in time for the federal election in October.

The independent association, modelled after a similar organization in the U.S., will be based out of the Laurier Institute for the Study of Public Opinion and Policy at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ont. A complaints mechanism will be baked into the structure.

Bricker said the new forum will also provide a place for discussion of best practices as well as opportunities to educate and collaborate on public opinion research and methodology.

Wright, senior vice-president of Ipsos, said the existing Marketing Research and Intelligence Association simply is not equipped to deal with polling.