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B.C. NDP Leader Adrian Dix addresses supporters after conceding defeat in the provincial election, in Vancouver, May 14, 2013. (DARRYL DYCK/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
B.C. NDP Leader Adrian Dix addresses supporters after conceding defeat in the provincial election, in Vancouver, May 14, 2013. (DARRYL DYCK/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

How did pollsters get it so wrong in B.C.? One says NDP failed to get vote out Add to ...

The NDP weren’t the only heavy losers in Tuesday’s stunning comeback victory by the governing B.C. Liberals.

Mainstream pollsters also wound up with egg on their face. Not a single one gave an inkling the NDP would squander the solid lead they enjoyed in the polls right up to voting day.

On the eve of the election, Angus Reid had the New Democrats ahead by nine percentage points. Instead, the party finished five points behind the Liberals, an astonishing swing of 14 points.

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Still “completely flabbergasted” by the results several hours after the polls closed, Mario Canseco, vice-president of Angus Reid Public Opinion, said a major factor may have been the NDP’s failure to motivate young British Columbians, their strongest supporters, to vote.

Polls gave the NDP a two-to-one lead over the Liberals among voters 18 to 34 years of age, Mr. Canseco said.

“If that young vote decides not to show up, you’re kissing goodbye to a third of your base, and that’s exactly what happened,” he said, noting that the overall turnout was “abysmal” (52 per cent). “When you have a party at 45 per cent, and they end up with 39, that means there was a difficulty getting their voters out.”

Polls are based on stated preferences of the general population, not those who actually show up to vote, Mr. Canseco said. “The electorate did not resemble the electorate we were polling.”

The Liberals polled much better among voters 55 years of age and over, he pointed out. That group had a much higher turnout, and was susceptible to the Liberals’ focus on the economy and jobs, Mr. Canseco said.

He said the B.C. results, which closely resembled what happened last year in Alberta when the Conservatives were re-elected by a wide margin despite polls predicting a victory for the Wildrose Party, will likely force Angus Reid to re-examine the way it calculates pre-election voter preferences.

“I’m not saying people didn’t tell us what they were hoping to do,” Mr. Canseco said. “But there’s got to be some way to factor in the electorate that is actually going to show up to vote.”

There was nothing in all the trends they tracked since Ms. Clark was elected Liberal leader more than two years ago that suggested Tuesday night’s result was possible, he said. “So obviously, there was something we didn’t do properly. Clearly, the voting intention trends we were tracking were off.”

Consistent through all their polling was the desire for a change in government, but when many voters got into the polling booth, their desire softened, Mr. Canseco speculated. “It was simple for people to say they wanted change, but ultimately, the change they saw was not particularly palatable.”

The best way to determine what went wrong is to go back and interview people, and try to understand why the opinions they offered to Angus pollsters was so different from the final result, he said.

Follow on Twitter: @rodmickleburgh

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