Turning inner space into outer space

October 26, 2011

Even unscientific polls can influence an election

The Daily News poll on the race for mayor showed a sudden surge of voting Tuesday afternoon, leading incumbent Peter Milobar to ask us, via Twitter, whether our website is secure. No doubt he was a little concerned that the surge put his main rival, Dieter Dudy, withing striking distance.

I can’t answer the question of whether someone cheated, but this is not the first time we’ve experienced a voting surge. When we asked what people thought about evolution, the answers were at first fairly evenly distributed.

Then noted science blogger PZ Myers got wind of it, and suggested to his readers that they might want to participate. Suddenly, there was overwhelming support for the proposition that evolution is scientific fact.

Simon Owens has an in-depth look at the practice of poll crashing, and got comments from Myers and others. Myers says he does it with a clear conscience because his intention is to show the absurdity of unscientific polls.

I’m not sure why he finds this necessary. My impression is that most people see these polls as little more than a fun way to have their say. Still, the fact that Milobar tweeted his concern, and the fact that someone saw fit to artificially boost Dudy’s numbers, shows that a lot of people do take these polls seriously.

As Milobar went on to say, the only poll that really counts is the one on election day. But in the meantime, even unscientific online polls may have an effect on how people ultimately cast their ballot.

For example, Brian Alexander and Gordon Chow are currently mired in last place with a little over two per cent each. Anyone seeing this will likely conclude that a vote would be wasted on either of them.

On the other hand, with Dudy about 11 points behind Milobar — making it look like he has a chance — a lot of people might see him as a viable alternative. With numbers like this, he could pick up some votes that he wouldn’t have otherwise.

In the end, though, Milobar needn’t worry. Whatever you think of his record, he at least has one. I predict Kamloops voters will stick with the devil they know.