So here's an equivalent kind of question: If you had to choose the next Happy Meal at Macdonalds, what would you choose? The options are: roasted vegetables on foccaccia; bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich; deep-fried worms; or flaming bananas.
You might be a vegetarian who wouldn't be caught dead in Macdonalds but you support the concept of healthy alternatives so you choose the roasted vegetable sandwich, even though you don't plan to ever buy it. You might be an employee of Burger King and so you choose fried worms in the hopes of messing with the competition. You might not take any of this seriously and so think, Hey man, flaming bananas. Imagine all the kitchen fires! I'm going for that one.
So maybe our Macdonalds pollsters broke out the numbers for declared Macdonalds customers. Even then, the respondents might have the following thought processes: Geeze, foccaccia, never heard of it. I guess I have to choose the BLT, just because I know what it is (even though after an advertising campaign I'd realize that foccaccia is just a fancy name for white bread, and I'd prefer it). Or: This place is so stodgy, we need to shake it up. I don't care how; we just need change. And so I'm choosing flaming bananas, even though I'll never order them. Or: Wow, BLT, that would make a nice lunch; I'll pick that.
To the Gandalf question, "If you had to vote for the next Liberal leader, who among the candidates would you vote for?", people identified as Liberal voters answered: Dryden and Rae each 19%, Ignatieff 12%, Dion 8%, Kennedy 7%, Bennett 5%. Keep in mind though that only 30% of the respondents identified themselves as Liberals, so this data is based on 300 people across the country. Not enough.
Perhaps the biggest problem with "If you had to vote for the next Liberal leader, who among the candidates would you vote for?" is that it is ambiguous. Did respondents interpret it as, "If you had to choose the next Liberal leader, who would you choose?" or "If you had to vote Liberal in the next election, which leadership candidate would you rather vote for?" (Would you think it meant, "What do you think Macdonalds should put on its menu?" or "If you had to buy one of these meals, which one would you buy?")
Asking "if you had to choose..." tries to force people to come up with a response. A more meaningful question might be, "If the following items were on the menu, would you be likely to order them?" Or in the case of the Gandalf poll: "If Ken Dryden were leader of the LPC, would you vote Liberal?"
Way down at the end of the report the survey addresses this question. The question is "How likely would you be to vote for the LPC if it were led by the following candidates in the next election?" This is a fairly typical polling question that is designed to determine the pool of potential voters for each candidate (made up of respondents who say they are very likely, somewhat likely, or don't know whether they would vote Liberal if that person were leader).
In the Gandalf survey, the candidates for whom respondents said they were certain or likely to vote Liberal are: Rae 21%, Dryden 20%, Dion and Ignatieff each 16%, Bennett 13%, Kennedy 12%, Brison 11%, Findlay 10%. But the numbers also reveal the following:
* In another section of the survey, 70% of respondents said that they'd vote for a party other than the Liberals, but in response to this question, no more than 42% said they'd be unlikely to vote Liberal if any of the candidates were leader.
* In another section of the survey, 30% of the respondents said they'd vote Liberal, but in response to this question, at most 8% said they were certain to vote Liberal if a specific candidate were leader.
This shows incredible softness in opinion on both Liberal support and non-Liberal support. It might be useful data in a trend (Decima is guaging the potential voter pool on a repeating basis to show just that) but it's not clear how useful it is as a snapshot.
The report makes some claims that may be beyond its sampling. For example, it says, "In Quebec, Conservatives are now in a fight to hold their seats, and could lose up to seven of them to the BQ. BQ could come out of an election with 60 or more seats." This survey sampled 1,000 Canadians. If they made sure that the number of responses from each province was proportionate to the electorate, then about 250 of those surveyed were in Quebec. This seems like a small sample to forecast the outcome of over 60 ridings. To say anything about the outcome of any riding, I'd like to see a much better sample.
I'm very interested to see the results of the leadership convention delegate selections, which are due out in October. Until then I'd put surveys like this in the "yappa ding ding" category. Yappa ding ding is a Garifuna term meaning "something worth less than nothing".