Alternative facts? Dueling polls in Calgary mayoral race

An upcoming election for mayor in the city of Calgary has become an unexpectedly exciting race. Incumbent Naheed Nenshi emerged in 2010 as an influential progressive mind, visible minority, and champion of LGBT rights in the typically right-leaning western city. He was named World Mayor for his efforts that have “developed and realized a vision for urban living that is relevant to towns and cities across the world.

In a city dependent on oil, however, re-election is not assured amid significant economic headwinds. In this environment, a strong challenger in former Progressive Conservative party leader Bill Smith, who has coalesced opposition against Nenshi. Well funded, Smith has made some missteps regarding controversial local topics. For instance, when pressed, he would not reveal his strategy in negotiating a new arena deal, “I’m not going to say until I figure out what’s in the best interest of Calgarians with all the figures in front of them,”.

Smith also raised the specter of pulling out of Green Line transit project that has already been approved by city council with $3 billion federal and provincial funding. CTV News reports Neshi’s response, “For someone who never went to an info session, never bothered to attend a council or committee meeting or who’s never before raised a question about it in Mayoral forums, to come up and say something so uninformed, its reckless and dangerous and it runs the risk of snuffing out our fragile economic recovery,”.

Smith also skipped a candidates debate hosted by the Calgary Chamber of Volunteer Organizations. The Calgary Herald reports that Smith’s campaign communications director, Rick Donkers, said Smith had a scheduling conflict, though he didn’t know what Smith was attending instead.

Against this backdrop, it was certainly surprising when polling began to show that Nenshi was not just in a tight race with Smith, but indeed trailing his challenger by double digits. “What was once thought to be a sleepy election for Naheed Nenshi has turned into a nightmare,” Quito Maggi, President of Mainstreet Polling said in a release.

To add intrigue to the election, a separate poll was conducted by Forum Research for a project spearheaded by eight Canadian universities. It was part of a larger project that is surveying electors and candidates for municipal office in Vancouver, Calgary, Winnipeg, London, Mississauga, Toronto, Montreal and Quebec City. Since the data was collected, the team decided to release it to the public.

Well, the new poll was in stark contrast to the Mainstreet numbers. Forum had Nenshi leading by double digits. One of the professors was quoted by the CBC, “There’s been a few of us that have been a bit surprised by the results of some other polls, and we did not set out to conduct a poll in Calgary. We’re doing a project for other reasons,”.

Polling ahead of Calgary mayoral election

With such divergent polls, the election results will be most anticipated. Differences in methodology may certainly account for some discrepancy between polls, but the two predictions are separated by a large margin.

Looking back at the two firms in their predictions leading up to the last federal election shows similar, though not as extreme divergence.

Polling leading up to the 2015 Canadian federal election

Which way the vote ultimately goes is unclear, but there will be a lot of forensics to sort through for both teams.