For the entire duration of the election campaign to-date, Canadians have been marveling at the superb leadership ratings that Stephen Harper has been scoring on a daily basis on the Nanos Leadership Index. Typical numbers have shown Harper at around 100 or over, Layton at maybe 55, Ignatieff at 50, and Duceppe and May at around 10 or 15 points each. The index supposedly rates the leaders on trust, competence and vision for Canada.
The Nanos polls are at least mentioned on a daily basis on CTV and in the Globe and Mail, and are repeated ad infinitum on a near endless parade of blogs and other media, so may be presumed to have an influence on voter perceptions of the leaders. Nanos calls these ratings a "driver" of voter intentions, a forecast, if you will, of how people may be considering voting.
There's only one problem. The Nanos Leadership Index is inherently flawed and biased towards Stephen Harper.
The Polling Observatory, a website whose mission is "to report on and provide an analysis of the election polls and their media coverage", has issued a report that cites two problems with the index: One, a flaw in measurement methodology and the other a structural characteristic "that seems to overstate, in rhetorical terms, the magnitude of the differences in Canadians' evaluations of the leaders".
The Polling Observatory is funded by the Centre for the Study of Democratic Institutions at the University of British Columbia. You can go ahead and read what the Polling Observatory says on its site. But rather than just take their word for it, look at the methodology yourself. The problems are pretty obvious.
The methodology is: each person is asked
Which of the federal leaders would you best describe as:
* The most trustworthy
* The most competent
* Has the best vision for Canada's future
Every day, Nanos will report on a daily leadership index score. The leadership index score is a summation of the three leadership indicators (trust, competence, vision). For example, on March 15th (M15), Elizabeth May received a Leadership Index Score of 11.6 because 4.3% of Canadians identified Elizabeth May as the most trustworthy leader, 3.4% said she was the most competent and 3.9% said she had the best vision for Canada.
You know that 30-40% of people would be expected to name Harper in all three categories.So, his score will be the sum of his three percentages, or somewhere around 110 or 120. That leaves as little as 60% of the opinion to be split up between the four other leaders. As stated in the Polling Observatory, the result gives an overstated, exaggerated view, with the difference between each leader roughly tripled.
The overstatement is compounded by the context. The title "Leadership Index", as well as the terms, "trust", "competence" and "vision for Canada", imply some kind of insightful, carefully weighed valuations have been thought through by the respondents. In fact, these numbers represent little more than exaggerated representations of voting intention.
As of today, the Nanos leadership index has shown some life for the first time, as Layton jumped some 17 points and Harper fell by an equal number.
Further evidence of the Nanos Leadership Index's irrelevance, though, can be found in today's Abacus leadership poll, which shows Ignatieff and Harper neck and neck, with Layton jumping ahead, as well as a Harris Decima leadership poll that shows similar results to Abacus.
"Appearing to overstate" (by a huge factor) Harper's appeal to Canadians relative to other leaders, on such issues as trust, competence and vision for Canada, on a daily basis, for the full 40 days of the campaign, across all the media, has to be considered a pretty significant unfair advantage for Stephen Harper. What can be done about it I do not know..