The Poll Position: Angus Reid


With Canadian, U.S. and now civic elections upon us, polls are everywhere. Angus Reid, Canada’s best known collector of public thought, is seizing the limelight to try something different

 For most people, selling the business you created from scratch for $100 million would be a pretty decent exit strategy. For Angus Reid, it only marked a brief time out before revving up for Round 2.

Eight years after selling the Angus Reid Group to France’s Ipsos SA, today Reid is at it again, heading a company that is leading polling and market research into the 21st century.

In 2004 Angus Reid joined his son, Andrew, whose company, Vision Critical Inc., had developed proprietary software for online market research. Adding his own polling expertise under the banner Angus Reid Strategies, Reid oversaw the expansion of a company that today employs 220 staff and is expected to generate revenue of $40 million this year.

Reid doesn’t hesitate to credit his son’s technical know-how with his own rebirth in the polling business. He explains that, in decades past, clients would be quite happy to commission maybe one poll a year. They’d sit back and wait for an army of surveyors to light up the phone lines, and then maybe a few days or weeks later they’d get to see the results. But no more. Today the company that isn’t in constant touch with its customers is left behind.

While Vision Critical helps corporate clients keep in touch with customers, Angus Reid Strategies does much the same thing for social and political polling. It has recruited 100,000 Canadian households to participate in the Angus Reid Forum. (They’re paid between $1 and $4 per poll; when the bill totals $50 or more, a cheque goes out.) Because it’s all done online, there’s no need to staff a call centre, wait for respondents to answer the phone or manually tabulate results. “Give us a question and we’ll get you an answer the next day,” Reid boasts.

Today Vision Critical powers online market research for some 250 clients, including such global heavyweights as Eastman Kodak Co., Qantas Airways Ltd., Time Warner Inc. and Hewlett Packard Co. But it’s clear that Angus Reid’s passion still lies on the polling side.

“It’s been fun doing this a second time around,” he remarks casually. Reid is comfortably ensconced in a leather armchair dressed in wrinkled chinos and a blue button-down shirt, looking every bit the academic he was before starting his first polling company in 1979. His corner office looks out on BC Place and the trendy shops lining Yaletown’s Beatty Street. “I’m a sociologist now able to work in my own laboratory, and I have the advantage of having sufficient personal resources that I can do what I want,” he says matter-of-factly.

For example, last August Reid was curious about the B.C. political climate: Gordon Campbell seemed to be losing traction with voters, despite the province’s continued economic strength and despite Campbell’s very public conversion to the very popular green cause. So Reid conducted a poll. Nobody paid him for it; he was just curious. Reid’s intuition proved correct: the poll showed the provincial NDP surpassing the B.C. Liberals in public popularity.

Politics is just one of the many topics that pique Reid’s insatiable curiosity. “My passion is trying to understand what’s happening in society at large, both politically and in social issues,” he explains. “Attitudes toward trade unions, for example: where’s that whole thing at? What about changes in morality: same-sex marriages, drugs, abortion? . . . Or religion in Canadian society?” Reid notes that when he turned 60 this year a lot of people told him he should retire – including his wife. But he says he doesn’t know what he’d do if he wasn’t working. “We’ll see where this takes us,” he says. “It’s going to be fun.”