Wednesday, December 29, 2004
The other, the Democrat's Da Vinci Code, is a review of successful local campaigns by Democrats in red states. I think it helps give some insight into the complexities of American politics that the blue state/red state axis oversimplifies.
Monday, December 20, 2004
Saturday, December 04, 2004
It is first worth pointing out that almost all of the difference between the last set of polls and the final vote shares was in
The result that we might have seen, if opinion had not moved in the last few days (to repeat, almost entirely in
The results by province are almost identical in the projection to the actual in Atlantic Canada, Quebec, Manitoba, Alberta and B.C. The calculation shows the Conservatives losing 16 seats in Ontario, offset by gaining 6 in Saskatchewan, while the NDP wound up losing 7 seats in Ontario and another 4 in Saskatchewan. I think the differences in Saskatchewan can best be explained by polling error rather than late movement, which I think clearly accounts for what happened in Ontario.
Wednesday, November 24, 2004
Congressional conference committees, charged with reconciling differences between House- and Senate-passed versions of the same legislation, have become dramatically more powerful in shaping bills. The panels, made up of a small group of lawmakers appointed by leaders in both parties, added a record 3,407 "pork barrel" projects to appropriations bills for this year's federal budget, items that were never debated or voted on beforehand by the House and Senate and whose congressional patrons are kept secret. This compares to just 47 projects added in conference committee in 1994, the last year of Democratic control.
Conference committees are a key part of the legislative process in the
As Larry King says when he goes to commercial: “More to come”. And they call themselves fiscal conservatives.
There is more on this today from the Boston Globe.
All this is relevant to the matter of political reputation. The Democrats and the Liberals/NDP in
I don’t think this newer brand of conservatism has yet altered traditional reputations, much to the advantage at the moment of the Conservatives/Republicans, but the reputations are built on perceptions that can change slowly over time given long enough exposure of the public to new realities. The public in
And all this would be thrown into turmoil if there were to be a deep recession.
I heard Klein on As It Happens last night expressing some dismay and chagrin, mentioning his surprise in particular at the outcome in Calgary Varsity. Ironically, the riding most expected to fall to the Liberals, Calgary Buffalo, remained Conservative.
Saturday, November 20, 2004
If it were any province other than
The Reid poll, which has the PC’s at 44%, the Liberals at 29% and the NDP at 11%, was taken later than the Calgary Herald Poll, which has the PC’s ahead 47% to 21% for the Liberals and 12% for the NDP. The new Alberta Alliances is at 9% in both polls. These numbers tell me that the PC’s are likely to be all but shut out in
Monday, November 08, 2004
There is more good analysis at Talkingpointsmemo here and here.
I also found this post-mortem on Ohio from a journalist in Athens, a small univeristy-centred Kerry-voting town in southern Ohio, interesting. I don't think he reconciles his perception of Ohio as Republican-leaning with the very close outcome in Ohio overall - a switch of 70,000 votes changes the outcome - but his observations are worth reading.
And we all have to keep our eye on Barack Obama. Here is an interesting account of his very successful Senate run.
Sunday, November 07, 2004
This was a close election by any measure. Bush won by 3% in the beauty contest, the national popular vote, but in the electoral college, by just 2.5% in Ohio and 1% in Iowa and New Mexico.
I thought Kevin Drum of Political Animal said it best in his own swipe at the media. And Josh Marshall is running a contest to identify the most ludicrous overstatement of the Republican victory.
Today's New York times had a typically weak analysis of the Republican win in Florida focusing on votes in the I-4 corridor. The Republicans did do well there but in seeking explanations, instead of trite observations about the Republicans being well organized and having many volunteers, I like the results of the Florida exit poll question on government response to the hurricanes. This seems to me a key factor given that 87% expressed approval of government action among whom 57% voted for Bush and 43% for Kerry. The I-4 area was the region hardest hit by the hurricanes this year. See here and here, for example.
Overall, looking at Bush's gains among, for example, women and big city dwellers, and given that he campaigned non-stop on the war on terror, it strikes me that as an overall explanation for his slight edge this was the most important influence. He always had a perceived advantage (however unwarranted as Richard Clarke's book makes clear) and exploited it. Many have attributed Republican gains to moral issues but it appears that there was little difference in this respect between 2004 and 2000. This Slate article argues these points well. Also see this post on the Emerging Democratic Majority site.
Saturday, November 06, 2004
George W. Bush's victory shows that the political strategy that conservative Republicans developed in the late 1970s is still viable. Bush won a large swath of states and voters that were once dependably Democratic by identifying Republicans as the party of social conservatism and national security. Massachusetts Senator John Kerry rallied a powerful coalition of minorities and college-educated professionals based in postindustrial metropolitan areas like Philadelphia, Chicago, and Los Angeles. In the future, this coalition may triumph on its own. But, in this election, Democratic successes in the Northeast, upper Midwest, and West could not make up for Republican successes in the South, the border states, the Southwest, and the Great Plains. Fittingly, the election was decided in Ohio--a state that combines the metropolitan North and the small-town South.
If you would like a Word copy of the whole thing, send me an email. UPDATE: You can read a large excerpt here.
I also like this post on Kevin Drum. I would read it in conjunction with the Judis essay. He argues rightly in my view that the solution to the Democrats problem of finding a Presidential winner is not to look to the South.
Thursday, November 04, 2004
Also read the Minneapolis Star-Tribune coverage (registration may be required) of the Democrats' Minnesota House surge. This story has some overtones that remind me of the latter part of the Mike Harris era as Ontarians woke up to the consequences of the low tax, no services regime he espoused.
One of the really significant Democratic wins was in Colorado where they won the State House and Senate for the first time since 1960. This column from the Denver Post is worth a read. Colorado is a state that is now Republican but with trends that suggest the Democrats could take it nationally at some point in the future. They also took the Colorado Senate seat which had been held by a Republican.
Wednesday, November 03, 2004
1. The turnout was less than expected - up somewhat but not enough to help Kerry. The good news is that younger voters (18-29) supported Kerry 54-45, the only age cohort in which he won a majority. Don't forget that the Republicans were winning over the young during the Reagan era, which is one reason they have strength now.
2. I had ambivalent feelings about Kerry winning. I thought he was a weak candidate and worried, given his entire life experience as lawyer, prosecutor and senator that his abilities as President might not be terrific. Having said that I found that watching the film on Kerry, Going Upriver, gave me a more positive impression of his leadership abilities. You can download it from the net at this site or rent the DVD. I highly recommend it both as a film on Kerry and as a film on the Vietnam experience.
3. I also think that chickens come home to roost. In Bush's case this means his own Vietnam – the war of choice in Iraq. Read this from Newsweek:
....the reality of Iraq—which is that the insurgents, by most accounts, are winning. Even Secretary of State Colin Powell, a former general who stays in touch with the Joint Chiefs, has acknowledged this privately to friends in recent weeks, NEWSWEEK has learned. The insurgents have effectively created a reign of terror throughout the country, killing thousands, driving Iraqi elites and technocrats into exile and scaring foreigners out.
Now consider that the exit polls show that 44% of Americans think things are ‘Going Well’ in Iraq. Of those 90% voted for Bush accounting for about 80% of his total vote. Who is going to let them in on the secret?
4. Rising oil prices and interest rates and other factors could produce a recession in the U.S. in the next year or two. Economists aren't predicting this but they rarely correctly anticipate downturns.
5. Overall the results wound up being almost a replay of last time. Iowa and New Mexico went narrowly for Gore last time and look like they will go just as narrowly to Bush this time. The reverse is true for New Hampshire where Kerry won narrowly. The popular vote is also not all that different. When I input the 2004 popular vote into my presidential model based on 2000, it makes four errors in predicting states. One is New Hampshire, I think for reasons of geography. The others are Oregon, Minnesota and Wisconsin. This tells me that this election has slightly deepened the divide in the U.S. between red and blue.
6. I don’t take Bush’s rhetoric about uniting the U.S. remotely seriously. He will be under enormous pressure to deliver to the cultural conservatives. Some parts of their agenda may have wide public support – law and order, anti-gay rights to name two – but overall it will be very divisive and much of it, such as his stands against abortion and stem cell research, are unpopular. The worst thing that could happen to a socially conservative Republican regime would be to succeed in implementing some of these very unpopular items in their agenda. If the Supreme Court is tilted to the right sufficiently to reverse Roe vs Wade, it could have quite a harmful impact on Republican popularity. These issues work well for Bush now because he can posture about them without having to deliver. He gets the benefits that way without the potential costs success would bring. Update: moderate Republican Arlen Specter will chair the Senate Judiciary Committe and is warning against the nomination of anti-abortion candidates for the Supreme Court, something some of his colleagues will likely find distressing. Update to the update: it now appears that Arlen Specter has had his ears cuffed for striking a moderate position vis-à-vis Supreme Court appointments. Read here.
7. The other issue that will plague him will be the politics of the deficit. The Republicans are now deeply divided between anti-deficit hawks and pro-deficit supply-siders (like Dick Cheney). With Bush’s re-election out of the way they are free to go after each other with gusto. And it won’t be the only meaningful division in Republican ranks.
8. I have long had the hunch that the Republicans are going to be in for an electoral humiliation at some point. Because of the 'war on terror' I didn't think it would be 2004. Will it be 2006?
9. Finally, let me express my exasperation with the inanity of the tv coverage, especially the windbags like NBC's Tim Russert and CNN's Wolf Blitzer. There were, however, a handful of honourable exceptions: George Stephanopolous on ABC and analyst Stu Rothenberg on CNN are always insightful and interesting, primarily because they actually know something about politics.
Tuesday, November 02, 2004
All reports so far indicate a heavy turn out. If indeed Kerry is carried to victory by an exceptionally strong turnout, particularly of first-time voters, it will likely help Democrats in close races in the House and Senate. The Conventional Wisdom is that the results there won't see much net change.
Sunday, October 31, 2004
Here are my observations about all this:
1. A blogger called the Mystery Pollster – a Democratic polling professional – has averaged the national polls. His latest calculation shows a one point Bush lead of 48% to 47% for Kerry. One polling rule of thumb is that the incumbent will actually receive his final poll share on election day, while most of the ‘undecideds/won’t ‘say go to the challenger, but it doesn’t always apply.
2. On many minds this weekend is the question: what impact will the Osama tape have? My own view is that it is likely to have little or no impact because most voters have had plenty of time to decide how they feel about all the terrorism/war in Iraq related issues. However, there is one poll out from a Democratic pollster, which suggests, if anything, that the tape will help Kerry.
3. It should be noted that most polls just prior to the 2000 election showed Bush ahead, while Gore actually ended up winning the popular vote – a fact which adds to my impression that U.S. polls are often wrong. That’s partly because there are simply more of them, but also because many use small sample sizes and can’t figure out which respondents will actually vote.
4. This contributor to the Daily Kos site has averaged the polls in the battleground states. He concludes that Kerry will win 311 electoral votes to Bush’s 227. I think the author, a pro-Kerry Democrat, lets his partisan enthusiasm get the better of his judgement. While he may be too optimistic about Kerry in drawing his conclusions, his calculations do say unequivocally that the election is very close and the numbers are worth looking at.
5. All this year I have thought it would be tight. There is a great deal of evidence that tells us that the United States is split down the middle politically. My intuition has been that Bush would win, even though I think the longer term trend is against the Republicans. Now that the last weekend is here, my intuition is wavering: the reality is that this election is extremely close, too close to call. Factors we cannot now see (but will be clear after the balloting) could tip it one way or another.
State by State
6. My reading of the polls is that the following five states are toss-ups and will likely determine the outcome – Ohio, Florida, Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin.
There are other close races: in New Hampshire, Michigan and Pennsylvania where Kerry appears to be narrowly ahead. New Hampshire voted for Bush in 2000, the other two for Gore. In New Mexico, a state that voted by a razor-thin margin for Gore, my reading is that the polls suggest Bush will win. If all this comes to pass, it would result in a net gain of one electoral vote for Bush.
There are some other close races in Nevada, Arkansas and Colorado, which are probably going to be won by Bush but not by much.
7. One of the most important aspects of electoral behaviour is turnout. It is also one of the things that gives American pollsters fits because turnout is generally low. Hence pollsters build in “likely voter” screens into their questionnaires. The Mystery Pollster has a good discussion of this.
One of the problems with “likely voter” models is that this year there is every prospect of a dramatically increased turnout so that models based on past behaviour would not apply. There is already plenty of anecdotal evidence of increased turnout including strong early voting. Some of this is motivated by strong antipathy to Bush. I know of several Americans living here who are voting in a U.S. election for the first time in their lives – even in states where the outcome is not expected to be close – because of their strong negative feelings about Bush and his record. To me it is a clear indicator of increased turnout caused by anti-Bush sentiment.
The Democrats are targeting increased voter registration and turnout among younger voters and minorities. See, for example, this discussion of increased registrations in New Mexico. For the Republicans a key strategy has been to increase turnout among evangelical Christians. Bush strategist Karl Rove has calculated there is a pool of 4 million voters the Republicans could tap through turnout efforts – voters he thinks Bush should have had last time. I have no way of assessing whether the Republican efforts are going to be successful.
8. In conclusion let me note one of the biggest imponderables in polling in the U.S. this year. Polling firms can’t reach cell phone users and it’s a problem for them because many younger people rely exclusively on cell phones. There is no hard evidence that the cell phone problem has yet had a distorting impact on poll results but given the growth in the phenomenon, it seems to me that it is only a matter of time. Is this the year?
Monday, October 25, 2004
I have been looking at various sites that offer projected outcomes based on complex multi-dimensional formulas derived from the polls. This one is a favourite and has links to other efforts. Its erratic line graphic line says it all.
The uncertainty in the Presidential contest is mirrored in both Senate and House races although the conventional wisdom says the Republicans should have no trouble retaining control of the latter. It is true there does not appear to be a clear trend away from the Republicans on a scale similar to the one that favoured them in 1994, and that strongly suggests that the status quo will prevail.
This fits with my intuition, which with a week to go, is still that Bush will likely win. I should add that I do see the longer term trends as favouring the Democrats but we probably won't see this come to fruition until 2006.
Sunday, October 24, 2004
I have been wasting my time watching the Sunday morning talk shows on the American election. The centre of gravity on all of them is to the right. Although he works for one of the most conservative voices in American politics, the Wall Street Journal, reporter John Harwood who appears here on Inside Washington is one of the few in journalism who seems to have any grasp of how real politics works. I find that I have to take his analysis seriously whether I agree with it or not. It should be noted that he is on the news side of that paper, and not part of its lunatic editorial board.
Tuesday, October 19, 2004
The key implication of this is that if the Liberals want an early election, and I think they do, it will likely be easy to engineer a defeat in the House. The Liberals and the Conservatives have conventions scheduled for next March, probably shortly after the budget. After that there could be a spring election.
The fact that the Liberals are being pushed around by the other parties will give them a powerful incentive to go to the polls. The recent public opinion surveys, for example, this one released yesterday by Environics, don't give them enough seats for a majority but they are getting close to one.
Saturday, October 16, 2004
Post-debate what is the state of play in the Presidential election? It remains as it has all year too close to call.
Kerry won all three debates. The results from the polls taken following the October 13 debate were: A CNN/Gallup instant poll found Kerry the clear winner, 52% to 39%. A CBS News poll of uncommitted voters who watched the debate found Kerry won, 39% to 25%, with 36% calling it a tie. An ABC News Instant Poll of voters who watched the debate also found Kerry the winner, 42% to 41%. (Note: The survey group was 38% Republican, 30% Democrat.)
My intuition all year has been that Bush would win in a close race. The debates have shaken that gut feeling. Nonetheless the polls overall still point to Bush being ahead.
The race remains close. The latest Washington Post-ABC News Poll has the race tied at 48% while three other polls out today show small Bush leads. All the major Presidential polls can be found here on Polling Report.com.
In terms of keeping up with the race the two best sites on the state by state battles are http://2.004k.com/ and Current Electoral Vote Predictor, the latter having an excellent Electoral College Map.
The polls show different results largely because they use different methodologies and assumptions. One of the best discussions of the issues I have run across is this one from the Scripps survey research center. The findings from their poll show that if the U.S. had the Australian system of compulsory voting, John Kerry would be the easy winner.
Included is an excellent analysis of the polls by political scientist Geoffrey Hale. There was a megaton of media and other comment at the time of the election about how the polls missed the outcome. Prof. Hale, however, argues that the polls were by and large accurate and I agree:
This article examines polling data for each region during the campaign, and compares it with actual outcomes by region. It concludes that although most pollsters missed the extent of last minute vote swings in Ontario, regional vote projections for three of four major polling firms that publishing regular polls during the campaign were well within national margins of error.
Another article by Maurice Pinard makes the following observation about the alleged polling errors.
How can such forecasting errors be explained? The answer is astonishingly simple: Voting intentions changed at the very end of the campaign. The recently published results of the Canadian Election Study, conducted by university professors, indicated that, at least outside Quebec, an important surge in support for the Liberals occurred during the last few days of the campaign, especially during the days after the media’s pollsters had left the field. This coincided with a corresponding decline of both Conservative and NDP support.
Pinard says “outside Quebec”. More precisely what happened was that public opinion changed in the last few days in Ontario shifting from both the Conservatives and the NDP to the Liberals.
The articles can be found along with others, here: http://www.irpp.org/po/index.htm
What my forecast model says about this
I have compared the regional polls to the final results myself. The only strong and consistent pattern regionally is in Ontario where all the pre-election polls overstated Conservative and NDP support and understated Liberal support, likely because of last minute shifts. On average the closing polls in Ontario understated the Liberals by 6 points, while overestimating Conservative support by 3 points and the NDP by 2 points.
The results of a last minute poll conducted by Environics for the CBC lend support to this thesis. When you connect to the CBC’s web page, scroll down and look at the party preference numbers in Etobicoke-Lakeshore. It shows the Liberals winning over the Conservatives 49% to 31% almost identical to the actual margin of 50.2% to 30.6%.
However, using my forecast model, when I project the final Ipsos-Reid poll Ontario results, which reported the Liberals ahead of the Conservatives 38-34, I find the Liberals would only have won this riding by two points. When I put in the final election margin in Ontario of 45-31 into the model, the Etobicoke-Lakeshore outcome becomes 45-33, much closer to the actual result. If the pollsters were really getting it wrong in this election, then Environics CBC should have been wrong in Etobicoke-Lakeshore and clearly they weren’t.
The patterns in other regions don’t clearly show a shift to the Liberals although there may have been some small movement. The margin of error and different findings by different pollsters make it impossible for me to come to a definitive conclusion.
On the one hand was the column of John Ibbitson in the Globe: “The one unequivocal winner was Jack Layton of the NDP…. He, of all political leaders, is the one who demonstrably acted to preserve the Parliament, rather than play political chicken. And now he'll get his beloved citizens assembly on electoral reform. Not bad for a leader in his first week in the House.”
On the other hand we have Chantal Hébert in the Star who was harshly critical of Martin and Layton and more charitable to Duceppe and Harper.
My view is that that ordinary citizens would see any behaviour that provoked a crisis this early in a new government’s life on such a weak basis as completely unacceptable – Harper himself said a government should fall on submarines not sub-amendments . They would place the blame on those causing it, primarily Duceppe and Harper, but also Martin for governing as if he had a majority. It seems to me that Layton’s words are the ones that would resonate with voters.
I saw part of Ed Broadbent’s speech during the debate and in answer to a question on this he said:
Hon. Ed Broadbent: Mr. Speaker, I would like to use the occasion to at least address part of what the question is intended as I see it. The subamendment did in fact refer to a citizens' assembly of the kind my party has advocated and I hope the government will take it seriously under consideration.
My reason for coming back to politics, by the way, was to get away from playing games. Canadians are fed up with the politicians who come here, whatever side of the House they are on, playing nice little rule games that they know the outcomes are going to be different from the words they use. If we were to accept the subamendment that is before us, the government would be defeated, and the people on the other side of the House, both the Conservatives and the Bloc Quebecois, know that very well.
I did not return to federal politics to indulge in this hypocritical, silly kind of politics and I will have nothing to do with it.
Further evidence that Harper’s position did not play well can be found in the October 8, 2004 Toronto Star, which reported on a number of provincial premiers who lambasted Harper for getting too close to Duceppe, including Conservatives Danny Williams of Newfoundland and Bernard Lord of New Brunswick.
Saturday, September 25, 2004
Viewers of late-night comedy programs, especially The Daily Show with Jon Stewart on Comedy Central, are more likely to know the issue positions and backgrounds of presidential candidates than people who do not watch late-night comedy, the University of Pennsylvania’s National Annenberg Election Survey shows.
More details can be found here.
Monday, September 20, 2004
About the NDP TV ads:
Despite the high-profile TV spots, marketing experts say the message was soft. Early ads touched briefly on issues like health care, cities, pensions and the environment, but didn’t focus on one point in particular. “If they’d given [voters] something to latch on to, they may have done better,” says Richard D. Johnson, chair of the department of marketing, business economics and law at the University of Alberta. Marketing specialist Martin Wales agrees. “They didn’t give me enough reason to vote for them—they didn’t present anything unique.”
This point was also made by TC Norris here. See the section on the NDP.
About the NDP’s failure with respect to strategic voting
“The biggest weakness of the campaign was the inability to figure out what to say to voters about the threat from the right,”(York U. Prof Jim) Laxer says. He points to the NDP’s attempts to dismiss the Liberals as Conservatives in disguise as a huge mistake. In June, the party launched an Ontario-only TV ad that pegged Stephen Harper, Dalton McGuinty and Mike Harris together. “I would regard myself as someone on the left, but when they try to tell me that the Liberals and the Conservatives are the same, what’s left of my hair stands on end because I just don’t buy it.”
The NDP needs a case for why they deserve votes and not the Liberals but as Laxer notes, the argument that the Liberals and the Conservatives are the same is not it. Having said that, the key factor, (to which the This Mag article does not do justice) was the urban fear of a highly conservative social agenda on the part of the Conservatives. This had the effect of driving voters to the safety of the Liberals who are, by and large, socially liberal.
I can't think of what the NDP might have done about this. Circumstances sometimes are against you no matter what you say or do. Such was the case for the NDP in 2004. For their part, the Liberals, having initially planned to go strongly after Conservative voters, recognized that they needed a strategic shift to a more progressive profile to win.
Sunday, September 12, 2004
Since then right-wing blogs have been relentlessly trying to discredit the documents (in part I think to distract from the cold reality of the Barnes interview). In fact, they were quick off the mark to do so. This passage from ABC News The Note (a daily round-up of political news and comment) from the Friday September 10 edition suggests maybe they were just a little too fast off the mark:
“…in the war that will ensue about WHO gave CBS the potentially phony documents, it is interesting to Note that the right (Drudge, Fox, right-leaning blogs, others) led the way in pointing out the questions we have all been asking — and they were onto the questions, with remarkable detail, relatively soon after the documents were made public. (my emphasis)
Here's part of how this story got here . . . from a little Marc Ambinder back-lurking on the blogs . . .
At 8:00 pm ET Wednesday night, CBS News does the story . . .
at 11:59 pm ET (8:59 pm PT), the documents come into question via a poster named Buckhead on the Free Republic Web site:
Buckhead seems well-read on his forensic document examination skills.
"Howlin, every single one of these memos to file is in a proportionally spaced font, probably Palatino or Times New Roman. In 1972 people used typewriters for this sort of thing, and typewriters used monospaced fonts. The use of proportionally spaced fonts did not come into common use for office memos until the introduction of laser printers, word processing software, and personal computers. They were not widespread until the mid to late 90's. Before then, you needed typesetting equipment, and that wasn't used for personal memos to file. Even the Wang systems that were dominant in the mid 80's used monospaced fonts. I am saying these documents are forgeries, run through a copier for 15 generations to make them look old."
Well, this is bandied about by dozens of Freepers, as they're called and is picked up at 8:30 am ET and added to by www.littlegreenfootballs.com/weblog/ — this little green football guy is a very popular conservative blogger . . .
It's expanded upon by www.powerlineblog.com/ in the early morning:
and also by www.spacetownusa.com/hmmm
and here, at 10:36 am ET: www.allahpundit.com/.”
If the documents are discredited the only campaign that will suffer is Kerry’s. That suggests to me that if the documents are proven to be a fraud, it was the Bush team that planted them.
Kevin Phillips, in his remarkable book American Dynasty: Aristocracy, Fortune and the Politics of Deceit in the House of Bush, writes on page 147 that Bush poltical advisor Karl Rove was a great reader of Machievelli, who was quoted as follows: "The great majority of mankind is satisfied with appearances, as though they were realities." Says it all I think.
The best blogs from the liberal side of the spectrum who have been monitoring developments on this have been Kevin Drum and Atrios.
Update: CBS now says they have reason to doubt the authenticity of the documents but the identity of the source of the docs appears to be well hidden, consistent with the hypothesis that it could be Rove. And it turns out that "Buckhead" is a well connected Republican lawyer in Atlanta.
Thursday, September 09, 2004
I largely concur with his analysis of the polling and the election results. He averages the final polls to conduct his analysis. However, I would argue that if you look at the closing ten days of polling in Quebec you see a steady upward movement for the Liberals. The final poll, released Sunday June 27, predicts the outcome in Quebec precisely.
Monday, September 06, 2004
Generally Simpson’s column is an excellent summary of the race but he oversimplifies by zeroing in on Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida. In fact, Kerry could win by taking the Gore states plus Nevada (which becoming more like California and trending Democratic), New Hampshire (in Kerry’s Massachusetts back yard) and West Virginia (traditionally Democratic although not in 2000). This would give him a margin of 274-264 in the Electoral College. You can play this game yourself on the Electoral College Calculator at Dave Leip's excellent web site.
Bush could offset losing Ohio by winning Wisconsin and Minnesota (other battleground states which Gore won and where Kerry currently leads very narrowly) and take his other 2000 states to win.
I think it is impossible at this point to say which states will appear decisive after November 2nd.
Bush has come out of the Republican convention with apparently large leads in polls from Time and Newsweek. However, Josh Marshall reports that the internal polls of both the Bush and Kerry camps place the margin at 4%. In addition, Charlie Cook, one of the best opinion analysts in the game, wrote this on August 31st: “…I put great weight in the enormous levels of pessimism among undecided voters and their apparently low opinion of Bush. I think the president's climb is still a bit uphill. My experience tells me that undecided voters invariably break against well-known, well-defined incumbents.”
My intuition all year has been that Bush will win, but I can't ignore observations like Cook's, or the possibility of news from Iraq that could upset most of the calculations.
Saturday, September 04, 2004
It is also true that 1993 was the advent of a new party system with the introduction of Reform and the BQ. I am inclined to view 1993 as the real departure from the old system. The reality is that the old pre-1993 PC’s were, to over-simplify, a coalition on the right of economic liberals and social conservatives. Mulroney temporarily added Quebec nationalists, but this was an exception to a party system that went back a long way (especially if we ignore the Socreds and Créditistes).
The point is that this election, which produced a minority government, appears likely to have established a pattern that will be repeated as long as one large region, Quebec, gives substantial support to a purely regional party, the Bloc Québecois.
The Conservatives could finish ahead of the Liberals in the next election, but how will they win a majority? They have 99 seats now. Where do the needed 56 additional seats come from? Some gains in Atlantic Canada, plus 70 seats in Ontario, would give them the barest of majorities in some future election. The reality is that it will be exceedingly difficult to do.
The same is true for the Liberals. The Liberal performance in 2000 in Quebec looks now like an exception more than the rule, in part the product of general unhappiness in Quebec with a decaying PQ regime in Quebec City, as well as specific grievances such as forced municipal mergers. The Liberals won their majorities in the 90’s by taking nearly every seat in Ontario. This time Ontario returned to something closer to its long-term three party norm.
The three opposition leaders met recently in an attempt to find common ground and form an opposition “majority” in the House of Commons. This strikes me as unprecedented. It may ultimately turn out to amount to nothing, but thinking about how a minority House will work in the long run seems to me like a valuable exercise.
Monday, August 30, 2004
The implication of how the debate was framed is that the electorate of the Conservative Party is well to the right side of the spectrum. This suggests that the combination of Flaherty and Klees may be able to combine to defeat Tory.
Sunday, August 29, 2004
If you haven't look at this blog, I urge you to do so.
Thursday, August 26, 2004
So to begin: for those who missed the Democratic Convention, the highlight for me was the speech of Barack Obama, a State Senator from Illinois certain to be elected this fall as a U.S. Senator, who looks like an emerging political superstar. Watching his speech and seeing him live for the first time was like watching Wayne Gretzky take to the ice for the first time. He is that good. The speech transcript can be found here.
To find out more about this new star performer, from the May 31, 2004 issue of the New Yorker, read this profile.
On the Swift Boat smears much has been written by now, but I found the best summary was one titled, "Dirty Tricks, Patrician Style" on CBS.com.
Still the Swift Boat smears appear to be hurting Kerry.
Sunday, July 11, 2004
What matters in an election are dirty ads where the three levels of grammar, which are utilized in film or video: aural, visual and intellectual, can be juxtaposed in ways that unfair messages are transmitted that are difficult for opponents to rebut.
A good example was the highly effective Conservative ad on the sponsorship scandal which showed faceless men crumpling up $50 and $100 bills while carousel music plays in the background.
Thursday, July 01, 2004
For many I think the impression was that despite Harper’s efforts to dispel the notion, many in Ontario believed that the new Conservatives were identical to the old Alliance in terms of social conservatism. It wasn’t Liberal attack ads that truly established this impression. Rather it was Harper constantly being undermined by other MP’s candidly disclosing views at odds with the efforts of the leader to portray an image of moderation: Cheryl Gallant on abortion; Scott Reid on bilingualism; Randy White at the end of the campaign on the Charter of Rights and the role of the courts was undoubtedly of special importance.
Conservative MP John Reynolds also identifies Ralph Klein’s comments on health care as a key factor. See this Toronto Star report. It had the same impact as the examples above. A perceived key ally appeared to undermine Harper’s stated commitment to medicare. In addition, the popular big city mayors in Toronto and Vancouver, David Miller and Larry Campbell, attacked the Conservatives commitment to cities late in the campaign comparing their policies unfavourably with the Liberals. One could add other factors but the general impact for those who fled to the Liberals was the creation of a noxious stew they were anxious to avoid.
The contradictions raised doubts among an electorate that did not seek radical change. Safety was the Liberal government devil they knew, and if that meant not casting their first choice vote for the NDP, or a frustrated desire to punish the Liberals for the sponsorship scandal by voting Conservative or BQ, at least life would go on as the electorate knew it, in the interim.
This is a lesson the Conservatives need to absorb. Their failure to win national elections is not because of disunity on the right, which is what they belived going into this campaign. It is because they are seen by the public as too far to the right and too extreme, exactly reflecting the charges levied by the likes of Joe Clark, Scott Brison, Keith Martin and many others. If John Tory, at one time the principal secretary to Bill Davis, wins the leadership of the Ontario Progressive Conservatives in September, a precedent will have been established that could cause a national Conservative Party, fixated on their perception that the Mike Harris regime was actually popular in Ontario, to reflect on its direction going forward.
Wednesday, June 30, 2004
I have used the actual provincial vote shares as the input into the model. There is considerable confusion about seat prediction vs the polls. I find that it is common for many to confuse polling error with the error in seat prediction. I used the actual election day vote share because if the polls were perfectly accurate this is what one would get. It is almost impossible to predict the outcome in every riding accurately even with the perfect poll, so any forecast model will have error, but one should get the best results by using the most accurate polling data available, which is, by definition, the actual vote share.
Many still wonder what use this is since it comes afterwards, but almost all who read the polls during an election make an inference about outcome so I think seat projection models have a role to play. As we compare the poll numbers with the actual vote shares in an election, so we ought to compare the actual outcome in each riding with what the model predicts. When the final validated results are available in a few months I will compare the difference between my predicted and the actual percentage outcome for each candidate in each constituency.
In making predictions I do not calculate a predicted outcome for the three territorial ridings. In reporting results I simply assume that the incumbents there will be re-elected and report out a total of 308.
For the 305 constituencies using the actual provincial vote shares, the model correctly predicts the outcome in 273, and makes an error in 32, for a success rate of 89.5%. The model correctly predicted the outcome in all the seats in Alberta, PEI and Newfoundland. There were 2 errors in Nova Scotia, 1 in New Brunswick, 2 in Quebec, 16 in Ontario, 1 Manitoba, 4 in Saskatchewan (by far the weakest performance), and 3 in B.C.
The national total from all this was: L - 137, Cons - 95, NDP - 22, BQ - 54, Other - 0, close the actual results.
I have been doing this modelling for awhile and this was actually one of my better nights, although normally the model is better than 80% accurate.
The model numbers from last week's polls were nowhere near the final seat outcome, but that is principally because a reported average 4% Liberal lead in Ontario became an actual 13% Liberal lead. Not surprisingly, a shift on this scale has a huge impact on the results generated by the forecast model.
There was indeed a shift to the Liberals at the end of the campaign. However, it was confined to Ontario and Quebec. Interestingly, there was a distinct migration from Conservative and NDP intentions in Quebec to the Liberals in addition a shift from the Bloc. The final impact meant that instead of the mid-20's the Liberals wound up at almost 34% in Quebec.
In Ontario when you compare just the last three polls (Reid, Ekos and Léger) you find the Liberals 6% higher on voting day, the Conservatives 3.2% lower and the NDP 2.2% lower. My guess is that many Liberals in Ontario became in effect shaken loose from their traditional loyalties by the combined impact of the McGuinty budget and the sponsorship scandal, but only focused on the federal choice and its implications in the last week. Learning from the polls and the published seat projections (which I think were close to the mark at the time despite all the silly criticism they are getting now), the Liberals in Ontario returned home for the reasons now being cited in the media.
In Quebec, I think the impact of the Landry statement was the difference in the late movement. It came simply from federalists who were upset that the Bloc and PQ would interpret Bloc success as a mandate for a renewed push on sovereignty.
All of the shift at the national level can be explained by the movement in Ontario and Quebec. The shifting around elsewhere is small and appears to me simply within the usual margin of error.
Tuesday, June 29, 2004
It appears that there was significant opinion movement during the last three days after the final polls right up to voting day, but it was principally in Ontario. I haven't completed a comprehensive review yet but it is clear that in Ontario about 3% of those intending to vote Conservative and about 2% of those intending to vote NDP in Ontario switched to the Liberals making all the difference in this election. Instead of a lead of about 4%, the Liberals ended up with a lead over the Conservatives of 13% with a weaker than anticipated NDP. In other regions I can't find significant movement. There was movement the last week in Quebec, but the Leger polls picked that up.
I heard Stephen Harper tonight blaming his troubles in Ontario entirely on NDP supporters voting against him out of fear. However, he was only partially right and ignored the (slightly) larger phenomenon.
The last week polls elsewhere had no more error than one might ordinarily expect, and the very last poll by Léger in Quebec was quite accurate.
As for my seat projection model it appears to have worked about as well as one can expect. The large errors in the seat totals stem from the difference between what the polls said would happen in Ontario, and what actually happened.
When I input the preliminary regional vote shares from cbc.ca I get the following outcome nationally: Liberal - 137 (Current actual is 135), Conservative - 95 (Current actual is 99), NDP - 22 (Current actual is 19), and BQ - 54, the same as their current total.
Seat by seat comparison will come later but it looks like, even based on those notoriously inaccurate pre-election day polls, that I correctly identified the winner in every seat in Alberta and all but two in Quebec.
Monday, June 28, 2004
The final polls published in the campaign finished calling people on Thursday night, so any effect from the weekend won't show up until tonight.
I did just hear this afternoon about some fragmentary confidential polling that is a little hard to interpret, but it suggests that the Conservatives may be just a little weaker, and the Liberals a little stronger, than the closing polls reported. And the race is close enough that, if this information reflects a real trend, then the Conservative minority pointed to by the weekend polls may turn out to have been a mirage.
In the end I am just curious to know how it turns out.
Once digested, I will write some analysis of the results and own up to how well (or poorly) the model performed.
Sunday, June 27, 2004
I also discovered a good old fashioned data entry error when reviewing my spreadsheets this morning. My revised numbers are: Liberals - 102, Conservatives - 119, NDP - 33, BQ - 54.
Saturday, June 26, 2004
I have applied a weighted average of the final campaign polls to my forecasting model. The resulting outcome is: Liberal - 103, Cons. - 116, NDP - 33, BQ - 56.
The Conservative vote is more efficiently distributed than the Liberal vote. There is also a slight age bias that helps the Conservatives. They receive a disproportionate share of their support from those over the age of 60 - voters who are much more likely to turn out. I think the Liberals need more than a 1 point lead to pull ahead of the Conservatives. They also need a slightly stronger advantage in Ontario than the 3-5 point lead in the closing polls they have.
However, a handful a entirely idiosyncratic results in Conservative-Liberal results could easily reverse the outcome above. It could come from the natural advantage enjoyed by incumbents alone.
My calculation of the Ekos numbers puts the Conservatives ahead. They are new to seat prediction, but as owners of the data they ought to be able to forecast seat outcomes more accurately than myself. Perhaps there is some distribution in the data they can see that favours the Liberals that is invisible to someone extracting the regional numbers from a newspaper.
Of course, the Liberals will likely be ahead in the seat count before the B.C. results come in so we will all have to stay up late on Monday to know the final outcome. Who knows? It could our version of Florida 2000. Is the Supreme Court ready?
Friday, June 25, 2004
Liberal C.P.C. NDP Bloc Green Other Total
Compas 122 104 21 61 0 0 308
Reid 111 110 30 56 0 1 308
Wednesday, June 23, 2004
The defining moment actually came months earlier, when the Auditor-General released her report, and a political firestorm was ignited. It upset the plans of a new Liberal team inclined to call an election early, tilt a little to the right to capture Progressive Conservatives fleeing the Alliance takeover of the united right, and sweep to a huge majority before getting down to the business of governing.
But they had no plan ‘B’, so after putting a spring election off as long as possible, they went ahead despite the emergence of a second defining moment in an unpopular Ontario budget, the impact of which may be fading a bit now. And they appear initially to have ignored the threat from a resurgent NDP until late in the campaign.
An article by Maurice Pinard, one of Canada’s pre-eminent analysts of public opinion, describes well the path of public opinion in the last few months. It can be found on the web site of CRIC, the Centre for Research and Information on Canada. He confirms the two moments above, but also notes small additional Liberal losses in Quebec during June to the Conservatives and the Bloc means the Bloc could win up to 60 seats in Quebec.
However, the comments by former Quebec Premier Bernard Landry predicting that a big Bloc victory on June 28 could set the stage for a 2009 referendum are potentially very damaging to Mr. Duceppe. At this point BQ support is so high that they must be getting support from strong federalists as a consequence of the scandal. Shifting the ground back to the sovereignty issue at this point can only help the Liberals. In a close election, it would be a considerable irony if Paul Martin were to owe his victory to Bernard Landry. It is well to remember in this final week, Quebec’s record of producing election night surprises of one sort or another.
There are two new polls out today, June 23, 2004, which confirm a shift back to the Liberals is underway. The SES poll has the Liberals still 3 points ahead of the Conservatives 34-31, with the NDP strong at 21%. An Environics poll reports a 33-33 tie between Liberals and Conservatives with the NDP at 18. Translated into seats this produces a very weak Conservative minority: Conservatives – 115, Liberals – 104, NDP – 30, BQ – 59. The overall numbers are essentially consistent with the Ipsos-Reid polls. But given the sampling error of polls and the error implicit in any method of seat forecast, it means it is impossible to determine from the poll numbers today which party will emerge in first place on June 28.
I smoothed the SES data by creating a four poll rolling average of their results. It suggests that the Conservatives peaked on June 11 while the Liberals hit their bottom the same day. There has been a slow reversal of fortunes since that now seems to have hit a plateau.
The NDP still looks to the media like it is not doing well. Jeffery Simpson calls their polls ‘flat’. He is ignoring, however, the impact on winning seats of strong NDP showings in Ontario and B.C., in the context of a tight Liberal Conservative race in both provinces. In a first past the post system getting close to the other parties even if you are in third place (and it is not clear who is in third place in B.C.) means that many seats can come your way. Going in the NDP had only four seats in the two provinces. I think they will win at least four seats in the City of Toronto alone on Monday.
Winners and Losers
The winner on Monday is going to be in very weak position, so weak it may well be that the loser is better off.
If the Liberals lose, Martin will be under great pressure to radically overhaul a campaign team that failed miserably, but he will have time to rest and recover his bearings before the inevitable early election. Those who would dump him don’t have time so he can hang in for this short term if he so desires. If the Liberals win they may have to govern in cooperation with their natural enemies, the Bloc.
The Conservatives, who are so clearly a collection of not-ready-for-prime-time-players, will face the inevitable pressures of learning to govern – don’t forget that Harper whatever his intelligence has almost no managerial or administrative experience – while dealing with a fractured House of Commons. On the other hand, if they finish second they will have at least year to finish their party building and getting ready to govern.
Tuesday, June 22, 2004
Liberal strength is based on a huge margin in Ontario seats. The NDP’s weakness is based on the fact that they are very weak in every region except Ontario. However, all the error margins in the regional numbers are very high – the smallest is ± 5.4% in Ontario. It is the national number that is striking. It does suggest that the election remains too close to call and we may not really know the outcome until they take the ballots out of the box.
Monday, June 21, 2004
If the election produces a minority the question on the minds of many is what’s next. Many assume that a Conservative minority would be followed a year later with a majority as happened with the former Progressive Conservatives in 1957 and 1958 but in fact there are four possibilities with historical precedents since 1950:
1. The 1957-58 scenario already noted – Conservative minority followed by Conservative majority. The 1958 election produced a huge Tory landslide including 50 seats in Quebec, the party having won just 9 the year before.
2. 1962-63 – A Conservative minority was followed by a Liberal minority. The Liberals failed to win a majority in both 1962 & 1963 mainly because a new party on the scene in Quebec, Social Credit (later to split of and become known as the Creditistes), cut into their traditional strength among francophones.
3. 1979-80 – A Conservative minority followed by a Liberal majority. This precedent is well known, and was the result of a new Conservative regime ignoring developing perils, and assuming their opponents would not dare to force an election, and that even if they did, 1957-58 would prevail.
4. 1963-65 – The Liberal minority elected in 1963 thought it saw an opportunity for a majority but came up just short. Less than expected gains in Quebec were offset by small losses elsewhere.
It seems to me any of these scenarios could come to pass.
There is a new large sample poll out in B.C. from a local pollster, the Mustel Group. In a poll conducted June 10-17 among a sample of 721 it had the Conservatives at 36, the NDP at 28 and the Liberals at 26.
Sunday, June 20, 2004
The debates are over and the verdict is in: the big loser is – the dreadful format. Cross-talk and noise is incomprehensible to most viewers, and simply discredits the political process. It also means the debates are less influential as a consequence, and end up politically as a wash. For what it is worth, I thought Harper performed best. I can’t decide about worst, although Layton was too lengthy and persistent in interrupting. I did find the point made by Allan Gregg on CBC afterwards persuasive: the debate may have given greater profile to issues that may cost the Conservatives. Compas in the National Post on June 18 argued that the debates reinvigorated the sponsorship scandal and this hurt the Liberals. Either way, the debates are fading.
The Liberals were helped by the Klein intervention. It helped put the focus on health care, the issue they have been pushing. Harper for his part has been exploiting a child murder in Toronto linked to child pornography – this from a leader who the day before was condemning Paul Martin as dishonourable.
All this led to a phone message yesterday from a relative who said “We have just voted in the advance poll for a man who not only kills homeless people, but also pushes child pornography.”
The NDP, whose earlier ads I have panned in this space, has a new Ontario and a Quebec ad out that I think are much better than earlier efforts.
Numbers – Fun with Figures
A minority is now a certainty, or as a friend corrected me at lunch this week, a plurality. It looks like a Conservative minority. I have averaged all the polls completed in June and applied the results to the forecast model. It produces the following: Conservatives - 122, Liberals – 99, NDP – 32 & Bloc – 55. For comparison I averaged the Reid and Ekos polls out yesterday and then calculated the outcome: Conservatives – 128, Liberals – 91, NDP – 34, Bloc – 55. This should not be interpreted to mean the Conservatives are moving up. The differences are too small to conclude that. The margin of error for the regional numbers in the new polls is high, while it is quite low for all the June polls (when samples are combined). I am more impressed by the stability of the numbers than the change.
The Liberals are close enough and the accuracy of the polls sufficiently uncertain, that a Liberal minority is not completely out of reach. To win a minority, however, the Liberals must be at least 3 to 6 percentage points ahead of the Conservatives in Ontario (how much depends on how they do elsewhere) with the NDP at or below 18%. In yesterday’s polls they were 3 points behind in Ontario; in all the June polls they are 1.5 points back.
They must also win at least as many seats in the west as in 2000. This latter should happen as, so far, they are ahead of their 2000 vote share in each western province in almost all the polls, and they have not dropped significantly during the campaign.
In Quebec they need to recover sufficiently to win at least 22 ridings, and they need a big win in Atlantic Canada. All this is not out of question given the poll numbers we have seen so far. Note, however, for this scenario to unfold the importance of being clearly ahead in Ontario, which is not the case now. I think the attack ads (old and new) are having some impact mainly in staunching the bleeding but they are not likely to be enough to establish the required lead in the polls. The Liberals need some other campaign developments to come their way in the closing days.
The Liberals have been consistently running ahead of their 2000 pace in B.C. and the Conservatives way behind. This puts them in striking distance of winning extra seats. The best prospects on the numbers seem to be Saanich-Gulf Islands, Newton-North Delta and North Vancouver but all are uncertain. I think they are likely to lose convert Keith Martin in Esquimalt-Juan de Fuca
The NDP is running way ahead of its 2000 pace in Atlantic Canada. How many constituencies they might add would depend on Liberal performance. At the moment, I have them winning only the four they now hold but they are not far behind in Sydney-Victoria, and, surprisingly, Charlottetown. To win more it appears that the Liberals would need to finish below 40%.
In Ontario, because they are way up and the Liberals and Conservatives are in a (relative) dead heat, they are poised to make significant gains – winning as many as 15 or more constituencies. These could include constituencies not being noticed in the media now such as Welland and Kenora.
I don’t see much change in Manitoba and Saskatchewan but the NDP is certain to make gains in B.C. It appears that recent polls suggest a modest Conservative recovery in B.C. although they are still running way behind the 2000 performance of the Alliance, never mind the former PC party. At the moment I have the NDP moving up from 2 to 5 constituencies.
My impression from recent polls is that the Conservatives are strengthening a little in B.C. This isn’t saying much – they are headed for the mid to high thirties. By comparison the Alliance alone received almost 50% of the vote in 2000. Some loss of seats here seems inevitable. The closeness of the race makes the B.C. results, which report a half hour behind the rest of the country, critical to the final outcome.
In Ontario, the most favourable numbers for the Tories come from the Lick’s Hamburger poll, which, as of June 17, reported its burger sales as: Conservative Burgers 40%, Liberal Burgers 26% and NDP Burgers 23%. Don’t laugh. It was more accurate than the final Compas poll prior to the Ontario election. The chain’s locations, however, are largely in the extended 905 belt outside Toronto so it is likely to have a Tory tilt. It has generally accurately picked the winner in Ontario in the past without predicting as well as the regular polls the precise party percentages.
In Atlantic Canada the numbers do suggest that the Conservatives could hang on to all or almost all their existing seats.
At this stage in 2000 it was all over but the counting and the margin of the Liberal majority. Not so this time. The last week will matter. We should have many new polls to contemplate.
Sunday, June 13, 2004
I have heard from canvassers that on the doorstep voters are mad at the Liberals, but haven’t decided how to vote. This does give the debates considerable importance (of which more below). In addition the perception is only now beginning to sink in that Harper could form a government. The Ekos poll released this week shows 52% expect the Liberals to form the government compared to just 31% who think the Conservatives will. This could well have an impact on the mad-at-the-Liberal voter who doesn’t support many aspects of the Harper platform. A perception that he could win combined with growing knowledge of his platform could well hurt Harper.
What are the polls now saying? My current estimate of the election result based on polls released this week is: Conservatives – 118, Liberals – 98, NDP – 38, Bloc – 54, a weak Conservative minority (fyi, my estimates of NDP seats are higher than other forecasters). As inputs for my election model, I averaged the regional results of the Ekos, Reid and Léger polls released this week with two exceptions – B.C. and Quebec. There was a poll conducted by Reid in B.C. this week with a large sample (1,066) so I used its numbers for British Columbia, and I used a CROP poll with a sample of 600 in Quebec. In B.C. the national pollsters’ regional numbers for B.C. have been extremely erratic giving me little confidence in any one individual result. Quebec has had more examples of polling errors compared to actual election results than anywhere else. I think the Quebec-based polling companies are now figuring out how to poll Quebec – their final polls prior to last year’s provincial election were accurate. I am therefore generally sceptical of the results of non-Quebec firms for Quebec (except for Environics which uses CROP to conduct the Quebec part of its polls).
That the Conservatives are now ahead does not mean they are enthusiastically supported. Frank Greaves, the President of Ekos, was quoted in the Star this week as saying: "In essence, what we are seeing is disaffection with the Liberals overwhelming wariness of the Conservatives."
The Conservatives are still running well behind their 2000 performance in the west so they do have some potential to pick up support there in terms of the polls. I estimate, however, that they can add no more than ten seats at the most to what their current level of support would enable them to win.
Because they permit the electorate an unfiltered view of the candidates and their abilities to defend their positions, I think the idea of televised debates is a good one. However, in the past the format of the debates in Canada (dictated I am told largely by the broadcasters) could hardly be worse. By encouraging a five-way free-for-all, the resulting discordant chaos of interruption and overlapping voices was both incomprehensible and offensive to viewers (a large percentage of voters tune in but don’t stay tuned). The net effect in my view has been to discredit politics and Parliament, and I have no doubt it is a factor in lowering turnout. There are to be changes this year. Let us hope they will deliver a calmer, more rational exchange of views that might make sense to someone tuning in hoping to find clarification on where the parties’ stand on various issues.
Despite the weaknesses of debates I have identified, the 1988 debate focused on free trade that turned around John Turner’s flagging campaign (he eventually lost as a consequence of highly effective Tory attack ads) illustrates their potential importance.
The Leaders and their approach
Of the three leaders, Stephen Harper appears to have the style best suited to television – he is calm, relaxed and articulate. He is intellectually very bright and was effective defending himself in a televised interview in French with Bernard Derome that I saw this week. What Harper needs to do is keep the focus of the campaign and the debate on the Liberals and their various sins that have made voters mad at them, and away from his beliefs and platform. If the election becomes a referendum on Harper and his party’s views, the Liberals would likely be returned with a minority.
I think Jack Layton also has the potential to be effective. He is media savvy and knows how to communicate well. His handlers, however, would be well-advised to give him a shot of tranquilizer so that he is not tempted to hyperbole. What Layton needs to accomplish in the debate sounds contradictory: he should focus on creating doubts about Harper’s credibility and at the same time try to appear to be relentlessly positive. The point of the former is that the campaign appears to be about trust and credibility, so damaging Harper’s (Liberal credibility is already damaged) helps the NDP, which has escaped much media attention simply because it is in third place. The point of the latter is that it helps make the NDP attractive to those who are repelled by Liberals and the Conservatives. This is probably Layton’s best opportunity for something of a breakout, although the NDP’s poll numbers are already fairly strong.
Unlike the other two, Paul Martin brings a weak skill set to the debate – an intense, florid style given to superlatives, and a tendency to stammer, making him the classic hot personality in the cool medium. In theory, he should be the weakest debater. However, as a policy wonk he does have a command of his subject matter. He needs to cast doubt on Harper’s ability to keep his promises, again, given that trust is a key campaign theme. Most voters are baffled by numbers and statistics so this is exceedingly difficult to do, but it does appear that Harper could be vulnerable here.
For example, in a column this week Globe business columnist Bruce Little made the following point about the Conservative program: “In the end, the Conservative numbers add up only if you think they can dramatically change the underlying dynamic of most federal spending. If the spending trend … is too entrenched to buck, and the Tories go ahead with their tax cuts and new spending, they'll begin running deficits within a year.” In less polite language, they can’t deliver on their promises – a factor that could be important in a subsequent election.
Martin’s weaknesses as a television performer have always been there but most of the public have been only been discovering them since he became Prime Minister. However, the media are well aware of his abilities. This probably means most don’t expect him to do well. Countering expectations is probably his best chance to be seen to do well in the debates. However, he could also do well simply by using the debates as a vehicle to advance voter awareness of aspects of the Conservative platform that voters may not find appealing. It matters less whether you score points in a boxing sense than that you raise the profile of what helps you and diminish the profile of what creates problems.
The election is too close to be over. We would have a Conservative minority today, but the numbers say a very slight shift back to the Liberals would take us back to a Liberal minority. The general lack of enthusiasm for the various alternatives illustrated by my point about the Green Party as a vehicle for protest, points to a highly divided Parliament, which would probably have a short life span.
Sunday, June 06, 2004
1. To take literally the word of the Globe and Mail and other media, the zeitgeist says we will have a Conservative government. They generally don’t say it, but they imply that it will be a majority government.
However, the slow upward progress of the Conservatives seems more a product of the downward glide of the Liberals at this point than any campaign accomplishments of their own. What is being missed is NDP strength, a product not so much of a brilliant campaign, which clearly it is not, but as the logical place for defecting left-of-centre Liberals to place their votes. Recall that the Ekos poll of a few weeks ago said that Liberal second choices were roughly evenly divided between Conservatives and NDP.
2. The Liberals’ authored the dopiest stunt of the campaign this week when they sent out cabinet ministers Judy Sgro and John McCallum to harass Stephen Harper.
3. All say health care is the number one issue but I have a question: Do the public actually have confidence in any party to solve the problem? I am not sure that they do. If that is the case, then health may not determine any actual votes, despite its “importance”. We saw something similar ten years ago with the then number one issue, unemployment. I suspect running on a second order issue such as the environment, where it is more likely that the public believes that government can do something, might yield a greater electoral dividend. The Conservatives seem to be running in reality on trust and credibility.
4. The Liberals are being hurt badly by the Ontario budget in Ontario, and by sponsorship in Quebec although the latter goes back to February - the overall damage is reflected as distrust. Elsewhere the campaign has not yet taken a definite shape.
4. Overall the three parties all stumbled in various ways in week two. I will assess the TV ads below but, in general, they are all weak.
Jack Layton recovered ground this week. The NDP campaign isn’t great, but he is a strong media performer, and that counts for a great deal in the free media part of the campaign.
I watched all of the CBC town hall and most of an interview on Le Point, plus the Martin/ Layton appearance on the Newsworld youth show. He did well overall in the town hall and gave an excellent response on the homelessness issue in a brief accountability session with Mansbridge at the end. Occasionally, he did not answer the concerns raised by the audience directly (or was too partisan) and should have more often said as he did once in the program, “I respectfully disagree…” instead of trying win over someone who clearly he couldn’t seduce. Bernard Derome conducted a tough accountability interview with Layton on Le Point, that I thought he handled relatively comfortably. I thought he was effective on the youth program as well.
The NDP does best when both the Liberals and Conservatives are weak. The 1990 Ontario election is a good example. The Peterson Liberals were in trouble on a number of fronts including the integrity issue. Just as significant the Conservative brand name had been damaged by its association with Mulroney – Meech, GST, etc. The NDP had a comparative advantage on the key issues which were health, environment and integrity. This time the Conservatives have seized the integrity issue as theirs, although it should be more an issue for the NDP as they have never held power federally. True, the B.C. NDP has some scandals in its closet but so do the Ontario Conservatives. Former provincial PC MPP’s including former Health Minister Tony Clement are running. Yet there has been no discussion of the integrity issue in relation to the Ontario Conservatives despite recent disclosures of $135,000 emails, etc.
The NDP has a morbid fear of strategic voting (which they can’t really do anything about) so they try to campaign against it, and Layton seems more comfortable attacking Martin, but at this stage his interests would be better served by switching his sights to Harper.
Pity Stephen Harper. If this were the last week of the campaign, no one might be looking closely at his proposals. However it is not the last week, and he is beginning to be picked at by the media. For example, this Toronto Star piece on the Harper war on crime.
Now that the platform has been released one can expect more. It is vulnerable on a number of fronts, especially on its numbers. See for example, the Liberal response.
His platform is highly dependent on tax cuts. That is partly why we may see a low ceiling in the Conservative performance in Ontario. Walkerton, lax meat inspection, deteriorating civic infrastructure etc. are still fresh in many voters’ minds. The attacks so far by his opponents have been weak on narrative – linking tax cuts to loss of environmental protection etc, but that could change.
However, the appetite to get rid of the Liberals that is drawing votes to the Conservatives (and the NDP) is very powerful. And determined electorates tend to believe what they want to believe.
Harper is being most hurt, however, by eruptions such as the one on abortion. It may be too much to expect that he and all his candidates will maintain what they call “message discipline" from now ‘til voting day. And that may be what he has to fear most.
The only point I would make about Martin’s campaign is that I think the daycare promise was a net negative for the Liberals. It simply allowed opponents and media to focus on the 1993 Redbook and its daycare commitment, subsequently not fulfilled. Martin’s explanation that the situation was different was too technical for the average voter to comprehend. Because a key issue is trust and credibility, this promise made his situation worse.
The parties’ television ads are among the very most important instruments of communication in the campaign as they reach voters who tune out the news. Yet, the ones we have seen so far seem quite weak. I think the Conservatives’ have the best of a bad lot. Oddly, the newspapers tend to seek only the critique of professional ad men who haven’t a clue about the importance of the political content. Want to see the ads I am talking about – look here:
http://www.ndp.ca/ - Small box on left hand side.
Their ads seem quite amateurish, especially visually, and the scripts simply aren’t compelling. One obvious problem is that Martin is overweight, something you can hide either with clothing or camera angles. A neglected image always distracts from the message, and that is the case here. A larger point is that the Liberals need a biographical ad that reminds the voters of Martin’s great claim to fame – his vanquishing of the budget beast. His story is that just as Canada was to hit the “debt wall”, he came on the scene with his 1995 budget to save the day. The most pertinent word in the previous sentence is “1995” – it was so long ago no one remembers, especially voters under 35, and even older voters need to be reminded of how they felt a decade ago.
The Liberals need an ad like that but there is no sign of it. It could (ideally should) be a combination of two the better ads from American politics: The John Kerry ad called “A Good American” (To be found here on the right hand side further down: http://www.johnkerry.com/videos/ ), and the Reagan ad from 1984 known as “morning in America” (enter here: http://www.ammi.org/livingroomcandidate/index_2000.html , set your video format here: http://www.ammi.org/livingroomcandidate/format.html and find the ad by year. It is the 1984 Republican ad called “Prouder, stronger, better”, the first one in the row.
Their ads are the best of a bad lot. The first one called Accountability with Harper speaking directly to camera works relatively well. He is a little beefy himself but the framing and zoom in keep that from being obvious. The script is clear and understandable if trite.
The second one called carousel works well, but is your classic dirty ad (so I confess I enjoyed watching it very much). However, it is essentially unfair. The ad uses the visual and aural qualities of the medium to convey messages subconsciously to the viewers. We see scenes of money being crumpled then thrown away, and hauled away by garbage trucks accompanied by carousel music. They would never literally accuse the Liberals of this but that is what the music and pictures do. The ad also contains factual errors, so the media really should be going after Harper on this.
The final ad called Demand Better is like the first ad but has a script that is nearly incomprehensible.
The worst of the bunch. I actually agree with the comment of the Globe’s critic who said: “The spot addresses too many issues. Ideally, you’d have one spot for each issue. Instead, Layton’s promises come across like a laundry list for saving the world.”
The ad jumps so fast from issue to issue it is hard to follow. The ad echoes the lack of a coherent theme in the broader NDP campaign.
Yet, the NDP has an opportunity like the Liberals to do a positive issue ad connected to Layton’s biography. For example, they could construct a narrative around his role in building the electricity-generating windmill on the Toronto waterfront and use it as a takeoff point for why he is best qualified on the environment issue.
There comes a point where the campaign jells and we can see the shape of what is to come on voting day, if not the exact result. That happens some time in mid-campaign. I don’t think we are there yet. But it is coming soon.