Wednesday, June 30, 2004

How the riding by riding forecast performed.

I have now compared the predicted winner in my seat forecasting model to the actual winner in each constituency (on the basis of the preliminary results).

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.

What Happened with the Polls

I have finished a full comparison of the polls to the preliminary results and can add a little to yesterday's posts.

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

Polls - Post Mortem 2

A brief comment on the polls.

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.

Post Mortem 1

It appears that almost all the difference between the election outcome and the last pre-campaign polls was last minute switching in Ontario including a fair bit of NDP to Liberal strategic voting. This is the first time I can recall such a late shift in Canada.

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 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

Closing tick

Sometimes one can see the equivalent of the stock market's closing tick in politics. It is definitely there I think in the last few polls out of Quebec that show a trend back to the Liberals. Combined with the silent federalist vote, a well-established phenomenon, it could make for at least a modest disappointment for Mr. Duceppe.

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

A new poll and a revised forecast

There is yet another poll out - a Leger poll distinct from the one released yesterday - that shows a slightly tighter race in Quebec. This suggests that, combined with the fact that pollsters many times in the past couldn't find a hidden federalist vote in Quebec, my Bloc projection below might be still on the high side.

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

Final Polls Point to Conservative Minority

The final polls are pointing clearly to a weak Conservative minority government.

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.

Two caveats:

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

Reid and Compas June 25 Polls

Here are my seat totals from the Compas and Reid polls released on June 25. Notice the margin in Reid. 1972 here we come. The Compas margin is due to a big spread in Ontario not found in other polls.

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

A race too close to call

We have a race too close to call. The election commenced with hostility to the Liberals as a common theme, but the electorate was unable to find an alternative to the Liberals on whom to bestow their favour.

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

New Reid Poll

So the Liberals are ahead after poll after poll telling us they were behind? A Reid poll released June 22, 2004 has the Liberals at 34, the Conservatives at 28 and the NDP at 16. My seat calculation based on this is Liberals -125, Conservatives – 96, NDP – 19, BQ – 67. This would leave the Liberals and NDP combined short of a majority.

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

What's Next

Minority Government Scenarios
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.

New Poll
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
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.

The Conservatives
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

The ABL (Anybody but the Liberals) Campaign

My strongest impression of the campaign to date is that it has been characterized by spitting-mad hostility to the Liberals. One interesting aspect of this is that I have been hearing a great deal of anecdotal evidence that the Green Party will receive a significant protest vote, largely from those who one assumes previously voted Liberal. Now they are attracted by the increasingly familiar Green brand name. This is not necessarily a serious, environmentally conscious vote – I wouldn’t be at all surprised if some of those contemplating a Green vote drive SUV’s and grouse about high gas prices (the Green Party is the only federal party explicitly promising higher gas taxes). It is a pure protest vote.

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.

The Polls

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

The Campaign – Week Two

Various points:

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.

The Leaders

Jack Layton

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.

Stephen 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.

Paul Martin

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.

TV Ads

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: - Small box on left hand side.

The Liberals

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: ), and the Reagan ad from 1984 known as “morning in America” (enter here: , set your video format here: and find the ad by year. It is the 1984 Republican ad called “Prouder, stronger, better”, the first one in the row.

The Conservatives

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.

Saturday, June 05, 2004

Assessment of Week Two - the Polls

Polls & Seats

In a federal election, sometimes the campaign matters, and sometimes it is events outside the campaign that determine the outcome. So far, I think it is the latter. I agree with Darrell Bricker’s assessment in the Saturday Globe that the two most important factors in the campaign so far are the Ontario budget and the sponsorship scandal. The campaign itself as yet does not seem to have had much impact. One has to remember that the first instinct of the media is to attribute every little wiggle in the polls to some campaign development. I attribute most of the wiggles to the margin of error. For example, there is no way that the NDP is really at 14% on Tuesday in B.C. but 23% on Saturday - but that is what the Reid poll reported. I realize the temptation to do this microanalysis is strong but one must resist. It is usually not justified.

On average the four most recent polls would produce an average seat distribution as follows: Liberal – 107, Conservatives –111, NDP – 33, BQ – 57.

This means a weak minority Conservative government that can only ensure a partisan majority with the support of the Bloc, a sure fire formula for instability given the differences between the two groups. The nub of the problem was articulated in an op-ed in the Globe by former Bloc MP Pierrette Venne:

Just consider the Bloc's history: When it was first elected in 1993, it was so uncomfortable in the role of Official Opposition that Lucien Bouchard even refused to move into Stornoway, the official residence of the Leader of the Opposition. In its very early days, long before being taken over by career union leaders and becoming a branch of the Parti Québécois, the Bloc's roots were profoundly conservative.

Over the years, however, in order to rid the party of everything that was not appropriately social democratic, it has undergone several purges. It's hard to see how Gilles Duceppe and Co. could associate themselves with outsiders who have a conservative ideology they could not stomach in their own ranks.

I tried out various scenarios again in my number cruncher to try to find a Conservative majority. I couldn’t do it, mainly because the Conservatives won’t win seats in Quebec. Even an optimistic projection elsewhere at best gets them into the 140 to 145 range, but that is the equivalent of a landslide on a 1984 scale in English Canada. The key difference this time is that defecting Liberals are about as likely to vote NDP as Conservative.

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