Monday, October 31, 2005

Gomery and the Goblins of the Polls

It is both Halloween and the eve before Gomery. There is much expectation in the air.

I propose to simply lay down a couple of bench marks tonight. First, the weighted average of the three most recent national polls:

Liberal - 38.4; Conservative - 28.0; NDP 17.0; BQ - 12.0; Green - 3.6.

And a seat calculation based on a weighted average of the three most recent polls where we have a regional breakout:

Liberal - 146; Conservative - 78; NDP- 22; BQ - 62.

Things have been drifting the Liberals way in recent months (although no majority) but it is not clear if public opinion at the moment has any solid foundations.

The numbers that cause my eyebrows to arch at the moment are comparatively strong Liberal statistics on the prairies. My intuitive reaction is to give them as much credence as the ghosts and goblins. We shall see.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Polls and Sponsorship

There was an interesting review of a new book on the Liberal Party by Stephen Clarkson in the Saturday Globe and Mail. The review, written by Paul Martin political advisor and spinmeister John Duffy, included the following passage about the eruption of the sponsorship scandal in 2004.

Liberal polling showed that on the release of the Auditor-General's report, party support dropped 17 per cent in 48 hours, the most sudden, catastrophic plunge in Canadian political history. To the horror of Grits everywhere, the Liberal "brand" had become Enronesque at a stroke. It was only by sharing Canadians' horror at the revelations, announcing significant steps to remedy them and appointing the Gomery commission that Martin was able to recoup 12 points within days.

These numbers from “Liberal polling” are new to me. Curiously the rise and fall cited by Duffy is not evident in the published polls at the time, which showed the Liberals dropping by an average of 10.5 percentage points from an average of several polls in the six weeks preceding the AG report compared to the average of published polls in the month following but not recovering.

The average gap between the Liberals and Conservatives did fall from 28 to 11 points, a fall of 17 points which corresponds to Duffy’s 17 point drop but there was no recovery and the gap remained 11 points for the following month. The miraculous recovery of 12 points cited by Duffy is nowhere in evidence.

However, I do agree with his argument directed against Clarkson. In the review Duffy makes this statement: He (Clarkson) asserts uncritically the view that Paul Martin bungled by failing to cover up the sponsorship scandal. Duffy then goes on to argue: Saying "pay no attention to that man behind the curtain," as Clarkson and others argue Martin should have done, would have created a cover-up issue, brought Martin directly into the scandal and doomed the Liberals as surely as Turner's midwifery of Trudeau's patronage had done a generation before.

I have seen the argument attributed here to Clarkson before, and I don’t understand it. Once the AG had taken aim at the sponsorship program, Martin did the only thing he could, which was distance himself from the whole mess. There are those who have the illusion that sweeping it under the carpet was still an option even after Sheila Fraser’s famous expressions of disgust at her news conference. The polls published and now, so it seems, internal to the Liberal Party, say otherwise.

Monday, October 17, 2005

A tale of two polls

Two recent polls – one by Ipsos-Reid, the other by Léger Marketing – on Ontario party preference tell us why it is best to regard any one given set of poll numbers, to say the least, cautiously. I find nothing more irritating than news reports based on a single survey that cite “polls” as an authority. When you consider the following numbers you can see how foolish much of this type of reporting really is.

The two surveys were back to back – Léger’s survey ran from Sept. 21-26 while Ipsos-Reid’s was conducted from Sept. 27 to Oct. 6. But Reid had the Tories ahead: Conservative – 38%, Liberals – 37%, NDP – 17% and Green – 7% while Léger gave the Grits a big lead of 43% to 31% for the Conservatives with 15% for the NDP and 11% for others.

So who to believe since it is implausible and the minute difference in survey periods would explain the shift. My guess is that Ipsos-Reid is closer to the truth. There have been several surveys over the past year reporting a narrow or non-existent gap between the two leading parties. Léger looks like an outlier but who knows. There is no election for another two years so we will never know for certain.

One hopeful sign in Ipsos-Reid for the governing Liberals is that the public is evenly divided in their approval of the government. In our first-past-the-post system that is all you need.