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.

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