Thursday, April 27, 2006

New Decima Poll

A CP story out yesterday claims that a new Decima poll has the Conservatives on the verge of majority, although the poll was conducted prior to the flag-at-half-mast controversy.

Conservatives inching into majority territory

OTTAWA (CP) - The Conservatives have seized a commanding lead in popularity over the Liberals and inched into majority-government territory, says a new survey released Wednesday. Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Tories held a 15-point advantage over the Liberals and broke past what is considered the benchmark for winning a majority government, says the Decima poll.

My seat forecaster says this is definitely not a majority - not even close. The Conservatives have only a 7 point lead in Ontario and are no further ahead in Quebec, all of which confirms TC’s earlier posting on this topic. While I can't make a precise estimate due the lack of complete regional data, I think they are around 145 based on these numbers. There were minority governments elected in Canada with 41% of the vote or more in 1963, 1926 and 1921. Decima is jumping to an unwarranted conclusion.

The Conservatives are in a honeymoon period, although it is a weak one roughly comparable to the post-election showing of the Paul Martin Liberals after 2004. See this table of Environics polls, for example. The Decima poll strongly resembles the Liberal lead over the Conservatives in September/October 2005, which was 38-27 with 20% for the NDP.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Jane Jacobs

Jane Jacobs died today. I listened tonight to John Sewell's eloquent tribute to her wisdom on As It Happens during which he recommended to all who had not done so, that they read The Death and Life of Great American Cities. For some reason it reminded me of the time I heard movie critic Roger Ebert say that he envied those who had never seen some of the great classic films such as Casablanca, Singin in the Rain and Citizen Kane, thinking of the pleasure awaiting them on their first viewing. I think that comment applies equally to those who have not read Jane Jacobs' classic book about cities. I remember seeing her at the launch of David Miller's campaign for Mayor of Toronto in 2003 and feeling a thrill at just being in her presence.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Liberal Leadership Race

With the entry of Bob Rae to the Liberal leadership race today, the field is filling up. I am trying to follow it (I find this blog aggregating site very helpful) and think it will be an interesting race, but the outcome for the moment mystifies me. For what it is worth here are some of my views so far:

1. I don’t think Rae has a chance. His negative baggage alone will defeat him but I also think he has terrible political judgment. For example, why did he wait until just a few weeks ago to join the party he hopes to lead, especially if he has been thinking about it for some time? He will be hurt also by his association with the Chrétien crowd who many see as bearing a significant share of blame for the defeat in January.

2. Michael Ignatieff is getting a great deal of media attention but I suspect his lack of political experience and his patrician biography will cost him support as time goes on. You can see some of his strengths and more of his weaknesses on display in this description of a meeting with local Liberals in Hamilton.

3. My impression is that Gerard Kennedy is doing well. For example, see here and here. I would guess that Kennedy is the candidate the NDP would least like to see take the prize, especially with his food bank biography and left of centre reputation. However, if he is really the micro-manager he is reputed to be, that will cause its greatest damage once he becomes leader, and even more so if he becomes PM.

4. Ken Dryden has had no impact thus far but has enormous potential. As the goaltender for Team Canada 1972, he is the best known among the public. He is the tortoise to Michael Ignatieff’s hare. A marketer’s dream, he could be the candidate the Conservatives fear most. For example, how would one attack a genuine Canadian hero?

5. I would not underestimate the potential of Stephane Dion. He may not win but could wind up commanding a big block of delegates simply because he commands intellectual respect.

6. The rules for this convention were shaped by the Martin crew and their thinking reflected paranoia that the Chrétienites would somehow outfox them in the 2003 leadership race. This gives an advantage to skilled Martin organizers such as Joe Volpe, who would otherwise be just another also ran. But his organizational clout alone could give him enough delegates to wield considerable influence on the eventual outcome.

7. There are others who could impress including Scott Brison and even Martha Hall Findlay. I think both Brison and Rae will be hurt by their status as recent converts and the presence of more than one in the race makes this a greater liability for both.

8. I don’t know what to make of Bevilacqua, but I think Carolyn Bennett’s candidacy is simply not believable.

As a multi-ballot convention, I have no doubt there will more interesting wheeling and dealing than we have seen in a Canadian political convention in the last couple of decades.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Global Warming and Journalism

One of the things that annoys TC from time to time is the journalistic convention of "on the one hand, on the other hand" being applied to global warming where it is clearly inappropriate.

One sees it repeated in the April 23 New York Times where yet another article is headlined "Yelling Fire on a Hot Planet". However, after quoting one climatologist who doubts there is global warming comes the following telling passage:

In 2001, a large team of scientists issued the latest assessment of climate change and concluded that more than half of the recent warming was likely to have been caused by people, primarily because we're adding tens of billions of tons of carbon dioxide and other long-lived greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, mainly by burning coal and oil.

There is no serious debate any more about one thing: more of these gases will cause more warming. Dr. Lindzen - the doubter I note above, bolding is also mine - who contends any human climate influence is negligible and has long criticized those calling global warming a catastrophe, agreed on this basic fact in his article.

In other words even the doubter thinks that although greenhouses have not warmed the planet yet, they will in the future. This fact alone ought to blow away the journalistic paradigm for how this issue is treated. And everyone should go to see the new film about Al Gore called "An Inconvenient Truth".

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Conservatives and Quebec

I have seen numerous references in the media to the notion that the Conservatives plan for a majority (in the Saturday April 15 Globe for example) next time hinges on making large gains in Quebec. It is not clear what expectations are for Ontario but they are comparatively less optimistic. This strikes me as quite bonkers on their part. As the numbers from the Environics poll suggest, a Conservative majority seems to be a remote prospect anyway. However, a closer look at the poll’s seat gains for the Cons show that they are largely in Ontario. They gained 4 points in Quebec and 5 in Ontario compared to the election but in Ontario that sends them into first place with an 11 point lead. That naturally produces huge seat gains – from 40 won on election-day to a hypothetical 61 – whereas in Quebec they would pick up only 2 seats. The fact is the Conservatives have further to go in Quebec than in Ontario and Quebec nationalism stands in the way.

Not only is there a hard core of nationalist voters in Quebec who won’t support the Conservatives, but Quebecers are more socially liberal than other parts of Canada including Ontario, more supportive of Kyoto, while Harper cuts programs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and more sceptical of the Afghanistan military commitment. I am not certain that the Conservatives’ back room strategists genuinely think this way, although Harper’s courting of Quebec implies that they take it seriously, but the numbers just don’t add up.

The wishful thinking in their approach to a number of policy issues, such as global warming, seems to be reflected in the Conservative party’s political strategy. The old Mulroney coalition was always intrinsically unstable and Conservatives were deeply divided back then between Quebec and the west on Quebec’s place in the federation. The divisions would reappear except that the nationalist wing of the Mulroney Conservative party in Quebec has its own highly successful nationalist political party now in the BQ. Will Quebec embrace the other values of the Conservatives for the sake of making a little progress on fiscal imbalance? I don’t think Harper should count on it.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Harper's Honeymoon

It did not get much notice when it was released last week but this poll from Environics confirms that we are in the middle of the Harper honeymoon period.

The national results are: Conservatives – 41%, Liberals – 22% and NDP 21%. These numbers are echoed by a Strategic Counsel poll in today’s Globe that has things a little better for the Liberals: Conservatives – 39%, Liberals – 29% and NDP 14%.

Liberal support is depressed in part because they are leaderless and in transition. To me the most interesting aspect of the poll is that despite an enormous gap between first and second place, my seat calculation suggests the Conservatives still fall short of a majority, largely because although they are up in Quebec, the BQ remains far ahead – 44% to 29%. (The Bloc is also up in the Strategic Counsel poll.)

My seat projections based on Environics are: Conservatives – 152, Liberals – 57, NDP – 41, BQ – 57, Independent – 1.

Some other results from the poll: Harper’s approval rating is up to 60%, another indication of the honeymoon period. The NDP doesn’t get much attention, but this poll found that Layton’s approval remained high at 58%.

Of greater interest was another three part question which found that 91% thought the election result was a product of either dissatisfaction with the former government (54%) or a feeling it was time for a change (37%) rather than the attraction of Conservative policies (5%).

This strikes me as perfectly normal. The Liberals defeated themselves, and the Conservatives don’t really have a mandate for anything except good governance.

The Strategic Counsel poll also has numbers on the Liberal leadership that deserve to be ignored given that only 19% of respondents had an opinion. That makes the details unimportant. I would say generally that polls on the leadership race should be ignored especially at this early stage of the race. (The NDP released a poll this week with question they commissioned on Bob Rae but that appears largely to be a tactical move aimed at deflecting the embarrassment of Rae’s defection.) I plan to write more about the leadership race, which looks like it will be quite interesting.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Closing Polls - 2006 Election

I have compared the final polls in the 2006 election to the actual results in some detail – both the national and the regional numbers.

Most attention has focused on the quite accurate closing SES poll. What I found most interesting about this poll was its unique ballot question:

1. If a FEDERAL election were held today, could you please rank your top two current local voting preferences? (First ranked reported)
2. Are you currently leaning towards any particular FEDERAL party, and if you are, which party would that be?

I do not know if asking voters to rank preferences had anything to do with SES’s accuracy or not – it could have been partly a fluke – but it does intrigue me, partly because it is not entirely obvious how SES translated responses into its numbers.

One reason SES was accurate was that it polled until the last minute and there was a late surge of Liberal support that earlier closing polls such as Ekos and Ipsos-Reid Online missed. The second most accurate national poll, however, came from Léger marketing and it was completed well ahead of election-day. That says to me that its accuracy was indeed accomplished by chance.

Once again all the polls were generally accurate. The largest polling “errors” were associated with the late Liberal surge, and the longstanding difficulty in accurately measuring public opinion in Quebec. This latter phenomenon I believe is related to the deep federalist/nationalist divisions is Quebec society.

These performances reinforce my conviction that polling is generally-speaking accurate, especially if it consists of simple questions asking about behaviour. The aggregate error (that is taking each error for each party and adding it all up) was only 2.7% for SES and reached a high of 9.6% for Ipsos-Reid Online.

Most of the closing numbers in the national polls, with one notable exception, were within the margin of error. The Liberal Party estimates of Ekos, Ipsos-Reid Online and Strategic Counsel were just outside the margin of error, but in the case of Ekos it could be attributed to completing their polling early. There was something more at work in the case of the Ipsos-Reid Online survey that I want to discuss.

This was the first election where online polling really began to take hold. The Ipsos-Reid poll was not the most accurate for its national numbers, but was second when it came to the accuracy of its regional data. The big advantage of polling via the internet is that it significantly reduces data gathering costs and therefore permits much larger sample sizes. However, we find using the Ipsos poll as an example, that its error frequently exceeded the statistical margin of error. Margin of error is related only to sample size and Ipsos had much larger samples (its overall national sample was 9,648) so its errors ought to be smaller. The fact that its errors frequently exceeded the statistical margin of error says to me that this methodology still has some way to go before it can displace more traditional methods. However, their overall accuracy on the regional numbers compared to the actual results tells us that it is worthwhile for the pollsters to pursue their experimentation with online research.

There is a discussion of the accuracy of the campaign polls in the March issue of Policy Options. It is journalistic, does not include systematic research and confuses seat projections (something tcnorris understands) with polling. However, this is a subject that the daily media barely discusses although they devote reams of space during a campaign to the discussion of polls so I to think Policy Options deserves credit for commissioning an article on the subject. Speaking of seat projections, I will have more to say in upcoming posts.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

The virtues of paying taxes

I really liked this post on TPM Café about the virtues of taxes:

The Republican mantra -- "shrink government and lower taxes" -- is fundamentally dishonest. They want us to believe that we are heavily taxed by an oppressive government and get nothing in return.

The truth is, our quality of life is far safer and more convenient because of government ordinances, regulations and inspections. Follow me through a typical day and I'll show you what I mean. Government services and regulations may seem invisible, but they’re everywhere you look. Read the rest here.

You can substitute Conservative for Republican and the point remains the same. The political right is constantly promoting what amounts to an illusion: that ordinary people can increase their real income via tax cuts. It is a key part of Harper's message. The centre and left ought to be far more aggressive in attacking this fallacy. At its core, the conservative message on taxes is fundamentally dishonest; whatever the case for a particular tax cut, there is a real price to pay.