Saturday, March 22, 2008

Media post by-election analysis

There has been a fair amount of analysis of the by-elections in the media. Most of it, in TC's view, not worth much.

The media likes the Greens (partly because of their newness), but simply doesn't understand how weak the Greens really are. TC wrote about this before, demonstrating that the Greens have a very inefficient vote. The Greens are more harmed by the first-past-the-post system than other parties.

On the other hand the NDP has a highly efficient vote, and is good at focusing its resources to get results. While the NDP did not do well in this week's by-elections, the last time the NDP made a major effort, in Outremont last September, they achieved a breakthrough. TC suggests ignoring much of the analysis that has been written this week about the party's woes.

The best the Greens could do in the by-elections was to increase their vote share by a factor of 2.6 (in Vancouver Quadra). As a hypothetical exercise TC took the results of the 2006 election and multiplied the Green vote share by 2.6 in each province (adjusting the other parties appropriately). The result gives the Greens a national vote share of about 12%. However, when applied to TC's forecast model, even this large increase would still not deliver any seats to the party.

Such an increase is not likely to happen as it seems likely to TC that Elizabeth May will in some way endorse Dion in the next election. However, the risks of their collaboration were made evident in the Quadra by-election where the unexpectedly weak Liberal showing meant the Green vote almost handed the seat to the Conservatives. This may have some as yet undefined longer term impact.

TC's view is that more and more Green and NDP inclined voters are thinking about and actually voting strategically in order to prevent Conservatives from winning. One place to look for it in the next election would be in Vancouver Quadra where expectations will be changed by the results of the by-election this week. The increase in the Green vote owed much no doubt to the widespread perception that Quadra was a 'safe' Liberal constituency. Quadra indeed turned out to be a safe Liberal seat. A good definition of 'safe seat' for a party would be a constituency where, even if the party's candidate is weak and loses significant vote share to third parties, and faces a vigorous challenge from the party's major opponent, the party still wins.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

By-elections: Contrasting Results

TC's observations:

1. The Liberals did exceptionally well in Toronto, poorly out west. Can one generalize about Dion on the numbers? Doesn't look like it. TC's guess is local factors were important. The candidate controversy in Saskatchewan hurt the Liberal. Turnout differential within the riding may well have helped the Conservative. The Liberal candidate in BC seemed to be weak.

2. Bad night generally for the NDP. Their vote held up better in the Saskatchewan and BC than Ontario. Their effort appeared to be minimal.

3. Good night for the Greens. It lends credibility to polls showing them doing well. They look like a continuing problem for both the Liberals and the NDP. However, the close outcome in Quadra will likely lead to strategic voting in the general election that boosts Liberal numbers next time. The Greens continue to have the least efficient vote. In most of TC's forecasts in the past few years they don't win a single seat. Their leader's claims (that they can win 6 to 12 seats) should be discounted.

4. Mixed night for Harper but winning even one seat is a boost. Loss in Quadra, which could have gone the other way, is a blow. His inept Finance Minister probably cost them votes in Ontario.

5. TC has a method to project province-wide numbers from the individual riding results. Here is a table that displays them and calculates province-wide seat numbers from the projection (need to be taken with a grain of salt).

Liberal C.P.C. NDP Green
Ontario 47.0 32.0 10.3 10.0
Seats 83 23 0 0

Saskatchewan 16.0 53.6 25.9 4.5
Seats 1 13

BC 19.0 43.1 24.0 13.1
Seats 4 25 7

Enough said.

UPDATE: Well, not enough. The by-election numbers are essentially consistent with this latest Harris-Decima survey.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Bear Sterns and Politics

TC sees the emerging financial and economic crisis as an event whose economic significance will be matched a few months from now by its political significance.

In U.S. politics that means the chatter about Obama's preacher, or the Hillary Clinton campaign's feud with Daily Kos, will be long forgotten in the midst of a debate about the U.S. economy. TC's view (for what its worth) is that Obama, barring a Spitzer-like episode, is going to be the Democratic nominee. Much of what Clinton is now doing looks like what you would expect from a candidate whose campaign is slowly unwinding.

In the meantime there are a number posts on the web about the economic crisis worth reading including:

  1. Paul Krugman's column today and his blog (I especially liked this).
  2. Harold Chorney's post on the Bear Sterns takeover.
  3. This column by Nouriel Roubini, now a few weeks old.
  4. And finally this post by Marc Lee [with the wonderful title Monetary policy in the time of (financial) cholera] who gets the final word:

To the extent that this financial crisis spreads to the real economy, we (Canada) will need to limber up our fiscal policy. If that happens, the first place to start is by running a deficit – a deficit will happen “naturally” due to weakening macro forces given the razor thin surpluses in Ottawa looking forward. The trick is not to start cutting spending for the sake of a balanced budget under any circumstances.

By-elections latest

The site predicts three Liberal wins in the cities plus the Conservatives in the Saskatchewan seat. It should be understood these are predictions by the person who runs the site. His record is good but far from perfect.

Meanwhile, the Green Party has released the results of polls in three of the four ridings, predicting a Conservative win in Saskatchewan plus Liberal wins in Willowdale and Quadra. While the Greens trail, the results are not surprisingly flattering to them, ranging from 12 to 19% (higher if the undecided are excluded). TC thinks they look much too high. Curiously however, no poll in Toronto Centre.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

The four federal by-elections: what should we expect?

There will be four by-elections on Monday March 17 in ridings won by the Liberals in the last election. Three of the four are in urban constituencies won by wide margins by well known incumbents, all of whom were members of Paul Martin's cabinet. In the 2006 election in Toronto Centre Bill Graham won with 52.2% of the vote; in the Toronto riding of Willowdale Jim Peterson had 55.2% while in Vancouver Quadra Stephen Owen won 49.1% of the vote. The fourth, in the northern Saskatchewan riding of Desnethé--Missinippi--Churchill River, elected Liberal Gary Merasty in 2006 by a mere 67 votes out of 24,636 cast as he won just 41.4% of the vote.

They are seen as a test of Stéphane Dion's leadership because there does appear to be a real lack of confidence in his leadership within the Liberal party, not just by the usual suspects in the media. TC isn't sure, however, that the by-elections provide much of a test.

In the case of Toronto Centre Liberal candidate Bob Rae is better known than his predecessor and could thus top Graham's 2006 performance. By comparison Martha Hall Findlay is not nearly as well known in her Willowdale riding (she ran previously in Newmarket--Aurora in 2004 where she lost narrowly to Belinda Stronach), but should win easily although her vote percentage could well fall short of the Liberal share in 2006.

The Conservatives could easily win the Saskatchewan riding (which they did win in 2004) but it may not be of any significance. The NDP is a factor here too (Rick Laliberté won this riding in 1997 and then was re-elected as a Liberal in 2000). Their candidate is Brian Morin. The Liberal candidate is Joan Beatty a former NDP cabinet minister in the Calvert government who defected to the Liberals just after the last provincial election. She might confront resentment at the opportunism of her move. TC certainly has not been able to find any hard information to suggest which way the political winds may be blowing in northern Saskatchewan, but purely local factors could well predominate.

In Vancouver Quadra the Liberal candidate is former BC cabinet minister Joyce Murray, who previously represented a riding quite distant from Quadra. Her situation looks much like that of Martha Hall Findlay at the riding level.

The public opinion evidence can best be described as unclear. The last Angus Reid Online Poll found the Conservatives well ahead in BC outperforming their support in 2006, but trailing the Liberals in Ontario by roughly the same margin as in 2006. By contrast the most recent Harris-Decima found the two parties approximately tied in both BC and Ontario in terms of their three week averages, meaning better Liberal support in BC than 2006 but a weaker performance in Ontario.

The impact on a possible federal election is relatively simple to assess: a Liberal sweep by higher percentages than in 2006 would put us on the road to an early election. A perceived setback for the Liberals would likely postpone a federal election at least until the autumn.

The debate about Dion's leadership seems almost pointless to TC. He will lead the Liberals in the next election regardless, and he could even win. Typically governments lose elections; opposition parties don't win them. While an upset by Dion doesn't seem at all likely, don't forget that the inept Joe Clark defeated Pierre Trudeau in 1979. Five years of unemployment and growing inflation are what made the difference then. The economy in Canada is strong today, but the deterioration now happening south of the border will get here eventually, so the outcome of the next election cannot be predicted this month with any certainty, and the by-elections, whatever the outcome, won't mean a thing in six months.

Friday, March 14, 2008

The impending downturn and the political fallout

In an earlier post I compared the political impact of recessions to the military consequences of using nuclear weapons.

Today Paul Krugman wrote the following:

Four years ago, an academic economist named Ben Bernanke co-authored a technical paper that could have been titled “Things the Federal Reserve Might Try if It’s Desperate” — although that may not have been obvious from its actual title, “Monetary Policy Alternatives at the Zero Bound: An Empirical Investigation.”

Today, the Fed is indeed desperate, and Mr. Bernanke, as its chairman, is putting some of the paper’s suggestions into effect. Unfortunately, however, the Bernanke Fed’s actions — even though they’re unprecedented in their scope — probably won’t be enough to halt the economy’s downward spiral.

After that column had been written, along came the news that a leading U.S. Investment Banker - Bear Stearns - had to be bailed out by J.P. Morgan Chase and the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, and the Dow dropped just under 200 points.

So we seem headed for a recession. However, the Federal Reserve recognizes the fact and is moving quickly to do something about it There is also some budgetary stimulus. That means even a 1929 type crash would not likely be followed by a steady descent into depression, but a rough ride of some kind seems assured at least in the short run. It is going to take some time to reach Canada and the global commodity boom will cushion in the impact for the immediate future but a widespread downturn would affect us too.

The political fallout in the United States should be visible soon.

UPDATE: Bush has admitted the economy is in trouble while Republican Senator Norm Coleman calls it a recession.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

The Shape of Things to Come?

The Democrats won a safe Republican Congressional district in a special election yesterday.

Consider this:
The Chicago Tribune calls it "a stunning upset Saturday that could be a sign of trouble for Republicans this fall." In The Chicago Sun-Times, the conclusion is that it's a "major blow to the Republican Party."

Or this from the New York Times:

The election here was expensive, bitter and, with its rash of television commercials, impossible to ignore. The national political parties clearly saw it as a critical one.

By last week, the National Republican Congressional Committee had poured $1.2 million into this race; the Democratic Congressional Committee had given more than $620,000.
Or this:

Bill Foster ran strong on Iraq the whole campaign, with several ads focused on withdrawal and the costs of the war. This was a heavily Republican district that turned on an anti-war and pro-civil liberties message to a Democrat.

Here is Foster's anti-Iraq war tv ad:

Saturday, March 08, 2008

What will be the big issue in the U.S. election?

In a column called The Anxiety Election, Paul Krugman argues that the economy will be the dominant issue in the fall election and notes some recent poll expressing public optimism about the war.

TC believes that rising economic anxiety actually makes the war a more difficult issue for the Republicans. The war has deeply soured the American mood. It will undermine McCain who is clearly identified with the conflict, even if it is not the most important top of mind issue when voters cast their ballots. Even if Americans think the war is going well in the autumn they still won't be happy about it. Victory was supposed to be cheap. Instead Joseph Stiglitz now estimates that the cost will more like three trillion dollars. The right track/wrong track polls are negative today in large part because of Iraq, although the economy may soon displace that concern. In the most recent AP poll, that spread is 73% wrong track/ 22% right track.

Back of mind bitterness about how things have been for the past eight years, which has largely been about the war, will not help the Republicans in the fall. TC hears growing anxiety about the impact of the divisive race for the Democratic nomination. However, recessions are to politics what nuclear weapons are to war. They tend to destroy everything in their path - and in the case of politics that means incumbent governments and political parties.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Clinton-Obama - where do we go from here?

This post on Open Left is interesting. It is by a Democratic activist named Mike Lux. He has had strong ties to the Clintons but had not been involved in the campaign. Just today he decided to endorse Obama. The bolding in the middle is mine.

His reasoning is interesting:

This time, the decision to stay out has been especially complicated by my relationship with Hillary Clinton. I am a loyalty guy, have always stuck by friends and the people who have been good to me even when I don't always agree with them, and Hillary has always been good to me personally. The Clintons brought me to Washington, took a chance on me as a very young man with little national experience. Hillary always treated me collegially and with great respect, both when I worked for her and afterwards....

However, we have now come to a crossroads in this campaign. Ironically, it was yesterday's results which have spurred my decision. If Obama had won Texas or Ohio or both, the end would be clearly in sight, and there would have been no reason for me to take the painful personal step of opposing my old friend Hillary. But I now feel it more important than ever to do so. Yesterday's victories by Hillary were impressive- as I've said before, you can never count her out. But even as impressive as those victories were, she gained very little net advantage in the delegate race. It's become increasingly clear to me that between Obama's delegate lead and the number of states left where he is likely to win big victories (WY, MS, NC, OR, MT, SD), it is virtually impossible for Hillary to gain an advantage in the pledged delegate count.

It is also clear that she won Ohio and Texas in great part to a harshly negative attack, including an ad and rhetoric on national security that completely reinforces the Bush/McCain/Republican line of attack on Democrats for the last several years.

I am not arguing that Obama is the inevitable candidate, so we should all just fall in line. In fact, I do think there is a path to the nomination for Clinton:

• She runs another harshly negative attack echoing Republican themes and beats Obama in PA
• The campaign lays heavy pressure and cuts every deal imaginable to win over a solid majority of the remaining uncommitted delegates
• The campaign then wins a bitterly negative, highly divisive credentials committee fight by a few votes

At that point, she has just enough delegates to win the nomination in a fight that goes down to convention week.

I can't think of another scenario at this point for a Clinton victory. None of the pro-Clintonites I have asked about it can spell out another way, either.

With that kind of nomination fight, the millions of African-Americans, first-time-involved-in-politics young people, and all the other Obama folks leave Denver feeling like the election has been stolen.

That is not a recipe for a Democratic victory in November. As high as my regard is for Hillary Clinton, as strong as my instinct has always been to remain neutral, that kind of scenario forces me to support Obama.

However, TC thinks that the challenge is good for Obama. He needs to learn how to take a punch and it is better to learn now rather than October. TC's own guess is that this is something of a replay of the Ford Reagan race in 1976, where Ford prevailed after a late challenge from from Reagan. Ford went on to lose barely in the fall campaign to Jimmy Carter but Ford's loss was due in large part to the legacy from Watergate.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Alberta Election - Brief Post Mortem

A random collection of thoughts:
  1. I don't recall an election campaign where the news zeitgeist was so firmly contradicted by the results. This may not bode well for Stelmach.
  2. TC's guess is that the unhappiness with the Stelmach government is still there, but the electorate did not like the alternatives and defaulted to business as usual.
  3. The Leger poll was the most accurate, a fact they were quick to trumpet.
  4. The turnout was 41%, the lowest ever.
  5. The Green vote was 4.6% substantially below their 7.6% average in the polls, another instance of the Greens underperforming their polls when the votes are counted.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Alberta Election - Two out of Three Polls Got It Right

My instincts and the news coverage were wrong about this one. The Leger and Strategic Counsel polls were very close to the net outcome but not the Reid poll. See results here. Final poll numbers can be found in my previous post.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Alberta Election: the polls don't agree

There may be one more poll coming but two of the three polls released so far, one from Strategic Counsel in the Globe and Mail and another from Leger for the Edmonton/Calgary papers, suggest a Conservative majority larger than 2004.

Angus Reid, who conducts his polls online, also added a "certain to vote" question, and it makes a difference in the poll that could be indicative of what to expect on Monday.

Here are the final polls based just on the ballot question:

Pollster Dates PC Liberal NDP Wildrose Alliance Green
Leger Feb. 21-28 55 24 7 6 8
Strategic Counsel Feb. 27-28 50 25 8 10 8
Angus Reid Feb. 27-28 43 28 13 10 7

Leger does qualify its findings by noting there is a large number of undecideds, an unusual statement for a pollster to make at the end of a campaign. Strategic Counsel said their research "found no evidence of this".

When Reid applies his "certain to vote" filter it pushes the PC total below 40%.

Pollster Dates PC Liberal NDP Wildrose Alliance Green
Reid Certain Voters Feb. 27-28 39 30 13 10 8

The Reid numbers seem to TC to correspond better to the flavour of news coverage coming out of the election, and makes him wonder if even these numbers have captured the full extent of what appears likely to be a low turnout prompted in no small measure by normally PC voters who don't want to support the almost 37 year old government yet again.

TC is inclined to think Reid's numbers will be closer to reality. They still produce a comfortable Conservative majority of 53 seats with 23 for the Liberals, 5 for the NDP and 2 for the Wildrose Alliance. But TC's model should not be expected to work as reliably in this context so the seat numbers need to be taken with more than the usual amount of caution.

As a final word, consider what Alberta's Members of Parliament were reported to have said to Stephen Harper:

...the confided consensus of MPs was Premier Ed Stelmach is about to lose a bunch of seats in Monday's provincial election and, if the large undecided vote shifts to the opposition or stays home, perhaps lurch into the nightmare scenario of forming Alberta's first ever minority government.