Monday, December 20, 2010

Tory Majority: the Ottawa Spin Machine

The Ottawa scribes are at it again.  Jane Taber is getting spun round the block by a "senior Tory MP" in her latest missive, titled Tories target 190 ridngs. Let us examine just this one quote:
Some of their target ridings are obvious – the three seats in Newfoundland and Labrador, for example, that were held prior to the last election and not just the Avalon seat they lost as a direct result of Danny Williams’s Anybody-But-Conservatives campaign. Now that the popular premier has stepped down, the Conservatives think they can win them back. 
They think they can win "them" back.  One of the three is St. John's East.  Here is the result from the last election.

Parl Date Candidate Occupation Votes Votes (%) Party Elected
40 2008/10/14 HARRIS, Jack lawyer  30,881 74.55% N.D.P. 

NOEL, Walter economist  5,211 12.58% Lib 

WESTCOTT, Craig journalist - self-employed  3,836 9.26%

TOBIN, Shannon John student - entrepreneur  578 1.40% PC Party 

STORY, Howard businessman  570 1.38% G.P. 

COULTAS, Les retail manager  347 0.84% NLFP 

Jack Harris, the successful NDP candidate, was a longtime provincial member and former party leader who, it is clear from these numbers, is overwhelmingly popular in his riding.  Danny Williams or not, this one won't change.  This is but one example of the Tory spin that went unexamined critically by the Globe.

More broadly, the problem for the Conservatives is the same as before.  In 2008 with nearly a 12 point lead and a very weak Liberal leader, they could not win a majority.  They need about 62% of the seats outside Quebec, a little more than the Mulroney 1988 overall majority or Trudeau's in 1968.  Possible perhaps, but highly unlikely.  TC has discussed this issue before in greater detail here. The underlying math hasn't changed. Blogger Éric Grenier of writing recently in the Globe, makes essentially the same argument.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Why growing inequality matters

I have long believed that the growing inequality in global, North American and Canadian society is immensely destructive both socially and economically.  The Globe published an article on the growing economic/geographical divide in Toronto. It captures a part of the problem:
Toronto is becoming a city of stark economic extremes as its middle class is hollowed out and replaced by a bipolar city of the rich and poor – one whose lines are drawn neighbourhood by neighbourhood.
The issue in Toronto is not one of urban form or policy.  It is more fundamental, a fact that David Hulchanski, the author of the study highlighted in the Globe, summarized during an online chat on the Globe website:
Comment From Robert: what is the reason for increase in disparity?
David Hulchanski: The reason: From 1945 to 1985 all types of evidence indicate we were becoming a slightly more equal society. After 1985 the top ten percent have taken an ever greater share of income. Public policies and changing labour markets left people with either very high paid jobs or very low paid jobs.
Addressing this issue is urgent. Income disparities are not just a cause of urban malaise. As this post from Kevin Drum makes clear, inequality is at the root of the current economic crisis and stagnation.
"Inequality, Leverage and Crises," an IMF paper written by Michael Kumhof and Romain Rancière, is full of long equations populated by many Greek letters. I won't even pretend that I can evaluate it. However, their introduction is pretty easy to understand: they've constructed a simple model for financial crises that essentially proposes the following narrative: (a) growing inequality produces less money for the middle class and more money for the rich, (b) the rich loan much of this money back to the middle class so they can continue to improve their living standards even with stagnant incomes, (c) the financial sector balloons to mediate all this, and (d) the system eventually collapses since, after all, this kind of thing can't last forever.
It certainly cannot. It is an issue that ought to be addressed by all those on the centre and left.  Achieving greater equality would be complex, and is not so much about taxes as it is about paying those who earn less, more, and paying less to those who earn more.  It is in the interest of all of us including the well-off.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Some inconvenient truth (for Mr. Ford) about Toronto governance

Sometimes the truth about something clashes with ironically with conventional wisdom.  Kudos to John Lorinc for this about Toronto city hall:
When council convenes this week to debate the new regime’s signature moves, I’m guessing Mayor Rob Ford won’t be rising to offer praise to former budget chief Shelley Carroll, former TTC chair Adam Giambrone and the senior bureaucrats who were allegedly complicit in the fiscal boondoggle that was the Miller era. He should, of course, because this crowd -- contrary to much of what we heard during the election -- has made it possible for Toronto’s Waste Collector in Chief to deliver a property tax freeze for which he has no electoral mandate.
 Read the rest here.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

By-election post-mortem

The result in Winnipeg North was a surprise.  TC has no explanation to offer. did forecasts of the by-elections but found this constituency inexplicable:
Obviously, the projection here was a complete and utter failure. The NDP's Kevin Chief and the Conservatives' Julie Javier under-performed, while Lamoureux surpassed all expectations. Even had I taken into account the provincial numbers here, I still wouldn't have had Lamoureux over 25%. His drawing power was completely unpredictable, and all I can really say about it is that any projection which would have given this result would not have been based on anything but a gut feeling.
I did a little number crunching on the results but could see no discernible pattern so my previous admonition stands: one should not read too much into the results. In this respect one voice stood out from the usual media claptrap.  Dan Lett in the Winnipeg Free Press wrote:
What do all these results, and the results of Monday night's byelections, tell us? We in the media are trained to detect and report the slightest change in fortune or momentum. But the results in these most recent byelections do not change the fact that this is a country in political gridlock.

The results did not tell us, for example, if Ignatieff and Harper have job security as leaders of their parties. Both head parties that are growing impatient about their lack of progress. Or if either the Liberals or Conservatives are willing to force an election next spring. Did voters punish the NDP in Winnipeg North and the Liberals in Vaughn? Does Lamoureux's victory in Winnipeg North redeem Ignatieff?

Not really. The Tories captured the last in a series of right-leaning suburban seats in Ontario. And it was the indefatigable Lamoureux, not the Liberal Machine, that triumphed in Winnipeg North. You can search for greater meaning in these results -- and Lord knows, we in the media will keep looking -- but it's not really there.
Well said.

Monday, November 29, 2010

The By-elections

There are three by-elections today, in Vaughn, Winnipeg North and Dauphin-Swan River-Marquette.

The media is reading way too much into them.  Let me give a couple of examples.  From the CBC web site:
Liberal insiders concede if Vaughan falls, it bodes ill for other Toronto MPs who hung on by fewer than 3,000 votes last time, including Ken Dryden...
The Winnipeg Free Press on Winnipeg North:
It's a sought-after seat that could foreshadow who will come out on top in the next federal election. Winnipeg North voters will cast their ballots today in a hotly contested byelection between NDP candidate Kevin Chief, former Liberal MLA Kevin Lamoureux and Tory candidate Julie Javier.
The only one that is close is the Vaughn riding, an affluent, Italian, heavily Catholic northern suburb of  Toronto that has been Liberal federally since 1993 but voted twice for the Mike Harris Conservatives provincially.  Meaning it is no big deal if the federal Tories win it now.

Judging from this story in the Toronto Star the other day, if I were a Stephen Harper Conservative, I would be rooting for the Liberal candidate.  Julian Fantino looks like he is going to make quite an inept politician.
Meeting Conservative Julian Fantino last month on the hustings for the upcoming Vaughan by-election didn't go as Liberal Tony Genco expected. He'd imagined pleasantries between competing candidates.
Not quite.
“I gave him my best wishes,” Genco told the Star, “and he told me some of my signs were too close to his campaign headquarters so he'd had his people take them down.”
“I was totally surprised,” said Genco. “I asked him if he would please give them back — they're expensive, you know — but he didn't respond.”
Genco apparently never did get his signs back — an example, according to his critics, of the arrogance of a former top cop who's used to doing what he pleases.
“My volunteers followed all the rules in putting our signs up on public property and they weren't placed improperly,” says Genco, 43, of the three or four signs apparently in Fantino's sightline on Major Mackenzie Dr.
Asked about Genco's allegations, a Fantino spokesperson emailed a response: “(Liberal Leader Michael) Ignatieff's candidate may want to talk about signs; I'm talking about what actually matters to families in our community.”
Note that the email did not deny the allegation, in effect conceding that it was true.  If Fantino is stupid enough to say things like this now, he is likely to make many similar mistakes if elected.  This kind of behaviour would be particularly disastrous if he was appointed to cabinet.

As for Winnipeg North, while the Liberals have a strong candidate who has had a successful run provincially in a riding that is about 25% of the federal riding, it is going to remain comfortably in the NDP column.  The Liberals will, however, easily surpass their 2008 showing here when they finished third, so they will have something positive to spin from the results.  If the Liberals lose Vaughn expect to hear a lot from them about the strong showing here.

A small lesson from history.  In the autumn of 1978 Prime Minister Trudeau deferred a federal election call and instead fifteen by-elections were held on October 16. Some called it a mini-general election at the time.  It was a low point in Liberal popularity and the outcome was a Liberal disaster. While the results did tell us the Trudeau government would lose the next election, at the time it appeared as if the outcome would be an unprecedented Liberal disaster on the order of a 1958.  Instead, Joe Clark's PC's won a minority that lasted less than a year before giving way again to the Trudeau Liberals. Less well-remembered is that two of the constituencies that switched from Liberal to PC that night in October 1978, one in Winnipeg (St. Boniface) and one in Toronto (Parkdale), went back to the Liberals just six months later in the 1979 general election.
UPDATE: a friend pointed out that in addition to St. Boniface and Parkdale, Eglinton and Ottawa Centre also elected PCs in 1978 and Liberals in 1979.

By-elections in particular can be influenced by local circumstances and events as well as broader trends. One should be cautious in drawing overly broad conclusions from them.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Next Manitoba Election - the NDP's Opening Salvo

It is about nine and a half months until the next Manitoba election campaign.  This negative ad from the NDP directed at Tory Leader Hugh McFadyen suggests they are looking over their shoulder:

I blogged about recent Manitoba polls here noting:
... three polls have been released in recent weeks .... The opposition PCs were reported on September 21 by Angus Reid to have a 15 point province wide lead over the governing NDP 49% to 34% with the Liberals in third at 12%. It was preceded by a Viewpoints Research poll conducted Sept. 7-15th that had the NDP one point up on the PCs at 39% to 38% with the Liberals at 14%. This survey was followed by a Probe Research poll on October 7th that had the PCs at 42% and the NDP at 40% with the Liberals at 12%. Again we would have different election outcomes.

Despite the PC lead in the Probe Research poll, the concentration of PC support outside the City of Winnipeg and its weak performance inside would produce an NDP government in a new election - the PCs lead the NDP 53-32 in rural areas but trail the New Democrats 46-35 in the city. TC estimates that the Probe poll would produce a legislature with 32 New Democrats, 23 PCs and 2 Liberals; the Angus Reid poll would produce a PC government with just 30 seats (despite their large overall lead) to the New Democrats 25 and the Liberals 2.
It looks like the Manitoba NDP are more inclined to believe the Reid poll, or at least fear the worst.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Ford did not win the Toronto mayoraly election/ his opponents lost it

Most accounts of Ford's victory in the Toronto mayor's race, like accounts of election victories generally, have focused on how he won it.  Ford struck certain themes that helped him greatly.  However, all the negatives thrown his way, the arrests for drunk driving and so on, also stuck firmly, and could have defeated him if he had faced a decent competitor.  The story of the 2010 Toronto mayoralty race was as really about how weak Ford's opponents were. Joe Pantalone never rose to the level of being regarded as a serious candidate.  Smitherman was the major opponent but his campaign was pathetic. Ford's victory in the end was at least as much about Smitherman's weaknesses as Ford's presumed strengths. It seems clear that if Miller had run again, he would have won.

Read the comments section of this post on Blog TO comparing Ford to Mel Lastman.  Even Ford's supporters didn't like him much.  An example:
I couldn't stand Lastman and I think Glenn Beck's existence runs contrary to natural selection, yet I'd still take Ford over almost any candidate out there (and I don't like Ford either).
The best account of the campaign overall was by John Lorinc in the Globe and Mail. Smitherman's campaign reminded me of the Liberal campaign of Lyn Macleod in the 1995 provincial election, completely unfocused and directionless, and premised upon winning easily. 

I am not optimistic about the next four years of civic governance in Toronto.  The one certain prediction we can make about Rob Ford is that being elected mayor will not change his essential character.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

The U.S. Midterm Elections - Its the Economy Stupid

What to expect tonight in the U.S. midterms, Republican gains for sure but just how much is quite uncertain. Polling in the era of the cell phone and internet has become uncertain. In any case 538 (now part of the New York Times) believes it will be about a 55 seat gain for the Republicans in the House of Representatives, enough to give them control, but believes the Republicans have just a 7 per cent chance of winning the Senate.

The determinant of all this is the economy, as Brendan Nyhan has argued all year. This post summarizes hie perspective well:
I'm bracing for an avalanche of nonsense tomorrow night about why Barack Obama is responsible for the expected Republican landslide. Here's a guide to what you should expect.
It's long been obvious that Obama's political standing would decline as a result of the poor economy and the passage of time. Similarly, substantial Democratic losses in the House were always likely given the large number of seats the party had to defend in a midterm election in which it controls the presidency. The continued weakness of the economy subsequently appears to have enhanced the Republican advantage, helping to produce tomorrow's pro-GOP wave.
Instead of focusing on these structural factors, journalists and other political figures have constructed a staggering number of ad hoc claims about messaging, tactics, etc. to "explain" what has happened to Obama and the Democrats:
-Obama's message is not populist, thematic, simple, and/or comprehensive enough;
-Obama failed to "connect" with voters (in part because he often uses a Teleprompter);
-Obama has an "empathy deficit"
Etc., etc.

He goes on to list many more examples of what we can we can expect to hear.

What matters going forward will be, as always, what happens to economic growth over the next two years.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Toronto's Mayoralty Race

It is a close race.  The momentum and zeitgeist would appear to favour Rob Ford.  However, the race has effectively polarized into pro-Ford and anti-Ford camps to the extent that the many will abandon the left leaning candidate Joe Pantalone, and vote for big "L" Liberal George Smitherman.

The 2009 garbage strike is key to Ford's success in this campaign. It lasted a long time and caused considerable unhappiness at a time when the economic downturn was causing general stress. Add to that the resentments Ford has exploited with his complaints that there is some sort of  "gravy train" at city hall. These sentiments, however much they are divorced from reality, are more easily exploited in difficult economic times.

If one looks at demographics in the polls, one key factor helps Ford - he is most strongly supported by those over 60. One the other hand the better educated and more affluent favour Smitherman.  Polls do a terrible job of measuring and anticipating turnout. However, we know that the better educated and more affluent are more likely to vote, but so also do senior citizens.

If Ford does win, TC's view is that he would be a disastrously bad and unpopular mayor. Unfortunately, the city would be in for four years of real suffering as a consequence.  More so than is generally anticipated even by anti-Ford voters.  Ford looks much worse to TC, for example, than Mike Harris.

Obama's leadership skills

Obama is taking a great deal of heat right now.  It is unlikely that the Democrats will do well in the midterm elections because the economy in the U.S. remains in bad shape.  Brendan Nyhan has argued persuasively that it is this structural factor that is the key determinant of the off year election. One should remember that Obama continues to have good leadership skills as he faces mounting criticism the result of current political circumstances. I certainly remember thinking Reagan was politically finished after the 1982 off-year elections.

A couple of weeks ago Fareed Zakaria interviewed Steven Rattner, the Wall Street executive who headed up the Auto Bailout and has just written a book about it.  Zakaria started off by asking him what he thought of Obama as a CEO.  From the show transcript:
ZAKARIA: What do you think of President Obama as a CEO? You -- you spent a lot of time in the private sector. Was he a good CEO?

RATTNER: I thought he was a terrific CEO. It was interesting, because people said, well, what does he know about being a CEO? He's never managed anything besides a Senate staff. Of course, he did run a campaign pretty well.

But the fact was he was a natural. I thought he was a natural.

I have been around, as you say, a lot of CEOs over the years. But he was -- he didn't dwell on things. He was willing to make decisions, but he didn't sort of rush through and say, well, I've got 10 minutes to make this decision. I'm going to make it.

There was one famous day when he adjourned a meeting until later in the day so he could have more time to reflect on the question whether to save Chrysler, which is one of our toughest -- probably our toughest decision -- his toughest decision.

And I thought he was thoughtful. He did his homework. He came to the meetings having read his briefing papers. I can't imagine when he started running for president he thought dealing with Chrysler was going to be something he was going to have to do, but he -- he was a good soldier and he -- he dug into it.

And so, no. I came away with a lot of respect for his CEO qualities. 
The rest of the transcript is here (you have to scroll down).

Saturday, October 16, 2010

When polls don't agree - Ontario and Manitoba

One can usually gauge political trends relatively easily.  Polls vary, but they don't tend to contradict one another dramatically, so one sits up and takes notice when this happens.  There have been a couple of interesting recent examples involving Ontario politics and Manitoba politics, two provinces that will be holding elections a year from now within a week of each other.

An Ipsos-Reid poll released on August 21 received considerable attention because it had the Ontario PCs ahead - 36% to 35% for the McGuinty Liberals and 18% for the NDP. However, a one percent difference is really a tie given the inherent uncertainties of polling, the margin of error, etc.  A poll released by Angus Reid on September 28, just five weeks later (too soon for any actual opinion shift to take place), suggested a very different outcome: an eleven point lead for the PCs, 41% to the Liberals 29% and 22% for the NDP.  The difference matters even more in terms of seats.  TC's forecast model says the Ipsos poll would produce a Liberal minority government of 51 seats, the Angus Reid poll a large PC majority.  They are so different that one can say with confidence that one of these polls is wrong.  With no immediate election, however, we will never know which one it is.

Perhaps we might get some clue as to what to believe from Manitoba.  There, three polls have been released in recent weeks and a similar pattern emerges.  The opposition PCs were reported on September 21 by Angus Reid to have a 15 point province wide lead over the governing NDP 49% to 34% with the Liberals in third at 12%.  It was preceded by a Viewpoints Research poll conducted Sept. 7-15th that had the NDP one point up on the PCs at 39% to 38% with the Liberals at 14%. This survey was followed by a Probe Research poll on October 7th that had the PCs at 42% and the NDP at 40% with the Liberals at 12%.  Again we would have different election outcomes.

Despite the PC lead in the Probe Research poll, the concentration of PC support outside the City of Winnipeg and its weak performance inside would produce an NDP government in a new election - the PCs lead the NDP 53-32 in rural areas but trail the New Democrats 46-35 in the city. TC estimates that the Probe poll would produce a legislature with 32 New Democrats, 23 PCs and 2 Liberals; the Angus Reid poll would produce a PC government with just 30 seats (despite their large overall lead) to the New Democrats 25 and the Liberals 2.

A key difference between the surveys is that Angus Reid does online polling while the others use traditional telephone methods.  Online surveys are relatively new methodology. TC thinks they need to be seen as experimental.  Reid uses large panels (they describe some of their methods here) recruited at least in part through internet ads (such as this).  I have heard that their panel is about 100,000 in Canada.  However, it is not clear that this gives them the truly representative sample they need to properly capture public opinion. And one wonders how large their Manitoba panel can be. 

Angus Reid (or Vision Critical as it is named on its web site) has been close on some election outcomes, including in 2008 in Canada, but they have also had some bad results. Earlier this year they managed to get the order of finish wrong in the UK general election. Reid's final UK poll results are here and the final election results here.  But what explains the apparent Tory tilt in the Manitoba and Ontario polls and the disagreement with traditional pollsters? While the Manitoba and Ontario numbers are suggestive, the limited poll set here can't really tell us anything conclusive.

We know well the methods of the telephone polls but what of the online polls? Their methods remain relatively opaque, and they still haven't established a reputation for accuracy and reliability.  While Vision Critical is not included in his assessment, Nate Silver rated online pollster Zogby the least accurate polling company in a review of the accuracy of dozens of US firms. Éric Grenier of the blog estimates the "house effects" (or partisan tilt to put it another way) of polls.  His estimate (top poll in table) suggests Angus Reid's polls are favourable to both the Conservatives and the NDP.

TC puts more stock in polls conducted using the telephone and remains skeptical of online polling. I would therefore see the overall races in Ontario and Manitoba as close and still competitive.  Nevertheless, the NDP in Manitoba will be looking for a fourth mandate (with a new leader), and the Ontario government a third. Both situations imply a change in government even if it is not yet clearly evident in the polling.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Why it is so difficult for Harper to win a majority

A column in yesterday's Star by Jim Travers renews the endless Ottawa speculation about a Harper majority and concludes that Harper "is closer than it appears to the majority he covets."  He quotes pollster Nick Nanos as saying:
Conservatives... are both efficient in converting votes into seats and unusually skilled at "repelling people from voting for others".
TC has discussed this issue before but it is worth reviewing again.  The largest obstacle to any party winning a majority under our current party system is that the Bloc Québecois controls between 40 and 50 seats in Quebec.  A majority must come from the seats that remain. If we assume the Conservatives can win at least 10 seats in Quebec (although most recent polls suggest it will be a few less) then the party must win 145 of the 233 seats outside Quebec to get a bare majority of 155 seats.  That 145 number is 62.2% of all non-Quebec seats. (It would be a little less if the Conservatives could win additional seats in Quebec.)

One can assess the likelihood of this by comparing it to the era prior to the advent of the Bloc when parties did not face the same obstacle to a majority.  I am ignoring the post 1993 period because as TC wrote before:
Chrétien's majorities were flukes in the sense that they depended on an even split between Reform/Alliance and PCs in Ontario and very low NDP numbers, which themselves were a product of a temporary decade-long depressed support level caused both by unpopular provincial governments (Harcourt/Clark in BC and Bob Rae in Ontario) and unusually weak federal leadership, principally Audrey McLaughlin. The NDP did begin to revive a bit under Alexa McDonough and gained new ground in Atlantic Canada but remained very weak in Ontario.
If we ask which majority governments won 62% or more of the seats in the pre-1993 period of Canadian history but after 1921 when third and fourth parties began to emerge, we find the PC majorities of Mulroney in 1984 and Diefenbaker in 1958 as well as the Liberal victories of St. Laurent in 1949 and 1953, and Mackenzie King in 1935 and 1940 (King's wins, however, were strongly affected by the depression and the war).  There weren't that many, they tended to be early wins (Mulroney in '84 and Dief in '58) and there have been just two since 1958. Trudeau was close in 1968 but he won just 58.3% of the seats.

As for Nanos two points: first, the Conservatives are not particularly efficient at converting votes into seats.  For example, look at all the wasted votes they accumulate in their huge majorities in Alberta.  Second, with respect to vote suppression, one should note that in the last election turnout was 58.8%, down from the previous three elections. It appeared to TC that it was particularly concentrated among Liberal voters who lacked confidence in Stéphane Dion. How much greater vote suppression can one realistically expect when over 40% of Canadians already don't show up at the polls?

What Travers and Nanos are asking us to believe (without reviewing the math outlined above) is that a government that has been around for six years can win more than 62% of the seats realistically available to it.  It is possible in the sense that anything is, but it is also not very likely.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Trends still favour New Brunswick PCs

The race in NB tightened up and the final polls are based on surveys more than a week old.  There is a good summary of all the details over at It nevertheless looks like the PCs will wind up on top.  The excellent blog Politics from a New Brunswick Perspective foresees a tight race and a narrow PC victory. 

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The politics of gun control

The gun registry lives on.

While one can understand the intense media interest in this, the commentary of the pundit class does drive one to distraction.  There are two particularly idiotic examples here and here (both of which ask us to accept that despite the Conservatives being poised to win the vote for many months, losing actually helps them). The clip of Harper on tonight's news says otherwise.

The whole issue matters much less electorally than meets the eye. To accept that it matters, one must believe there are a large number of voters in the constituencies of the NDP and Liberal members who switched their vote tonight to support the registry who, a), did not vote Conservative last time, but b), feel so passionately about this issue that they will hold that concern all the way to the next election, ignore all the other issues that come along, and support the Conservatives due to this consideration either primarily or alone.  Was this a big vote determining issue in 2006 in these places or 2008?  TC does not think so.  In any case most of the rural seats inclined to go Conservative are already safely in that party's camp.

The Liberals recognized the second time around the issue would not hurt them and could give them an advantage by being unified while the NDP was divided, all the while driving soft urban small 'l' liberal votes their way.  The wonderful Pundit's Guide has a detailed listing of the Liberal and NDP members who voted last time with the Conservatives to kill the gun registry.  If you look closely at the results in just these constituencies, there are no more than three or four that could be classified as both rural and holding real potential as Conservative gains in a new election.  The most obvious candidates are the NDP held ridings of Western Arctic (3.8% lead over the Cs) and Skeena (13.8%) and, among the Liberals, Malpeque (4.9%) and Yukon (13%).

There are a few other contests where the Conservatives might think about a challenge but in most constituencies, the principal challenger to the NDP is the Liberal candidate and vice-versa, or, as in the case of Esquimalt-Juan de Fuca and Welland the ridings are not rural (and presumably therefore not obsessed with gun control) - Esquimalt has a rural component but is mostly suburban Victoria while Welland is mainly industrial and urban.

In the end the vote was a victory for Jack Layton (who I suspect had at least one more vote in reserve).  The potential for a significant setback for the NDP was there, so he should be wiping his brow.  The Liberals might well have been able to use the gun registry vote as a tactical voting metaphor in urban areas in the next election.  In this case the difference between winning and losing was crucial.  In addition, losing is not good for the government (except possibly in fund raising if one accepts their claims) - there is always at least a brief negative honeymoon associated with a strategic defeat in a contest that they had expected to win.

Notwithstanding all the ballyhoo, TC does not expect this to be an issue or key voting consideration in the next federal election.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

U.S. Midterms - What are the Democrats Prospects?

Most accounts of the Democrats prospects suggest a bleak midterm election result.  Until far right Christine O'Donnell (who once claimed to have dabbled in witchcraft) won the Republican nomination in Delaware over a moderate, the conventional wisdom was increasingly suggesting the Republicans could win both the House and the Senate.

I have followed all this but noted months ago that surveys reported again and again that the Republicans were more disliked than the Democrats.  The assumption has been that the declining economy and slumping income meant that this would be a very bad year for Democrats.  However, never before in a situation like this has the opposition party been so disliked.

Now there is an intriguing new analysis from Barry Pump, a grad student in political science at the University of Washington, that suggests we should indeed pay close attention to the survey evidence on the unpopularity of the Republican brand.

The argument is simple:
I’ve been looking at the low Republican favorability rating for a long time and always suggesting to friends who ask me about it that it’s more important than we think. People don’t vote for people they hate. But they may hold their nose and vote for people they dislike less.
And from a second post: theoretical argument is that people don’t vote for parties they hate. They vote for the party they dislike the least relative to the other party. The leading counter argument, and the one that has pretty much dominated the narrative is different. That argument goes: because the economy is terrible, people will vote for the opposition party regardless of how much they dislike them. In other words, it’ll be a referendum election on the economy, and the economy stinks so Democrats will lose a bunch of seats, probably even the majority in the House. 
In order to predict how well parties should perform in the upcoming election analysts typically use polls on the generic Democrat or Republican ballot question. But Pump believes that more attention should be paid to the net favourability polls which report that the Republican Party is far more disliked than the Democratic Party.  Look at the bars on the far right of this graphic (Republicans are red) for the most recent party standings on this:

Mr. Pump compared the predictive value in past elections of the favourability surveys with the generic ballot. He acknowledges that there are data limitations on the analysis but concludes:

So what can we take away from this little discussion?
First, we’ve never been in a situation until now — as far as we have data to show it — where both parties were disliked but one party was disliked far more than another. We’ve also never been in a situation where the difference between the favorability rankings of the two parties was as great as it is now. (That’s from the first graph.)

Second, we’ve yet to be in a situation until now — as far as we have data to show it — where the favorability rankings of the two parties were so discordant with the generic ballot.

Third, given this new territory and the uncertainty of estimates made so far away from election day, analysts don’t know as much as we’d like about where things stand in US politics.

Fourth, there appears to be a puzzle about voter decision making embedded in all of this: under what conditions will voters choose a party they profoundly dislike over the party they merely dislike? And is a dismal economy one of those conditions?

And fifth, I’m inclined to think that while Democrats will lose many seats on Election Day, those losses will be tempered by the fact that the Republican Party “brand” has been deeply tarnished over the last six years and many voters don’t think the party is ready to govern again.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

New Brunswick Election - Conservatives likely to win

Both the blog ThreeHundredEight and Politics from a New Brunswick Perspective have reacted to the latest polling from New Brunswick that shows the Conservatives surging to a 12 point lead to suggest that the province is heading for a Conservative government. TC agrees that this is the point at which the campaign is taking on a clear direction and the outcome really isn't now in doubt.  Premier Shawn Graham is headed for defeat.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

New Brunswick Election - September 27, 2010

The New Brunswick election got underway this week.  The Liberals under Premier Shawn Graham have a narrow lead of five points over the PCs.  However, the same Corporate Research Associates poll that gives the Liberals a 41-36 edge over the PCs makes it clear that there is a substantial amount of dissatisfaction in the province.
One factor in this race that may be getting discounted too greatly by the media is the NDP.  The party appears likely to perform much more strongly than in the past.  The NDP has 16% in the poll cited above with the Greens at 6%.  TC estimates that the current spread in seats would be L - 34, PC - 20 and NDP - 1.  However, TC has seen some private polling that suggests that NDP could do much better.  As it is 16% represents an increase of 10 points since 2006.  This is going to be an interesting, competitive race that could result in a change of government, a minority administration or both.
This blog site is a good way to follow the election.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Ontario Liberals trail Conservatives in new poll

The National Post has a new Ipsos-Reid poll today, advertised as the first to show the McGuinty government behind the Conservatives. However, this latter point is a bit of pollster ego. The first Ipsos poll to show the Liberals behind it may be. However, an Environics poll released last October actually put the PCs 5 points ahead at that time, so the evidence of political trouble for the Liberals has been around for some time now.

The Ipsos-Reid poll has the PCs at 36, the Liberals at 35 with the NDP at 18 and the Greens at 11.  TC calculates that this would produce a Liberal minority government. The seat distribution would be:

Liberals - 51
PCs - 38
NDP - 18.

She isn't all that well known now but it might be worthwhile for people in Ontario to find out more about Andrea Horvath.  In a little more than a year she may be playing an important role in their lives.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Harper's Decline

As recently as the end of May some, but not all, polling numbers suggested an election could produce a result leaving the governing Conservatives with about as many seats as they won last time.  That was before the G20 fake lake, the census fiasco, and Stockwell Day's imaginary crime wave, all compounded now by the Tamil ship, which one might easily guess has the party's base, the Reform type Conservative supporters, fuming. The decline has taken a substantial toll on Tory popularity.

Three polls are aggregated below and turned into seats. Here is the House of Commons an average of the Ekos, Harris-Decima and Vision Critical (Reid) polls produce:

C.P.C. Liberal NDP Green Bloc Other Total
Poll 33.0 28.4 16.6 10.8 9.5 1.7 100
Seats 123 96 37 0 51 1 308

The Harper government has been considerably weakened by events this summer. 

Friday, August 13, 2010

The Miserable Summer of Stephen Harper

Couldn't happen to a nicer guy. This column by Don Martin sums it up well as
"the summer where Harper lost his census, at least in terms of the once-mandatory long-form version, and put worried frowns on senior staff and even some ministers.
Harper's decision and its fib-laced justification has tarnished a once-capable minister so badly that Tony Clement would, if he had an ounce of self-respect, resign from cabinet.
Clement should've done what former industry minister Jim Prentice did when he was asked to consider ending the mandatory filing of the detailed census form several years ago.
He told the idea's proponents to shove it.
This is not a singular vote-changing issue, of course, but, when added to other odd moves, has redefined this pragmatic prime minister as prickly, ruthless and needlessly ideological.
The dramatic ouster of MP Helena Guergis from cabinet, caucus and any future Conservative candidate lineup appears excessively thuggish given there's been no supporting evidence of inappropriate behaviour.
The flaccid results from billions spent on G8-G20 summits featuring bogus infrastructure spending has hurt the Conservatives' competent management reputation.
The end to prison farms without a rehabilitative replacement seems ideologically petty.
And then Stockwell Day -- arguably one of the best performers in cabinet -- became a laughing-Stock after he linked federal prison expansion to unreported crimes which, by definition, leaves criminals unconvicted and free from locked-cell accommodation.
No wonder Conservatives can't wait for this summer to end. It's been a non-stop series of bad decisions complicated by worse communications to appease a hard-right support base with nowhere else to go.
While Michael Ignatieff's road-tested image enhancement and Jack Layton's return to active duty were bad news, Stephen Harper's biggest headaches were all self-induced."

The polls reflect a new reality. The Census in particular (read this about how badly they have handled the issue) and the other Conservative shenanigans have taken their toll.  More on that later in the weekend.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

The Benefits of Government Intervention in the Economy

This NYT summary of a study by the economists Alan Blinder and Mark Zandi is clear:
In a new paper, the economists argue that without the Wall Street bailout, the bank stress tests, the emergency lending and asset purchases by the Federal Reserve, and the Obama administration’s fiscal stimulus program, the nation’s gross domestic product would be about 6.5 percent lower this year.
As the Times asserts "the government’s sweeping interventions to prop up the economy since 2008 helped avert a second Depression."

Monday, July 26, 2010

Curiouser and Curiouser

Methinks the Harperites may have jumped the shark on this census thing.  Turns out Stephen Harper made extensive use of the long-form census for his 1991 Master's thesis. Hypocrisy, it turns out, has no time limits.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Tory TV

Recent developments make it clear that the Sun media chain is becoming an entirely partisan affair, devoted to boosting the Conservative Party.  TC regards this as largely a kind of vanity project, which will not change anything in the framework of Canadian politics.  Sun media is already almost entirely small 'c' conservative so dropping Greg Weston and Eric Margolis as columnists is not going to make any real difference to that.

What might presumably matter would be the proposal for a Tory TV news channel. However, they have already been spurned by the CRTC for a top tier spot on the dial. And even getting one like CBC News NN and CTV News Network have won't matter much. As the blog Medium Close-up pointed out:
It is important to note that the existing news, talk and current affairs channels in Canada are not exactly catching on with the viewing public. CBC NN and CTV News Network have so few viewers that I suspect it would be cheaper to put their content on DVD and deliver it to the 25,000 or so folks who tune in. CP24 is one of a handful of stations that people watch but don’t listen to. Whenever I see the channel in offices, gyms, bars, the sound is turned off. It is a weather and time channel.
TC's view is that too much fuss has made about all this especially by many on the left.  The best analysis of the whole business by far was this column by Jeffrey Simpson who said:
People in high dudgeon about its arrival should calm down. Sun TV won’t be watched by many people, if the audiences for the other all-news channels are any guide. Most of those who watch will be committed right-wingers looking, like most consumers of news and information, to have previously held opinions reaffirmed.

Sun TV isn’t going to make, break or even influence the shape of Canadian politics, whatever the ideological fervour of Kory Teneycke, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s former spokesman now in charge of assembling the Sun TV challenge.
I leave you, however, with this video satire from YouTuber (thx to Accidental Deliberations for this tip:

Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Long Form Census Fiasco

It is a truism of politics that governments defeat themselves.  Typically death comes from the cumulative impact of a thousand cuts.  The long form census issue is more like a gash. All the more remarkable is that the government's only defence, that the long form census is an invasion of privacy, is completely hypocritical, as Tom Walkom demonstrates well in this column:
Two things stand out about the great Canadian census controversy.

The first is that there is a controversy. Who could have predicted that the federal government’s decision to eliminate something as profoundly prosaic as the mandatory long-form census questionnaire would generate such fierce opposition?

The second is the shameless hypocrisy shown by Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative government.
Industry Minister Tony Clement says he’s axing the mandatory questionnaire because the state has no right to demand intrusive information, such as the number of bedrooms in a home.

Yet his is the same government that requires airlines to collect and hand over detailed personal information on everyone who flies – and then give much of it to a foreign state.
And who could have imagined an issue that would produce a backyard protest song based on an old Gary Lewis and Playboys hit:

Green Party Troubles

For all her considerable communications skills, honed over the years as an environmental lobbyist, Elizabeth May is nonetheless an absolutely incompetent party leader.  To be successful a leader must be much more than a charismatic presences on the tube.  She must also serve as the party's CEO - inspiring the troops, ensuring the party is administered efficiently and keeping the inevitable factions at peace.  May is as complete a failure at this aspect of the job as one can imagine.  I think everyone should read this post on the party's troubles by Democratic Space blogger and former Green Party activist Greg Morrow.  Its title says it all: The Green Party's Mess.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

The Liberal Party in Decline/ Conclusion: Crisis and Opportunity

There is a random element of luck when it comes to party leadership. The NDP were fortunate to find Layton, but his rivals in that contest were much weaker. In 2006 all the Liberal contenders had significant drawbacks. Many Liberals now think Bob Rae would be their best option; he does have the strongest skills as a performer among the potential alternatives in the Liberal caucus. However, the same Bob Rae demonstrated bad political judgment as Ontario Premier in the early nineties, not a good predictor of success in the 21st century.
The Liberals may find a way out of their current doldrums and a leadership change might serve as catalyst. However, the Liberal party is in crisis and it is possible that this will present an opportunity for the NDP to break out of the confines of third place. The Liberals need to identify their areas of strategic and demographic weakness and do something about them, but there is no evidence of that happening. So it is fair to describe the Liberal Party as being in a multi-dimensional crisis.
The current political context gives the appearance of being the opposite of the nineties, disunity on the centre left in contrast to Conservative rule. But the mere fact that this reversal has happened should make us cognizant of the possibility that things could reverse themselves again. Can the Conservatives make a transition to a new leader and maintain their unity when the time comes? What does the future hold for the Greens, who do not yet have a real foothold in Canadian politics despite rising environmental consciousness? My impression is that the unpopularity of some provincial regimes, for example in B.C., is causing damage to federal counterparts. In the particular case of B.C. it is to both Liberals and Conservatives because of the peculiar character of Gordon Campbell’s regime.
A merger between the NDP and the Liberals would probably be impossible to bring off in current circumstances. The two parties have long and independent histories that would almost certainly preclude it. It is also likely that a new left wing party would be created at the time of the merger. Perhaps many New Democrats would move to the Greens and make an effort to move it to the left.
When the British Labour Party split in the early eighties and four prominent Labourites left to form the Social Democratic Party (SDP), the new party recognized before the next election that to survive they had to develop an alliance with the Liberals who, as a struggling third party, were receptive. The new SDP-Liberal Alliance fought a couple of elections as a tactical alliance and then decided in 1987 to merge. However, as this brief history of the UK Liberal Democrats notes:
The winter of 1987-88 saw a lengthy period of tortuous negotiations between the two parties. The new party's constitution and even its name were the subjects of intense discussion, as was the question of whether an initial policy statement was needed and, if so, what it should say.
Those who see merger as an easy, almost mechanical path to ousting Harper I think are mistaken. In most cases governments defeat themselves, and the disaffected public turns to the most obvious alternative. It is currently the Liberal Party, but the NDP is not so far behind and has a broad enough support base that they might be able to make that leap from third to first.
While one can detect many signs of Liberal decline, it is not clear that the party’s fate is certain to become decline and fall. Politics is about possibilities; the Liberal crisis has created possibilities that could break open the status quo in Canadian politics. However, the complexities of politics, and the growing uncertainties facing the Canadian and world economies, make the future path of Canadian politics opaque.

Monday, June 28, 2010

The Liberal Party in Decline Part Three / the NDP Revives

Parallel to Liberal decline the NDP by the late nineties was beginning to achieve new growth. Alexa McDonough gave the NDP a major breakthrough in Atlantic Canada in 1997 when the party won eight seats in the region, strength retained federally to the present day. The NDP now holds four of thirty-two federal seats including representation in three of the four Atlantic Provinces, and was elected to government in Nova Scotia last year. By 2008 the NDP had increased its Commons representation from a low of 9 in 1993 to 37 with MPs from all provinces except PEI and Saskatchewan plus one from the Northwest Territories.
Jack Layton currently has the strongest approval rating of the three national party leaders and the NDP is potentially poised to win the next election if the Harper government falters between now and then. It appears at the moment that the NDP is one transformational moment or issue away from winning. It may not happen – Michael Ignatieff could still wind up as the next Prime Minister - but the potential is there for the first time. The NDP has occasionally had the illusion of winning prospects before (during World War II and the late eighties) but they had no strength east of Ontario at that time so they were forced to concentrate their hopes on Canada west of the Ottawa valley. Today the party is far more regionally balanced and actually has one seat each in Alberta and Quebec. Layton has been working at winning over Quebec with some success. You can see that in this poll (tables on page 12) more BQ voters (and therefore more Quebec voters) cite the NDP as a second choice than any other party including the Liberals.
Liberal weakness today stems from important internal failings as well as bad luck. Post-Trudeau the party was divided between factions led respectively by Chrétien and John Turner, whose 1980s faction would be taken over by Paul Martin in the nineties. The Martin government was then done in by a Chrétien-era scandal.
During the Chrétien period the Liberals did a poor job of recruiting future leaders, for example, in Ontario, where they won all but a few seats over the course of three elections. The Ontario-based leadership hopefuls from Ontario elected first in the eighties and nineties and early 21st century were Ken Dryden, Sheila Copps, John Manley, and Alan Rock, an unimpressive group. Despite the enormous size of the cohort of MPs that came into Parliament in 1988 and 1993, these hopefuls were all that the party could muster from Canada’s largest province. There is a substantial measure of chance in this. The NDP’s weakest leader, Audrey McLaughlin, came from its largest ever caucus. The entire field of 1989 NDP candidates (who were all weak) came from the same federal caucus. In the 21st century this phenomenon has been visited upon the Liberals.

Friday, June 25, 2010

The Liberal Party in Decline/ Part Two: the Chrétien Era

There can be little doubt that Jean Chrétien is and was one of the most naturally gifted politicians in Canadian history. However, he alienated French Quebec in the early nineties during the constitutional wars and the party remains weak there to this day. In addition his string of victories in the nineties rested to a degree that remains unrecognized on a run of unbelievably good luck. Let’s go through it all in order:
First came the fracturing of Mulroney’s coalition. It was always a tenuous alliance at best. Free trade united PC MPs from Quebec and the rural west. When the question shifted to Quebec’s place in the federation during the debate on Meech Lake, the Progressive Conservative Party split into three: the original party, the new western-based Reform Party and Lucien Bouchard’s Bloc Québecois. It is easier to win an election when your opponents are so thoroughly divided.
Our national media from time to time gets the national political scene spectacularly wrong. Perhaps its low point came in the early nineties when, despite the obvious collapse and fracturing of the Mulroney coalition then underway, all they could see was that somehow Kim Campbell would rescue the sinking PC ship. At the time it meant completely disregarding and underestimating both Reform and the Bloc. So they wrote stories about how Jean Chrétien was yesterday’s man.
But there was a second key element of Liberal good luck: the party also benefited from developments on the left. The NDP took control of Ontario in 1990 and B.C. in 1991 at the provincial level, and promptly started to drive down the popularity of the NDP brand provincially and federally. That came on top of the NDP selecting the inexperienced and unqualified Audrey McLaughlin as its federal leader in 1989. Given that second choice for the majority of NDP voters is the Liberals, that meant the NDP electorate defected en masse to the Liberals in 1993. The NDP brand in Ontario in particular was deeply hurt by the early nineties recession. At the same time this meant the Ontario Liberal Party, being out of power provincially, could not do any damage to the federal Liberal brand during the early nineties downturn. Had David Peterson won in 1990 the story would have been quite different.
Third, the split on the right had a clear regional character that helped the Liberals in Ontario. West of the Ontario-Quebec border only one PC was elected between 1993 and 2000 whereas east of the Ontario-Quebec border there were no Reform or Alliance MPs during the same period. In Ontario the two parties split the right almost perfectly down the middle. Combined with NDP weakness, this gave the Liberal party a near sweep of seats in Ontario for three elections in a row. But Ontario politics had never before displayed such uniformity. It couldn’t last and didn’t. The Liberals’ apparent invincibility in Ontario ended in 2004 when the unified Conservatives won twenty-four seats, and the NDP, newly reinvigourated by Toronto-based leader Jack Layton, took 7 seats (the NDP now has 17). Those 31 seats were the difference between Paul Martin winning a minority and a majority that would have somewhat resembled the Chrétien victory in 1997.
Overall, Chrétien faced weak leaders such as McLauglin and Stockwell Day on the opposition benches. The political stage was set for the three consecutive majorities. Economic developments would prove to be equally favourable.

The Political Economy of Liberal Majority
The new government, elected in November 1993, inherited a large deficit. However, the slump of the early nineties ended in 1994 setting the stage for a decade of strong growth, an essential ingredient for political strength and critical to any deficit reduction strategy.
Whether the deficit was ever the economic burden that it was made out to be is debatable. Regardless, falling interest rates, the end of a credit crunch, lower oil prices, and increasing productivity from the tech boom, helped fuel a decade of rapid growth in the U.S. economy during the decade Joseph Stiglitz called the “roaring nineties”. Growth in the U.S. fueled demand for Canadian goods and services. A bonus was that Canada gained a competitive advantage via a weak the Canadian dollar, (which did not reach bottom until January 2002 when it traded at about 62 cents U.S.) Thus the 1995 deficit fighting budget was certain to be successful despite all the gloomy editorials and op-eds in the media that suggested otherwise. Within three years the Liberal government could take credit for cleaning up what had appeared to be an intractable financial mess.
By 1998 the Chrétien government could start both spending money and cutting taxes. Indeed they could have launched Paul Martin’s child care program much sooner, making it far less vulnerable to cancellation by the Harperites. Despite the good economic news, Liberal weakness continued in Quebec. During the nineties the Liberals did regain strength in western cities such as Winnipeg and Vancouver compared to the Trudeau era, but currently the party holds just 7 of 92 seats west of the Manitoba-Ontario border.

Next... The NDP Revives

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Liberal Party in Decline/ Part One: The Early Years

The last few years have not been kind to the federal Liberal Party. It experienced its second worst electoral result in percentage of seats won in 2008 (1958 was worse). The Liberals have managed to make two poor leadership choices in a row, and have been unable to pose an effective or coherent alternative to a very conservative albeit opportunistic Harper government. Now its partisans debate the merits of coalescing with the NDP, while some even suggest a merger. 
The Liberals as recently as last autumn were all ready to bring down the government and force an election, an egregious error given that the public was at the time extremely hostile to the idea of having an election (my impression is that this remains largely true although there has been no recent polling on the issue). There has been periodic commentary by the pundit class that the Harper government is getting everything its own way without an election anyway and may be heading for a majority next time. This column from Paul Wells, which was clearly and explicitly influenced by Harper’s staff, is a typical example.
There is a tendency to assign most of the responsibility for Liberal weakness to its current leader. It is clear that Michael Ignatieff is inexperienced, has weak political skills and appears not to have good instincts. However, whatever its leadership issues, the Liberal Party’s decline is longstanding. 
A quick question: if this is a low point for the party, what was its high point? The answer: the 1949 election, when the party won 50.1% of the vote and 73% of the seats. Its leader then was Louis St. Laurent and the party was strong in every region of the country including the prairies where it won 30 of 54 seats. 
The Liberals performed almost as well in 1953, but the decline started in 1957 when John Diefenbaker expanded the Conservative universe. The new Progressive Conservative strength was on the prairies where PCs had won just 4 of 54 seats in 1949. In 1958, 1962 and 1963 the party won an average of 43 of 48 seats in the three prairie provinces. The Liberal party lost much of its base in there as a consequence of Diefenbaker, and has never figured out a way to recover the lost ground.
Out of office between 1957 and 1963 the new Liberal leader Lester Pearson made a critical strategic choice between two competing visions. His decision helped renew the Liberal party for next forty years. He rejected advice by Jack Pickersgill to position the party in the same way that had worked for St. Laurent. Let’s call it a centrist business Liberalism. Instead he took the advice of his young adviser Tom Kent (who had arrived in Canada from the U.K. in 1954), that the party should move to left by emphasizing equality and push for completion of the then partly built Canadian welfare state. Among Pearson's notable accomplishments were a comprehensive national pension plan (the CPP) and public health care. 
This coincided with a renewal effort on the left as the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation gave way to the New Democratic Party. The NDP, with new ties to the labour movement, was stronger than the CCF, which had been rooted in agrarian socialism. However, the newly left-leaning Liberal Party would be largely successful in blocking its advance.
Trudeau Moves into 24 Sussex
The party made a similar choice in 1968 when it chose Pierre Trudeau over the St. Laurent era cabinet minister Robert Winters (who had returned to politics in 1965 after his 1957 defeat). After initial stumbles in his first term led to near defeat in 1972, Trudeau learned to combine governing and politics and went on overall to be a successful Liberal leader and prime minister. Unlike Ignatieff, Trudeau had been actively engaged in Quebec politics via the magazine Cité Libre and other activities, and actually entered politics with a background of political involvement. However, Trudeau’s constitutional ambitions would sow the seeds of Liberal weakness in the nineteen eighties.
The Liberals lost French Quebec in 1984. Brian Mulroney won a landslide majority that included most of French Quebec and held it through two elections before it came to be dominated by the BQ. The Liberal party did hold on to Anglo-Quebec and has maintained its strength in that community since. However, with the exception of the 2000 election when the unpopularity of the Lucien Bouchard’s PQ government in Quebec City (in particular, its program of municipal consolidation) weighed heavily on the fortunes of the BQ, the federal Liberal party has been more or less shut out of French Quebec. Like their loss on the prairies in 1957, the Liberals lost the support of one part of their coalition. This time the loss was much more important. Without French Quebec there would have been no Trudeau majorities.
Trudeau was genuinely popular in Quebec while in office. However, he excluded the Quebec government of René Levesque from the deal with the other nine provinces that resulted in the Constitution Act, 1982. He successfully defeated the PQ government of René Levesque in the negotiations. However, he laid the basis for a renewal of Quebec nationalism, which had suffered a devastating blow when the PQ lost their referendum on sovereignty-association in May 1980. Trudeau retired in 1984 without going to the electorate to defend his new constitution. In English Canada the early eighties economic downturn guaranteed Liberal defeat. It is an intriguing historical question, however, as to what might have been the outcome in Quebec where Liberal support carried over in the polls in that province into the middle of the 1984 campaign before collapsing, had Trudeau fought one more election. The Liberals recovered partial ground in French Quebec in the 2000 election but that proved to be fleeting.
It has actually been Jack Layton’s NDP that in recent years has done a much more effective job of courting support in French Quebec, and stands now to benefit the most if the BQ ever suffers a truly serious reverse. Despite the NDP’s historic weakness in that province, in the most recent Léger poll  (see table on page 8)  the party is tied with the Liberals among francophones. The Liberals failed in the eighties to recognize their profound weakness in French Quebec and its importance.  Despite the fact that the onset of this decline dates from 1984, the Liberals have done little to address it.
Liberal weakness continued in western Canada during the Trudeau era despite a few early gains. The 1980 election reinforced this aspect of Liberal weakness when the party achieved its majority east of the Manitoba border, creating the illusion that weakness in that one region did not matter.
After 1984 one region became two. The nationalism long dominant in provincial politics in Quebec demonstrated its strength on the federal scene first for the Mulroney PCs and then for the Bloc Québecois. The federal Liberal Party somehow never recognized what was happening. A key reason for that failure stems from the assumption on the part of many Liberals that the selection of Jean Chrétien as leader in 1990 would lead to a rebound for the party in Quebec.
Next: The Chretien Era & Beyond

Sunday, May 09, 2010

British election polls - telephone surveys outperform internet

The British election appears to have provided a relatively comprehensive comparison of internet vs telephone polling.  It is clear from the data provided in this post from Nate Silver's blog that traditional telephone surveys still provide a more reliable method of polling than the internet.  I think the internet is going to be the way all polls are done some day but it is clear from what happened in the UK that there are unresolved issues with internet polling.  The average total error for the telephone surveys was 5.2 and for the internet 11.4. Interestingly, the weakest performance among the major pollsters was the Canadian firm Angus Reid.

Silver's comment:  "at this point, the challenges facing Internet pollsters are relatively formidable. Moreover, the bias of the Internet polls -- too many votes assigned to LibDems, who have younger and more-wired voters, and too few assigned to Labour, for whom the opposite is true -- ran in exactly the direction that you might expect."

Canadian firms are moving in this direction.  We have had recent internet polls from Decima and Leger in addition to Angus Reid. 

Another new methodology starting to gain credibility is IVR, which stands for Interactive Voice Recognition.  Ekos in Canada started using this method in 2008 and had the second closest outcome on the 2008 federal election (the online Angus Reid survey was closest but stopped polling several days before the end of the campaign).

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

UK Election - What should we expect?

It is going to be close, which is remarkable.  Given how much the UK's economy was damaged by the financial crisis it is amazing to me that Brown and company are even this close.  I built a model to forecast the British election.

With the final poll of polls entered from the Guardian this is the result we get:

Cons. Labour Lib-Dem Others
Poll  36.0  28.6 26.2 9.2
Seats 282 249 81 36

The seat total is 648 and others include the Northern Irish parties, Welsh and Scottish nationalists and a few others including one Green.

The conclusion: no majority and while the Conservatives do seem headed for first place Labour is still not completely out of it.

British vote counting is notoriously slow.  It will be a long night.

Monday, March 22, 2010

New Manitoba Poll puts PCs in First Place

A new poll in Manitoba suggests the Conservatives are now in first place: the numbers are PC - 44, NDP - 37, Liberal - 13 and Green - 3.  While doubts about the poll have already been expressed elsewhere, what TC finds interesting is that the regional breakout of the poll has the PCs ahead in rural areas 55-28 over the NDP, while in the City of Winnipeg it is the New Democrats who remain well ahead of the PCs by eight points, 44-36.

Once I crunch the numbers using the regional data, I find that, despite a lead of 7 points overall, the Tories would actually lose the election by one seat.  My projected seat numbers are:

NDP - 28
PC - 27
Liberal - 2

The Tories still have a big City of Winnipeg problem that TC thinks they must overcome to be assured of winning the next provincial election due in October, 2011.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Does the Canadian news media have a pro-Harper, pro-Tory tilt?

Tom Flanagan thinks so.

This is from a live chat on the Globe web site on budget day, March 4. (Scroll down to the live blog area)
[Comment From GuestGuest: ]
Dear Mr. Flanagan Do you feel the Conservatives have to work extra hard to sell their proposals because of a more-than-usual hostile press?
Thursday March 4, 2010 1:23 Guest

Tom Flanagan:
Our situation in Canada is very different from the USA, where the national media are definitely liberal (except for Fox News). In Canada both the Sun chain and the CanWest papers tend to be sympathetic or at least open-minded toward the Conservatives. The Globe and Mail sometimes indulges in quixotic crusades against the government (e.g., prorogation) but is pretty fair overall. The Toronto Star is relentlessly hostile, but nobody ever said you could make friends with everyone. I would say that, compared to most countries with which I have any famiiarity, the Conservatives in Canada actually have friendly media to work with. It was different in the past, but that's the way it is now.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Cutting through the clutter...

I have been struck recently by just how much silly clutter there is in media commentary and within the blogosphere.  While I don't always agree with his "nothing to see here folks" approach I do think the analysis of political scientist Brendan Nyan whose blog I link to on the the right side of this site is well worth reading.
There has been much fuss about the popularity/unpopularity of Barack Obama and whether this is leading to an off-year election debacle.

As Nyan notes:

Back in January, I predicted a rash of process-based explanations of President Obama's declining political fortunes in 2010:
During the next eleven months, it will become increasingly obvious that Democrats face an unfavorable political environment and that President Obama's approval ratings are trending downward. Inside the Beltway, these outcomes will be interpreted as evidence that the Obama administration has made poor strategic choices or that the President isn't "connecting" with the American public. Hundreds of hours will be spent constructing elaborate narratives about how the character, personality, and tactics of the principals in the White House inevitably led them to their current predicament.
...Obama's staff certainly has made mistakes, but I doubt they are the principal cause of the administration's problems. As I've pointed out before, good fundamentals make political strategists look like geniuses and bad fundamentals make the same strategists look like idiots. In other words, staff performance is largely a reflection of the political fundamentals (in particular, the economy), not the cause of a president's success or failure. 
 I think Nyan's right about the central importance of the fundamentals in American politics (I think this works a little differently in Canada). The key issue is what might happen to the economy this year (he seems to assume continuing bad news).  The current downturn is ending but the recovery may be weak.  A normal or stronger than anticipated recovery could produce more positive ratings than currently anticipated for Obama and the Democrats later this year. But his basic message needs to be listened to: Ignore the clutter, concentrate on the important things.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Politics of Prorogation

TC finds it curious that prorogation has become a cause célebre, the subject of demonstrations currently underway.  Our Westminster style system grants the prime minister considerable discretion and others have previously used it for political purposes. If people don't like prime ministerial discretion that suggests that they aren't fond of the current occupant of 24 Sussex. Regardless, it appears to have acted as a catalyst for an accumulation of grievances against the Harper government and that is significant. As Rick Salutin put it the Globe:
"...impressions are cumulative and, as a series moves along, each new one weighs heavier. Firing nuclear watchdog + global black eye re tar sands + ending KAIROS funding + torture scandal = bad election news."
It appeared early on from strategic leaks to Norman Spector and Don Newman that the plan was to keep the House from sitting until March but then trigger an immediate election thus avoiding any additional scrutiny of the detainee issue but that blew up in Harper's face and he retreated from the idea within days.  It is clear that the idea of an early election is still politically toxic to the party seen as responsible for it. This makes an early trip to the polls unlikely.  One must qualify this assertion by noting the Harper would like to go early to take advantage of the ongoing ineptitude of Michael Ignatieff, and to avoid the downside of deficit politics - the negative fallout from the cuts.  There is a tendency to see the Liberal record in the nineties as an unqualified triumph.  It was not.  They very nearly ended up in a minority in 1997 as a direct consequence of the 1995 budget.

TC thinks the politics of the deficit are not good for the Cons.  Yes, they have a reputation as good fiscal managers but they don't have one as a party committed to protecting public services. That is why an election gamble to get a majority (as difficult to achieve as that is) might be seen by them as worth it.  However, their slump in recent polls makes the majority more elusive than ever.