Tuesday, November 30, 2010

By-election post-mortem

The result in Winnipeg North was a surprise.  TC has no explanation to offer.  308.com 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.