Friday, September 26, 2008

Great campaign posters

Martin Patriquin points out some wonderful and hilarious campaign posters made by students of UQAM graphic design professor Nelu Wolfensohn. Definitely worth a gander.

Photo: A mock campaign poster created by UQAM students Evelyne Caillé-Guibert and Francis P. Paquin

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Using bad policy to troll for votes

I very rarely agree with the Globe and Mail's Margaret Wente , but her piece today on the Tories' motivation for cutting arts programs and treating young offenders as adults is right on the money. Whether you think the policies are misguided or not (I do for reasons such as this and this), they're more about winning votes than solving problems.

It's possible that the arts cuts have won some votes for the Tories in Ontario's 905 belt, but
they've sure backfired in Quebec, where the Bloc's numbers have just shot up about ten points at the Tories' expense.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Which polls are most accurate?

Here's an interesting post from Worthwhile Canadian Initiative, a keen blogger who's analyzed the seemingly inexplicable gaps in party support that we see between pollsters' numbers, particulary between the Liberals and Greens. He illustrates why poll watchers will be wise to trust Nanos's daily releases most.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Conversion: Libs sink in BC, Dippers target QC

This is interesting -- if true, we're talking about a complete meltdown of the Liberals in BC (as in possibly zero seats). Maybe Blair Wilson is far smarter than any pundits have given him credit for thus far.

regional polls being tracked at Paulitics also confirm the NDP Quebec surge being talked about by CTV/Globe and Mail (Strategic Counsel polls of its 45 identified swing ridings). Peter Donolo of Strategic Counsel credits effective ads and newly perceived relevance following the NDP's win last year in Outremont.

The NDP publicly claims it's in the running
in six to twelve seats in Quebec, but a smaller number of wins is more realistic, even if the poll numbers continue to improve. For those wondering about the most likely seats, they're as follows:

  • Outremont, which the NDP's Thomas Mulcair picked up in last fall's byelection. In 2006, this seat had the NDP's strongest Quebec result, at 18%. Some pundits say the Liberals are a threat to take the seat back given that they've dominated it since 1935, but that's highly unlikely given the huge margin of victory in the byelection, the fact that most Mulcair votes came from the Bloc, Mulcair's high profile as an MP since then, and the fact that the Outremont Liberals have barely got their campaign off the ground (in week three!).

  • Gatineau, where last election's narrowly defeated progressive Liberal MP, Francoise Boivin, is now running for the NDP. Jack has been in the riding at least twice so far this campaign (first time with the House of Commons in the background across the Ottawa River) and he'll likely be back. Dropping Bloc numbers and rising Con numbers in the province mean this is likely to be one of the few four-way races in the country.

  • Hull-Aylmer, which neighbours Gatineau, was the NDP's third-strongest 2006 Quebec showing (15%), and features Pierre Ducasse, a former NDP leadership contender, as candidate. Ducasse, considered a strong candidate, is taking on Marcel Proulx, a Liberal who won with only 33% of the vote in 2006.

  • Westmount-Ville Marie, which was called as a byelection that was then superceded by the general election. Running against Marc Garneau for the Liberals in this longtime safe Liberal seat is Anne Lagace-Dowson, a well-known CBC personality. She is considered to be in a close race in this riding, which includes not only well-off Westmount, but also more working class regions of Montreal.

  • Jeanne-Le Ber, a Montreal riding where Quebec Green Party co-founder and high-profile environmental activist Daniel Breton is running for the NDP. While this might be a longer shot for the party, the Bloc, who currently holds the riding, has begun shifting their focus to the NDP as their primary challenger.

Those are the five most likely Quebec NDP wins, though a few other Montreal seats are also in play to some degree. I'm currently predicting wins in only Outremont and Gatineau, though that could very well change from here to the end of the campaign.

The one seat that isn't being talked about much as a potential pick-up for the NDP is one of the poorest ridings in Canada and one in which the NDP had its second-best showing of any Quebec seat in 2006: Laurier-Ste. Marie, currently held by Gilles Duceppe. If the NDP were to double its support in this seat, as polls for the Montreal area suggest is about right, it would be a hair away from winning. While I think it an unlikely win for the NDP this time, a good showing will leave it ripe for the taking once Duceppe retires as many expect him to before the subsequent election.

Sometime soon, Prairie Topiary will once again host its election oracle, featuring wondrous and amazing predictions for the coming election. Stay tuned.

Photo: The interior of the Notre Dame Basilica in Montreal, the city where the NDP's Quebec strength is currently concentrated.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Free Press Insiders polls

Is it just me or is the Winnipeg Free Press taking some liberties in the way that it's publishing the results of its Free Press Insiders polls?

The Free Press seems to be portraying the results as if they're representative of voting intentions in Manitoba and in specific Manitoba ridings. However, the poll isn't a random sample of eligible voters; it's a large Internet panel of Free Press readers. As such, the poll results are, at best, only representative of Free Press readers.

If the panelists differ from electors in their voting intentions -- something that's certainly possible given that the panelists are disproportionately Internet-savvy newspaper readers -- then the published numbers aren't indicative of party standings.

Elections Canada has some
very specific rules associated with the publishing of election polls. These include indicating a poll's margin of error and whether the survey was not conducted using recognized statistical methods. I don't see either in the Free Press article.

Clearly, if a margin of error applies to these results, it should be indicated along with a note that riding-by-riding numbers are less robust than the province-wide numbers. If a margin of error doesn't apply because the poll isn't scientific, then that should be made clear in the article.

Even if Elections Canada's requirements were met in an adjoining article I missed, omitting the standard caveats from a presentation of the poll results threatens to mislead the voting public. For those thinking of voting strategically and relying on the Free Press to inform themselves, that's a big problem.

SEPT 26 UPDATE: Accompanying today's Free Press Insider poll results is a cautionary note that the poll results "do not necessarily reflect the views of the entire Winnipeg or Manitoba poplation" along with more information about the sample size and methodology. The inclusion of this information represents a big improvement -- it's clear and allows readers to put the poll results in context.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Dreaming big

Following a stream of historically poor Liberal poll numbers, some campaign observers are beginning to ask whether the NDP is about to surpass the Liberals (see here, here and here) and form Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition in the next parliament.

Indeed, the big fantasy of the federal NDP, and likely a prerequisite for the party to ever become a true national contender for power, has always been to surpass the Liberal Party. New Democrtas believe this milestone would give rise to a new political polarization between the right and left, thus damning the Liberals to the political wilderness forever.

This thinking is never far from the minds of NDP strategists, who face the tricky task of fighting the Tories without inadvertently sinking themselves by helping the Liberals who, for their part, adeptly hug the middle, adopting the rhetoric and policies of the right or the left in whatever combination is most likely to win them power.

The model of political polarization the NDP seeks emerged in Britain in the first half of the 20th century as the Labour Party surpassed the Liberals, who were never again to taste power. Canadian examples can be found in Saskatchewan, Manitoba and BC, though sometimes this is in a two-party system with the Liberals on the right (e.g., Saskatchewan's anti-medicare Liberals of the 1960s and 1970s and the current right-leaning Liberals in BC, who replaced the Social Credit Party there). Polarization is arguably occurring in Nova Scotia where the NDP appears close to winning power and the Liberals slip further into third place every election.

The big question: can it happen federally? As things stand, the New Democrats are likely to make gains and the Liberals likely to suffer losses, but can the shift be dramatic enough for the NDP to form Official Opposition? Some polls show the gap between the two parties to be as little as 3%, a level of competitiveness not seen since around 1990.

So what would it take?

First, it's important to note that the NDP need not necessarily surpass the Liberals in popular vote to surpass them in seats. This is because, generally-speaking, the Liberals' votes tend to be more evenly spread than either the Conservatives' or the NDPs' votes, which tend to be concentrated in particular areas. This tends to make the Liberals more efficient than other parties at converting votes into seats when they're popular but less inefficient than other parties when they're unpopular. In 1984, the Liberal-NDP gap was 28% to 19%, but the seat gap was only 40-30. Another percentage point or two might have pushed the NDP into second.

To come in second in this election, the NDP would likely have to win at least 60 seats or so, with the Liberals falling below that number. The losses for the Liberals in Ontario, where they won 54 seats in 2006, would have to especially large. Specifically, we'd need to see the following:


Liberal numbers would have to drop below 30% from the mid-to-high 30s where they are now, while the NDP would have to climb 5 points or so to the low 20s, with noted strength in northern Ontario. The Tories would break 40%. Liberal losses to both the Conservatives and NDP, plus bleeding to the Greens in vulnerable suburban ridings, would result in a seat count of something like this:
Con 55 / Lib 28 / NDP 23 (2006: Con 40 / Lib 54 / NDP 12)


Bloc numbers would have to stay over 30%, around where they're hovering now, as continued Bloc leakage to the Tories and NDP will produce new victories for the Liberals. The Tories would have to stay around their current 30% while the the NDP approached 20% (up from about 15% now). This might yield something like this:
Bloc 33 / Con 23 / Lib 14 / NDP 4 / Ind 1
(2006: Bloc 51 / Con 10 / Lib 13 / Ind 1)

Atlantic Canada

The Tories would need to gain only a few points (to maybe 36%) at the expense of the Liberals for them to steal a number of close Liberal seats in Nova Scotia, PEI and especially New Brunswick. This would offset Tory losses that are all but guaranteed in NL (a victim of Danny Williams's ABC campaign). The NDP, who are already up a few points over their 22% in 2006, would have to eke out a few new victories in St. John's and Nova Scotia. In seats, that would probably come out to something like this:
Con 14 / Lib 10 / NDP 7 / Ind 1
(2006: Con 9 / Lib 20 / NDP 3)


On the prairies, a couple of points gained for the NDP over their 2006 numbers could give them up to five more seats (I can't see the party winning more than three in Saskatchewan). The Tories would have to win some, lose some, leaving the Liberals with 1-2 seats in total on the Prairies. That would leave something like the following seat count:
Con 46 / NDP 8 / Lib 2 (2006: Con 48 / NDP 3 / Lib 5)


NDP numbers have been strengthening in BC in the last week. Two or three more points would put them over 30% and win them a few new seats at the expense of both other parties. The Liberals, who are bleeding to the Greens in suburban Vancouver, would see some seat losses to the Tories. That could leave the situation something like this:
Con 18 / NDP 17 / Lib 1 (2006: Con 17 / NDP 10 / Lib 9)


A territorial seat for each party as the Cons pick up Nunavut:
Con 1 / Lib 1 / NDP 1 (2006: Lib 2 / NDP 1)


In order to make the above happen, the NDP would need something in the range of 22%, while the Liberals could have no more than about 26%. In addition, the shift in numbers would have to be in the right regions. The above seat counts total as follows:
Con 157 / NDP 60 / Lib 56 / Bloc 33 / Ind 2
(2006: Con 124 / Lib 103 / NDP 29 / Bloc 51 / Ind 1)

The above exercise, apart from being fun (it's still more fun than realistic at this point), suggests it's narrowly possible for the NDP to surpass the Liberals. I would suggest that it remains an uphill battle for the NDP and that they shouldn't underestimate the Liberals. Still, a lot can happen in the one month of campaign that remains.

If the Liberals somehow do tank and make a historically poor showing on October 14, they really shouldn't blame Dion, who seems to be a rather decent, intelligent politician. Rather, for a number of reasons, they can place the blame squarely on this

Photo: The House of Commons (facing the government side)

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

If I were a rich man...

I wonder if this scene from the musical Fiddler On The Roof is what Dion had in mind when he announced on Tuesday that he's not a rich man.

It does make me wonder: did the Liberals not see this campaign coming? First, they were forced to
scramble to secure a campaign plane (and ended up with a real gas guzzler). Now, they've suddenly realized that Dion's image needs a makeover and are trying to recast him as just a regular guy -- why didn't they do that a year ago?

Some other thoughts and observations on the campaign thus far:

  • You have to wonder about Ontario Liberal Premier McGuinty's decision not to endorse his federal counterparts. Apparently, he doesn't want to worsen his already abysmally poor relationship with feds. If that doesn't tell us how far ahead the Tories are in this campaign and how unlikely the Liberals are to win, I don't know what does.

  • The puffin poop Tory ad that was all over the new today blew up in the Tories' faces, as it well should have. Have they forgotten how their ad making fun of Chretien's paralysis backfired several years ago? Perhaps the Tories' punishment should fit the crime -- straight to bed with no dessert, plus grounding for one week.

  • I was somewhat surprised that May was barred from the televised debates given that the criteria for entry has always been to have a minimum of one MP, which the Greens have now met. Ironically, the Liberals, who pushed for May's inclusion, would likely have the most to fear from May's participation, as polls show it's them bleeding the most to the Greens, particularly in Ontario (confirming some comments I made previously).

  • One new EKOS poll puts the Liberals at the historically low level of 24%, only narrowly ahead of the NDP, at 19%. Similarly, a second poll (by pollster Segma Unimarketing, which I've never heard of until now) put them at 25% to the Conservatives' whopping 43%. The federal Liberals, one of the most successful political parties in the western world, have only received that low a share of vote once -- in 1867! In 1984, their next worst performance, the Liberals converted 28% of the popular vote into just 40 seats.

  • The NDP might be the only party to run a full slate of 308 candidates in this election. The Tories have bowed out of Portneuf-Jacques-Cartier to help Independent MP André Arthur in Quebec, while the Liberals are of course not running against Elizabeth May in Central Nova, whose party isn't fielding candidates against either Stephane Dion in Saint-Laurent-Cartierville or former Conservative Bill Casey in Cumberland-Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley.

  • On Monday, Young Liberals heckled Jack Layton for borrowing Liberal votes in the last election instead of focusing on Harper. They claim that attacking the Liberals in 2006 split the anti-Harper vote and helped elect him. Now, if they really believed that, would they not be busy heckling at Tory rallies instead?

  • With PQ leader Pauline Marois undergoing surgery, the Bloc loses an important campaign ally (Marois had planned to stump for Duceppe). That party is desperately struggling to stop the loss of support to the Conservatives and, to a lesser extent, the NDP (a just-posted Globe article suggests the Bloc may have slowed the Tory momentum in Quebec).

  • New Stephane Dion website: I wonder how many fans looking for this website will accidentally wind up at the Liberal leader's site.

  • Finally, there are some great online resources for political junkies who just can't get enough. Pundit's Guide is an amazing database of candidates, contests and results. Paulitics and niXtuff provide regular tracking of polls. The Globe's, Canwest's and the CBC's sites provide additional articles, polls, and punditry. Independent sites, Election Prediction Project are also great resources. Democratic Space will launch its election coverage on Sept. 14.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

A two-horse race and other pre-election myths

Today's Globe and Mail pretty much stole the headline I was planning for a blog post: Harper Tories On The Brink Of Majority. This might come as a shock to some pundits who keep looking to tied polling numbers as the be all-end all source of election analysis, so let's bust a few pre-election myths.

Myth: Harper's calling an election, but even he doesn't think he'll get a majority

Reality: The Canadian public are majority-wary and the Tories know this, so of course they're going to
downplay their chances. Even if some polls show them hovering somewhere between 32% and 35%, that's only a few points short of majority territory, and they're extraordinarily well-organized and flush with cash. While they sure wouldn't mind a stronger minority and sticking it to the Liberals, as Tom Flanagan suggests, make no mistake -- they're gunning for a majority government and they just might get it.

Myth: The Liberals are neck-and-neck with the Tories and have a decent shot at winning

Reality: Party leaders rarely make gains in their first election campaign, and the odds are even worse for a leader going into the campaign with baggage in the form of a
poor image, an unpopular campaign plank, fundraising challenges (now that the days of handouts from corporate Canada are gone), and close to a quarter of the caucus opting not to run again. Those who think the Liberals are in the game to win might want to ask why the party has done absolutely all it could in the last year to avoid an election.

Myth: The NDP is losing ground to the Greens

Reality: Most polls show the NDP holding all or nearly all of its 2006 levels of support and, while the Greens are still up a little over their 2006 levels, most of this added support is in Liberal-friendly suburban Ontario (though even that may vanish as the Liberals continue their fine tradition of "borrowing" the policy planks of other parties).

The NDP hopes to build on its 2006 support with a now-seasoned and well-recognized leader (no campaign gaffes as in 2004), the best-financed and most competitve campaign in the history of the party, a surprising number of "star" candidates who have emerged to run for the party in non-traditional areas, and Liberal slippage to the right (Tory success tends to throw NDP-Liberal battles to the NDP). This should produce new victories in Montreal and Gatineau, northern ridings, industrial Ontario (especially in the wake of news like
this), and pockets of support in the West.

Myth: Winning or not, the Greens are more principled than the other parties

Reality: Desperate to do anything to meet the one MP threshold to join the leader's debates, the Greens recently welcomed into their ranks an MP who was kicked out of the Liberal Party for spending irregularities. With their
hug-a-Liberal strategy backfiring as the Liberals steal their carbon tax plank, expect the Greens to make a lot of noise and gain a few points in the popular vote, but wind up with a big donut for seats.

A very rough early prediction:

Cons ~152
Libs ~85
NDP ~39
Bloc ~32

Image: Thomas Kelly, "The False Start," 1858. Hand-colored lithograph depicting Jerome Park Racetrack, New York City.