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.


Scott Tribe said...

Talk about drinking the Kool-Aid.

Decima has them 33-32 Liberals. Nanos (the most accurate pollster the past couple of elections) had them 35-33 Liberals. Ipsos-Reid had it 33-31 Cons.

So first and foremost.. yes they are neck and neck, and you're basing your rather fantastic conclusions on one poll that says differently.

And second.. you're basing your conclusions on that one pollster who has traditionally been way out to lunch. This is the same group that had Harper ahead by 12 % and a majority government a couple of days before the last election.

So pardon me if I dont think you busted any myths at all. I think all you're doing is you're putting out there anti-Liberal spin, which is typical of the NDP and its bloggers, who have attacked the Official Opposition far more then you have the actual Conservative government, and this post shows nothing different.


Prairie Topiary said...

Scott, you completely misread my post. My whole point is that relying only on polls, as you seem to be doing, makes for overly simplistic analysis. The one poll featured in the Globe can be completely disregarded -- it makes no difference to my argument.

You seem to believe that, because most pre-election polls show a tie, that those numbers will translate into ballots cast. But the polls only reflect where tuned out voters have temporarily parked their intentions. Those voters have yet to see the candidates, debates, policies, or expensive ads, all things that will change those poll numbers in the coming campaign. And, unfortunately for the Liberals, their position is weaker in most of those elements than that of the other two parties.

Polls are a simple snapshot and but one element of good election analysis/prediction information. I respectfully submit that to rely ONLY on pre-election polls is really to be drinking the Kool-Aid.