Friday, December 30, 2005

The Turning Tide?

Today's SES poll reports a statistical tie between the Liberals and Conservatives, suggesting immediate and substantial damage from the income trust investigation. The 34% for the Conservatives probably translates into about 43/44% in Canada excluding Quebec.

Good news for Stephen Harper with one catch. Now that he may be about to be perceived as the front runner, the public will want to scrutinize him more closely.

On a loosely related note, the Conservative tactic for dealing with anticipated negative Liberal ads that one might now anticipate is to run this bizarre ad of their own warning us against the dastardly Grits.

More Harris Legacy

This story in the Thursday, December 29 Globe about charges against Ontario Power Generation had a paragraph that jumped out at me. The excerpt is longer to put it in context but I have put the relevant paragraph in italics:

“Along with two employees, OPG is charged with two counts of criminal negligence causing death and seven counts of criminal negligence causing bodily harm.

The charges were laid in connection with a June, 2002, incident in which a rarely used gate at the Barrett Chute hydroelectric dam on the Madawaska River was opened to drain off excess water, engulfing a group of sunbathers in a surge of water that swept them over a 10-metre-high cliff and onto rocks below.

Homicide charges against a publicly owned utility appear to have no precedent in Canada, said Ontario Provincial Police Staff Inspector Ian Grant, who headed the exhaustive two-year criminal probe into the incident, which he terms "a very difficult investigation."

Moreover, the trial, which will be by a judge alone, is sure to focus on the decision-making process at Toronto-based OPG.

Employees have said that after the Mike Harris government's decision to deregulate the electricity market -- a move that took effect just weeks before the tragedy -- local control over dams such as Barrett Chute was transferred to a computerized dispatch system at head office.”

Could this be Walkerton 2? What should it tell us about what to expect from the former President of the National Citizens’ Coalition who now thinks he should be Prime Minister, so he can promote, among other things, privatization and deregulation?

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Mid campaign polls and accidents

An Environics poll released on Christmas Eve noted, “…the federal election campaign has yet to have any noticeable effect on voter support.” Using that statement as my cue (and I do agree) I averaged all the polls taken since the beginning of the campaign including the daily SES (except for today’s release) and the Globe’s Strategic Counsel. This calculation does not take overall movement within the campaign into account, but then there has not been much, at least in aggregate.

I would say the ups and downs in the polls suggest there is some non-sampling error going on. For example, estimates of Liberal strength in Ontario have ranged between 37% and 47% although most readings are in the forties. In B.C. the range has been between 26% and 42% with most reading in the thirties.

Applying my seat forecaster to the overall average produces the following results: Liberals – 131, Conservatives – 87, NDP – 23, BQ – 67. For full details of the poll averages and seat numbers see here.

However, I began writing this post before the news of the RCMP investigation of the so-called Income Trust leak. I think this story is potentially quite damaging to the Liberals (even though I believe in the end the investigation won’t produce results). It plays into, and reinforces the Liberal corruption narrative promoted by the opposition. I think it more likely to be helpful to the Conservatives than the NDP (despite their role in producing the investigation) as the Tories have run with the corruption issue more strongly.

This is a campaign in search of a galvanizing moment. Is this it? Perhaps, but it is too soon to tell. It also comes in a week where the Liberals were afflicted by other ‘accidents’ in what has seemed an accident-prone campaign.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Decima Polls

A new Decima poll out today has the Liberals up 10 points on the Conservatives 35% to 25% with the NDP at 21% and the BQ at 13%.

It is one of a series of polls conducted via the internet. I think that net polling is where we are headed in the future and is going to be increasingly important, but one should note that these election polls I think are best described as an experiment. For example, see this description of the methodology on this news release from Decima. Note the section I underlined below, which is an important qualification.

(Decima has launched an innovative on-line voter tracking study in collaboration with the Carleton University School of Journalism and Communication. The data reported here was gathered over the period November 26 through December 1st, from 4337 survey participants, drawn from Decima’s proprietary eVox online panel. For a comparable random probability sample, the findings would be considered accurate to within 1.49 percentage points, 19 times out of 20. Decima plans to re-interview those who agree to be part of a special election-tracking panel each week leading up to the election.)

I do think these results are worth watching, and Decima has apparently pre-selected this panel in the traditional way but the approach remains quite new so some caution is in order.

Monday, December 19, 2005

The Static Campaign

This campaign has a static feel too it in the sense that nothing seems to be happening. The first debates are over but no doubt the leaders are holding their best lines for January.

These polls conducted by Decima and Strategic Counsel (on page 28) tell us that Layton benefited the most from the debates. I reject the bare bones questions about who won as misleading given that they appear simply to mimic underlying voter preferences.

The finding by Strategic Counsel (on page 30) that 95% of their poll’s respondents found nothing in the debates to make them change their votes confirms to me the sluggish character of this campaign.

It appears that we can’t expect to see much dynamism before January 2, if then.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

One more observation

The one constant in most polls this week is a weakening of Bloc support in Quebec. My intuition about this is that Quebec will split largely on federalist/sovereignist lines and produce results similar to those of 2004. Martin's call for referendum like voting is certainly in his self interest and not therefore surprising but I suspect it was unnecessary.

Contradictory Messages in Polls

Since most polls have reported the Liberals to be leading, there is a general impression of not much happening in this campaign. It has had a low key flavour.

However, the polls are giving quite contradictory messages. I think this deserves more attention. An Ipsos-Reid poll completed last week did have the Liberals ahead but only by two points, 33% to 31% over the Conservatives with the NDP at 17%. Once the regional numbers are crunched through my forecasting model we find a Conservative minority government with Mr. Harper’s party winning 115 seats to the Liberals’ 97 and the NDP’s 29.

Contrast that with today’s SES poll. It has the Liberals ahead overall 40% to 26% with the NDP at 18%. The data translate into a Liberal majority government of 168 seats with the Conservatives’ 57 seats apparently putting them in third place behind the Bloc’s 59 seats, with the NDP at 24 seats.

The Globe’s Strategic Counsel numbers are in between.

The difference cannot be explained by the half a week lag between the two surveys. I continue to believe current preferences are quite weak, and what we are really seeing is differences in methodology. I think it likely that one pollster or the other has got it wrong (or both), but there is no immediate election to tell us which one with any certainty.

Personally, the numbers I find hardest to believe in the two surveys are the SES numbers for Western Canada, which report a massive swing away from the Conservatives to the Liberals and the NDP. In 2004 the results in the West were Liberals 26.8%, Conservatives 45.5% and the NDP 20.4%. Today’s SES poll the West region preferences are given as Liberal – 35%, Conservative – 36% and NDP – 24%, quite a shift.

The polls should converge by the end of the campaign.

Addendum: Paul Wells seems to have spotted this emerging problem. A new Léger Marketing survey appears to support SES. However, Léger has uniformly delivered numbers very favourable to the Liberals so I don't find their results all that surprising. Their western numbers show a significantly smaller shift to the Liberals than SES.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Polls - Much Ado About Nothing

There are two tracking polls in this election, one from SES for CPAC, the other from Strategic Counsel for the Globe/CTV. Both show the Liberals ahead but little apparent impact from the campaign. The commentary from the pollsters strikes me as being for the benefit of making news for their respective media, and overstates the significance of what is really happneing. The data regionally do show significant variations between the two pollsters with SES showing more favourable numbers for the Liberals.

In any event current preferences are weak regardless of distribution. I don't think the public is yet focused so the numbers are a benchmark but little else at this stage. I continue to think the television debates this time have the potential to have a great impact. They begin December 15.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Harper's GST Promise

Just a quick note to say that Harper has done well with his gst promise and the Conservative campaign overall appears to be reflecting the fact they have now had 18 months to get themselves better organized than last time.

However, most polling I have seen since the federal government went into surplus suggests most voters put a higher priority on social spending (health in particular but also education, etc.) . See these recent CRIC poll numbers for example. The media I think should pay more attention to the appeal of this option not just income vs gst tax cuts.

In any event it is far from clear yet that the election will end up being about taxes.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

More thoughts on Election 2006

1. The Liberals greatest problem is voter fatigue. During the 2004 election I called it the fourth election problem. At the time I said: In recent decades with but a few exceptions, Canadians have tended to get fed up with the party in power, generally after two terms, but almost always by the time a party is seeking a fourth term. This applies to both federal and provincial governments.

This has no doubt shown up in Conservative focus groups, and explains why Stephen Harper talked incessantly yesterday about “change”, according to the CBC mentioning the word 'change' at least 50 times in his kick off speech.

2. It will be a long campaign and with some measure at least of voter dissatisfaction with the two leading alternatives, I expect some volatility in the polls. Judging by the first Ipsos-Reid survey, this has already started. SES Research announced today they will be doing an enhanced daily tracking poll. Their poll did catch the last second shifting to the Liberals in the last election and the losses suffered at the end by the NDP, but did not get all of it, making the election look much closer than it turned out to be. This time their samples look like they will be large enough to do some meaningful regional tracking.

3. The TV debates were announced tonight, and the change in rules suggests to me that they will work better overall, and that means they have greater potential to influence the outcome. The 2004 debates were a disaster. As I wrote at the time: Cross-talk and noise is incomprehensible to most viewers, and simply discredits the political process. It also means the debates are less influential as a consequence, and end up politically as a wash.

Most viewers will tune out a wall of sound but if debate is intelligible it is more meaningful.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

And they are off...

A few observations as the campaign commences:

1. Most of the polls since the 2004 election campaign, once run through my number cruncher, have produced minority governments, usually Liberal although today’s quickie overnight Reid poll produces a weak Conservative minority.

2. It is likely the Liberals will close the gap in Quebec, as the election becomes more polarized around federalism and it becomes obvious that the NDP and Conservatives don’t have strong campaigns on the ground in the province. Right now the BQ is looking at 65-68 seats. However, the Liberals closed strongly in 2004 in Quebec under similar circumstances and could get back most if not all of their 21 2004 seats.

3. It is harder for the Conservatives to win a majority than the Liberals. Assuming the Liberals could win 20 seats in Quebec (they took 21 in 2004) they would need to win about 58% of the seats in the rest of Canada whereas the Conservatives must win 66% of those constituencies, in both cases to obtain a bare majority.

4. The Liberals face a Conservative party with two strengths this time and one glaring weakness: they are much better organized (remember, they had just barely established themselves as a party in 2004) and better financed. However, their Leader, Mr. Harper, is a liability. He comes across as sour and angry (whereas Mr. Layton and Mr. Martin generally come across as sunny and optimistic) and what is worse for the Conservatives, he is better known than in 2004. He also strikes me from time to time as having a death wish. Either that or some of the foolish things he says, such as linking the Liberals to organized crime (fyi, the Republicans in the United States might be better candidates for such charges) simply show a political ineptitude I have trouble believing on part of some one as obviously bright as Mr. Harper.

5. The NDP was the hard luck party last time round, losing a dozen or so seats by tiny margins. They appear set to conduct both a better campaign, and with a leader whose communication skills have grown exponentially.

6. Using a weighted average of the three most recent polls and applying the seat forecaster we get the following seat distribution: L – 123, C – 80, NDP – 38, BQ – 67.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Two New Polls Can't Agree on B.C.

There are two new polls out today - from Ekos and Ipsos-Reid - with completely different media spins (see the poll links below to the Star and the Gazette). I just want to note the contradictory findings for B.C. with respect to the Liberals and Conservatives. Ekos reports that it finds: L-43, C-21, NDP-33. On the other hand Ipsos-Reid says it is the Conservatives who are surging in B.C., and the current party preferences are L-26, C-33, NDP-33. Only the NDP numbers create some resemblance between the two polls. Certainly the most intriguing province.

Added note: I estimate the Ekos poll size as about 105-110 while the Ipsos-Reid sample is 117. With sample sizes that small the possibility of large errors is in my view considerable. That is one reason that I like to aggregate and average. If we average these two polls, we get L - 34.5, C - 27, & NDP - 33.

Ralph Klein's Alberta

The most politically pertinent fact about Alberta in the federal election is a Conservative one-party state, and oh, by the way, it is ruled by King Ralph. He was in the news again this week quoted as saying the Liberals would probably win a minority: "If I were a betting man, I would say there would be another minority," he said. "It's a damn shame.” Why will the Liberals win? It is because Harper while a "bright, articulate individual, perhaps he's seen as too much on the right".

The conventional wisdom about the latest pearl from Ralph is that once again he is helping out his nemesis Paul Martin. However, this particular comment could paradoxically help the Conservatives. How? If the Conservatives were too have any chance, and their prospects are indeed not too bright, they would have to come from behind, and equally important the NDP would have to do well, stealing votes from the dreaded Grits. Ralph’s comment effectively says I like Harper but he hasn’t got a chance to win, so you socialists are safe in voting NDP. The most likely impact of his comment is to help the NDP a little by helping to suppress the strategic voting that causes soft NDP votes to melt away to the Liberals.

The Conservatives at this point are likely to lose again, but there is enough unhappiness about the status quo – a recent Decima poll reports that it is desire for change that is the Liberals’ greatest weakness – that one can’t be sure. The real problem for the Conservatives is that they and their program are viewed positively by relatively few Canadians.

As for Alberta and the polls, there is not much to say. The Conservatives are down a bit here too, 4.1 points below their 2004 finish, but not by enough to matter. The Liberals post Gomery are also down just below their 2004 performance. The gains in Alberta seem to have gone to the NDP which is 5.5 points ahead of their 2004 pace. Based on these numbers my forecast model appears to give the NDP one constituency, Edmonton Strathcona (currently represented by Rahim Jaffer). I do not think they can actually win here but it illustrates how well the NDP is doing generally. The only change I expect to see is that the Conservatives should win David Kilgour’s riding (he is not running again) of Edmonton Beaumont. The Liberals were running nicely ahead of their 2004 pace in Alberta earlier in the fall but the Gomery report has moved Alberta back close to the 2004 election result.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Regional numbers – West to East, beginning on the west coast

Now that it is clear that an election campaign will commence next Monday I intend to begin laying out a series of regional assessments about where the parties stand going into the election. I want to continue the before and after Gomery comparisons but also look closely at current poll performances compared to the results of the 2004 election.

Overall the region that appears to have changed the most since the 2004 election is British Columbia. There have changes elsewhere but it is on the west coast where the potential exists for a large number of seat switches.

As in the case of every other region, the Liberals lost support in B.C. between their September-October average prior to the release of Gomery and in surveys conducted afterwards, losing an average of 3.4%. However, we also find that the Conservative party also lost ground between the two periods, dropping 1.5%. The NDP picked up 3.1% and the Greens gained 1.3%. This is representative of the bigger picture. Compared to 2004, if we consider post-Gomery polls we find that the Liberals average 36.1%, 7.6 points higher than in the 2004 election, the NDP averages 31.1%, 4.6 points higher than 2004, while the Conservatives at 24% are 12.1 points below their 2004 result. If this prevailed on election day, B.C. would elect 18 Liberals, just 8 Conservatives and 10 New Democrats.

However, there is a history of the Liberals not holding their pre-election support. In 2000 the Liberals averaged 38.5% in a group of polls in the weeks before the call of that election, but on the day of the election the party received just 27.5%, a loss of 11 points. Could it happen again? The Liberals under Paul Martin have been aggressively chasing votes on the west coast. I would expect some drop off for the Grits, and indeed some recovery on the part of the Conservatives. However, in 2000 the pattern across the West was identical to B.C. This year the Liberal support post-Gomery is below their 2004 performance elsewhere. In 2000 NDP support in B.C. in the pre-election polls essentially predicted its election performance, while the then Canadian Alliance increased its support strongly at the expense of the Liberals.

Recent developments in provincial politics do augur well for the NDP. They did better than expected in May 2005 provincial election (receiving 41.5% of the popular vote), and more recently, benefited from the mishandling of the teachers’ walkout by the Campbell government. The NDP’s weak performance in 2000 was linked in part to the unpopularity of then Clark/Miller/Dosanjh governments. Apart from purely federal considerations, the NDP benefits from the current provincial context.

I don’t have regional numbers on leadership but at the national level Harper’s negatives are high, 58% in the October Strategic Counsel poll. The same poll notes that his negatives were increasing in Ontario at that time. My guess is that the same was true of B.C.

When I look at other regions’ numbers it does not seem a stretch to me to think that the 2006 election could produce numbers similar to 2004. At the starting gate, British Columbia looks dramatically different.

Addendum: I forgot to note in this post that B.C. has a history of being the most volatile, politically diverse province in the country. Back in the fifties and sixties, B.C. was represented in the House of Commons by four different parties, Liberal, Progressive Conservative, the CCF-NDP and Social Credit. In different elections, the Liberals, PCs, NDP, and Reform have dominated, winning at least 70% of the constituencies in at least one election each. Its unpredictable character, unlike say Alberta, makes it always intriguing.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Election 2005-06

Rarely has there been an election campaign that spanned two calendar years but that appears to be what we are about to have in Canada, starting apparently on November 28. While the election could have taken place in February if the Liberals had acquiesced in the NDP’s proposal, instead a collision resulting in a non-confidence vote now appears inevitable.

So what is the political position of the parties at this moment? I have averaged all the recent polls conducted after the Gomery report was delivered, and compared them to an average of national polls from September and October. Gomery has weakened the Liberals, but they are still ahead. Although it is the Conservatives who have exploited the issue most energetically, they are not biggest beneficiary of Liberal losses. The Liberals averaged 4.3% less in the post Gomery polls compared to earlier in the fall, the NDP 2.1% more, the Conservatives 1% more and the Bloc gained 0.8% (a 1.7% gain in Quebec).

This has produced some spectacular results for the NDP in terms of potential seat gains. For example, an average of the three recent Ipsos-Reid, Léger Marketing and Ekos polls would give the NDP 36 seats. The SES poll out today would translate into 49 seats. Only the first Strategic Counsel poll for the Globe taken in the days just after the report was released would have given the Conservatives the greatest number of seats; otherwise the Liberals are ahead.

My view is that the preferences now are highly unstable, and that the campaign will matter a great deal. More to come….

Monday, November 07, 2005

Post Gomery Polls - Bad News for All?

The two post-Gomery polls from Ipsos-Reid and Strategic Counsel have bad news for everyone. I initially thought the report might not have much impact. I was wrong.

Clearly, after the impact of the spring hearings and the election that never was courtesy of the Stronach defection, public opinion drifted back to a default distribution that left the Liberals ahead. However, it must not be forgotten in these situations that the preferences at the margins are quite soft. In the new configuration that remains true.

So how is this bad news for all?

1. It is obviously bad for the Liberals who lost about 9 points from the three most recent pre-Gomery polls and currently are well below the 36.7% they received nationally in 2004.

2. The bad news for the Conservatives is that their support, while it recovered by about 2.5% from the pre-report polls, is barely above the 29.6% they received in 2004 a figure that is within the margin of error of the two polls even when combined.

3. The NDP on average is up 3.8% from the 2004 election and 2.8% from the pre-report polls. My seat estimate for the Ipsos-Reid polls suggests they would win 43 seats. The NDP would do best in exactly the scenario portrayed by the polls, a strong third place in the context of weakness for both of the leading two parties.

So isn’t this good news? The problem for the NDP is that it sets up a classic strategic voting paradigm. The Liberals can now stir up fears of a Harper victory with the prospect of attracting soft New Democrat voters more fearful of a Conservative win than upset by Liberal ethics.

4. Surely it is good news for the Bloc, at least. Again the answer is no. The Bloc has had trouble cracking the 50% popularity barrier in any significant way (since June they have averaged 51%). The Ipsos-Reid poll gives them 52% and Strategic Counsel 57% but most of the 13 point Liberal drop in the Ipsos-Reid poll in Quebec went to other federalist parties while in the Strategic Counsel poll the report did not change the results much from a mid-October poll.

When the election comes it will be the Liberals, who are organized in Quebec with strong candidates, not the Conservatives and the NDP so the Liberals, despite all the negative fallout from Gomery, could potentially equal their total of 21 seats won in 2004.

I would not expect the Gomery effect to last given that it has decayed on two previous occasions. However, the Conservatives, the Bloc and the NDP can now use the findings of Gomery in political communications such as TV ads during the election campaign. Perhaps the worst news out of these polls for the Liberals is that the exoneration of Martin in the report has been discounted by a public looking for someone to blame. Strategic Counsel reported that only 33% believe Martin’s contention that he was not involved in the scandal.

The colourful Chrétien sideshow grabbed media attention, but as the former PM will not be running in the next election, his effort to clear his name has no broader political significance.

Today it appears Layton may be ready to provoke an early election. An election campaign to watch during the holidays would be a great Christmas present for T.C.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Reaction to Gomery

The report is out and I suspect interest will be high among the public.

One key difference from the AG's report: Gomery made a low key statement that was little more than a restatement of elements of the report, and refused to take questions, unlike AG Sheila Fraser who held court and expressed shock and outrage. I have long suspected that her highly-charged emotional news conference triggered a sympathetic response among the general public, who regard the AG as an almost God-like figure (very wrongly in my view).

However, it does mean response to this report will be dictated by how the public reads the reaction of the key figures: Martin, Harper, Chrétien, Layton, etc. The initial response may then depend on prior partisan preferences without any authority figure such as Sheila Fraser to prompt moves in an alternate direction.

Monday, October 31, 2005

Gomery and the Goblins of the Polls

It is both Halloween and the eve before Gomery. There is much expectation in the air.

I propose to simply lay down a couple of bench marks tonight. First, the weighted average of the three most recent national polls:

Liberal - 38.4; Conservative - 28.0; NDP 17.0; BQ - 12.0; Green - 3.6.

And a seat calculation based on a weighted average of the three most recent polls where we have a regional breakout:

Liberal - 146; Conservative - 78; NDP- 22; BQ - 62.

Things have been drifting the Liberals way in recent months (although no majority) but it is not clear if public opinion at the moment has any solid foundations.

The numbers that cause my eyebrows to arch at the moment are comparatively strong Liberal statistics on the prairies. My intuitive reaction is to give them as much credence as the ghosts and goblins. We shall see.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Polls and Sponsorship

There was an interesting review of a new book on the Liberal Party by Stephen Clarkson in the Saturday Globe and Mail. The review, written by Paul Martin political advisor and spinmeister John Duffy, included the following passage about the eruption of the sponsorship scandal in 2004.

Liberal polling showed that on the release of the Auditor-General's report, party support dropped 17 per cent in 48 hours, the most sudden, catastrophic plunge in Canadian political history. To the horror of Grits everywhere, the Liberal "brand" had become Enronesque at a stroke. It was only by sharing Canadians' horror at the revelations, announcing significant steps to remedy them and appointing the Gomery commission that Martin was able to recoup 12 points within days.

These numbers from “Liberal polling” are new to me. Curiously the rise and fall cited by Duffy is not evident in the published polls at the time, which showed the Liberals dropping by an average of 10.5 percentage points from an average of several polls in the six weeks preceding the AG report compared to the average of published polls in the month following but not recovering.

The average gap between the Liberals and Conservatives did fall from 28 to 11 points, a fall of 17 points which corresponds to Duffy’s 17 point drop but there was no recovery and the gap remained 11 points for the following month. The miraculous recovery of 12 points cited by Duffy is nowhere in evidence.

However, I do agree with his argument directed against Clarkson. In the review Duffy makes this statement: He (Clarkson) asserts uncritically the view that Paul Martin bungled by failing to cover up the sponsorship scandal. Duffy then goes on to argue: Saying "pay no attention to that man behind the curtain," as Clarkson and others argue Martin should have done, would have created a cover-up issue, brought Martin directly into the scandal and doomed the Liberals as surely as Turner's midwifery of Trudeau's patronage had done a generation before.

I have seen the argument attributed here to Clarkson before, and I don’t understand it. Once the AG had taken aim at the sponsorship program, Martin did the only thing he could, which was distance himself from the whole mess. There are those who have the illusion that sweeping it under the carpet was still an option even after Sheila Fraser’s famous expressions of disgust at her news conference. The polls published and now, so it seems, internal to the Liberal Party, say otherwise.

Monday, October 17, 2005

A tale of two polls

Two recent polls – one by Ipsos-Reid, the other by Léger Marketing – on Ontario party preference tell us why it is best to regard any one given set of poll numbers, to say the least, cautiously. I find nothing more irritating than news reports based on a single survey that cite “polls” as an authority. When you consider the following numbers you can see how foolish much of this type of reporting really is.

The two surveys were back to back – Léger’s survey ran from Sept. 21-26 while Ipsos-Reid’s was conducted from Sept. 27 to Oct. 6. But Reid had the Tories ahead: Conservative – 38%, Liberals – 37%, NDP – 17% and Green – 7% while Léger gave the Grits a big lead of 43% to 31% for the Conservatives with 15% for the NDP and 11% for others.

So who to believe since it is implausible and the minute difference in survey periods would explain the shift. My guess is that Ipsos-Reid is closer to the truth. There have been several surveys over the past year reporting a narrow or non-existent gap between the two leading parties. Léger looks like an outlier but who knows. There is no election for another two years so we will never know for certain.

One hopeful sign in Ipsos-Reid for the governing Liberals is that the public is evenly divided in their approval of the government. In our first-past-the-post system that is all you need.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Polls this Summer

A conversation I had today told me that wrong impressions of what the polls have said this year are rampant.

Essentially, the status quo was upset in early April by the Brault testimony at Gomery. Liberal support began to plunge but was arrested by Paul Martin's speech on April 21. Wild fluctuations in party preference continued as various dramatic political developments unfolded - Martin's deal with the NDP, David Kilgour leaving the Liberals, Belinda Stronach joining - culminating in the squeaker of the confidence vote on May 18. After that we essentially witnessed a return more or less to the status quo ante.

It is all laid out in a graphic here. Note that I have used a three poll rolling average to smooth fluctuations (which I think are meaningless). My source for all these numbers was the table here.

What isn't shown is that after the May confidence vote, Harper's personal numbers plummeted while Layton's soared.

More on OH-2

I have posted before about the by-election in Ohio’s 2nd Congressional district (here and here) and how it demonstrated the potential of the internet to marshal support. The blog MyDD has published a map of contributors to the campaign of Democrat Paul Hackett, who lost narrowly but may run next year for Senate. I think it illustrates well how the internet and the blogosphere is potentially a tremendously important political force. While its efficacy has been demonstrated in the U.S., we have yet to see anything comparable in Canada.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Liberal Caucus and Conservative Ads

The newspaper today brought word from the Liberal caucus meeting in Regina that their principal strategist, David Herle, sees the real prospect of a parliamentary majority emerging from the next election, while conceding that the sponsorship scandal is hurting in Quebec. This implies winning an additional 20 seats minimum in the rest of Canada, a very tall order. Herle makes some suggestions about how this might be done. Let me comment on them:

1. “Make real gains” in Ontario. Given the pattern of recent polls, in my view this is all but impossible. To do so would require raising the Liberal popular vote above the 45.6% received last time. In most recent polls 46% is roughly the highest level of support the Liberals have achieved. For most of its electoral history Ontario has been a three party province. The elections of 1993, 1997 and 2000, when the Liberals won almost all the seats in Ontario, are, in the broader run of history, exceptions not the rule.

2. Win between eight and ten seats in the Prairies. Let us assume he means Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta. In the latter, they will be lucky to win back the two they won in 2004, especially given the fact one of the MPs, David Kilgour, has left the Liberal caucus to sit as an independent. Most polling in Manitoba/Saskatchewan has not been kind to the Liberals. The most recent Ipsos Reid poll reported the following: Conservative 34, NDP – 32 and Liberal -29. This would produce a net gain of one for the Liberals, the riding of Kildonan-St. Paul in Winnipeg. Doesn’t look like eight to ten to me.

3. There is a “paradigm shift” in B.C. and it “could move to us”. This is the most plausible of his assertions. The Liberals have quite consistently been ahead of the Conservatives and the NDP in polls in B.C. However, some in the spring were taken just before and just after the provincial election in which the provincial Liberals received 45% support. This almost certainly meant some spike in federal Liberal support. There is also a previous pattern of Liberal support in B.C. being higher between elections than on voting day. Nevertheless I don’t dismiss out hand his claims here. B.C. with its growing urban and increasingly ethnically diverse populations is changing from the B.C. of yesteryear. A strong Liberal result here at the expense of the Conservatives, who won 22 of 36 seats with just 36% of the vote in 2004, is conceivable. It is also equally plausible that there will be a strong NDP showing in B.C. that would limit Liberals gains.

David Herle has a reputation of being arrogant. And perhaps the news report doesn’t do justice to his presentation, given that later in the day he denied the report, embarrassed by the implication that the Liberals could ignore Quebec. The problem with the denial is that if you believe his scenario to be true, then a majority with zero gains in Quebec would be a possibility. Whatever the context, he does seem to be working with some very optimistic assumptions.

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On another front, the Conservatives are running some ads in Ontario that were clearly intended for airing in the last election. You can watch them on the web here. I would give them about a B- overall. They have an amateurish look to them with MP’s and Stephen Harper delivering scripts to a shaky hand held camera (to give it a faux cinema verité style) in a slightly wooden manner.

A few observations:
1. The health care ad, although ostensibly about waiting lists, appears to me to be intended to offer reassurance that the Conservatives will protect public health care.
2. The ads feature a number of women MPs. The visual grammar here implicitly addresses a Conservative weakness among female voters without explicitly talking about the issue. See, we wouldn’t really re-introduce a new abortion law with all these professional looking women in our caucus, would we?
3. Despite their weaknesses, the ads do have specific messages targeted at an audience of target voters the Conservatives hoped to win over including parents using private daycare, immigrants and suburban families.
4. There are moments when Harper comes across as just a bit too partisan/angry – reinforcing a real image problem he has.
5. The slogan ‘Stand up for Canada’. Not original. Used by another man of the political right, George Wallace, in 1968 as ‘Stand up for America’.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Dog Days of August Polls

New SES and Strategic Counsel polls were published today. While SES President Nik Nanos suggests his poll would mean a Liberal minority, my own calculations in fact produce a Liberal majority with the Grits at 164, the Conservatives all the way down to 62 and the NDP at 27. However, the Strategic Counsel numbers show a tighter outcome than SES, so, in combination I would guess the Liberals are actually still in minority territory.

The SES leadership numbers put Stephen Harper in free fall finishing behind Jack Layton in third place while Strategic Counsel reports that the sponsorship scandal, his principal political asset, is now a key issue for only 2%. Take this latter fact with a grain of salt. I am sure the Conservatives will be courteous enough to remind us all again and again about it in the closing weeks of the next campaign.

What seems to have happened is a kind of negative honeymoon where, having failed to defeat the Liberals in the Commons, the public then turns on the Conservatives and punishes them for their failure.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Cook on OH-2

I received a commentary on OH-2 from Charlie Cook via an email subscription today. I would describe Cook as a right-leaning (and inclined to view things from a traditional perspective), but scrupulously non-partisan political analyst. Here is the key quote:

There is no one reason why this special election was so close. There was the fact that Schmidt was a less-than-stellar candidate who survived an 11-way primary where the two front-runners killed off one another. Her campaign was equally unimpressive and reluctant to go on the attack against Democratic lawyer and Iraq War veteran Paul Hackett -- who in turn was a far better candidate than Democrats usually land in such overwhelmingly Republican districts. Hackett's ability to make this race a referendum on Gov. Bob Taft -- whose administration is now engulfed in a major state government scandal -- was also important. Hackett's message was reinforced by an ad run by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee linking Schmidt and the politically besieged governor.

But while all of these factors contributed greatly to the surprisingly close outcome, it is clear that there is deeper significance to this race than some Republicans admit. There are those close to the White House who remain dismissive of the election's overall significance, but to ignore the warning signals this race has given off is to tempt the gods. Just as odd-year gubernatorial races often (though not always) foreshadow subsequent national results, special elections can be a harbinger for what the upcoming national election will hold.

Let's hope so.

Monday, August 08, 2005

OH-2 and the Internet

The Republican, Jean Schmidt, won this August 2, 2005 Congressional by-election, but the Democrat Paul Hackett came very close, losing 51.7% to 48.3%. Now there is talk of him as a Senate candidate in Ohio in 2006.

Overall I think the result could be significant as an indicator of changes coming, especially given Bush’s falling polls. However, the Ohio Republican Party is beset by scandal – summarized well in this Charlie Cook analysis about OH-2 – so its broader importance is less clear. There has quite a bit of good discussion of the OH-2 election in the blogosphere. I recommend the following summary from the Emerging Democratic Majority blog, where one of the key points is about the new power of the liberal blogs:

One of the key lessons of Hackett's near-win is the power of the liberal blogosphere in raising needed funds for individual campaigns. Lead by The Swing State Project, liberal bloggers raised an estimated $500,000 for Hackett, two-thirds of his campaign budget of $750,000, according to the WaPo article.

Another lesson for Dems is that Hackett's impressive tally was boosted by his refusal to water down his criticism of the Administration's Iraq policy or tone down his anti-corruption message.

Victory for Howard Dean
One of the big winners out this contest was Howard Dean, both as DLC chair, and for his organization, Democracy for America, which raised and donated large sums to a grateful Mr. Hackett.

The traditional approach to politics on the part of establishment Democrats has been to concede the bastions of the other side, and focus resources and effort on swing districts. By that standard they would have ignored OH-2. But the partisan Democratic bloggers, and Howard Dean, want to carry the fight to red state America so they pitched in here. The OH-2 battle is a classic example of the divergences, where the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, run by Clintonista Rahm Emanual, entered the contest very late after the Republicans, worried about losing, started to invest in their campaign. Even so the DCCC post-mortem earned them some pointed criticism in the blogosphere because the post did not emphasize that Hackett had enthusiastically attacked Bush’s Iraq policy.

The tension between the bloggers and the more traditional Democrats is analyzed extraordinarily well by Los Angeles Times columnist Ron Brownstein in a column for the National Journal that was reprinted here in this Daily Kos posting. In my opinion this is a seminal piece of analysis about a key current trend in American politics.

The key difference between the netroots activists and the more cautious traditionalists is summarized this way:

The Democratic Internet base cradling that trigger does not speak with one voice. But the emerging generation of online Democratic activists, many of them young and shaped by the bruising partisan conflicts of the past decade, seems united most by the belief that the quickest way for Democrats to regain power is to confront Bush more forcefully and to draw brighter lines of division between the Democratic Party and the GOP.

OH-2 will not be last chapter in this debate.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

The more things change....

There were two provincial polls released last week in Ontario, by Ipsos-Reid and Environics. Both suggest there is a virtual tie right now between the Liberals and Conservatives. There is a discussion of their implications in this column by the Toronto Star’s Ian Urquhart. As he reports, polls conducted a couple of months ago showed the Liberals ahead but they came after a relatively popular budget. These polls more likely tell us something about the longer-run trend.

To me the interesting thing is that they would almost certainly produce a minority government with the NDP holding the balance of power. Averaging the two polls and applying my seat forecaster would produce a minority PC government with 51 seats, 38 Liberals and 14 New Democrats.

It has all happened before. Ontario was governed by a Conservative minority led by Bill Davis from 1975 to 1981. And his principal secretary in the years just after he won back his majority in 1981 was - current PC Leader John Tory.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Polls in mid-summer

There may be nothing much going on in federal or provincial politics at the moment but the pollsters have been in the field, and there were four federal polls published in July – two by Pollara, one by Environics and one from Decima.

It seems to me that when there is little news to influence preferences what we see is a reflection of medium or long-term preferences. We even see the Paul Martin tormentors complaining about him not providing grist for the mill by keeping a low profile.

Since elections actually occur in the context of a massive amount of communication both paid messages and free media, the current situation is quite artificial. And it can be misleading – think of how in the summer of 1993 many thought Kim Campbell and the then Progressive Conservative Party would cruise to victory in the fall.

Nevertheless this period provides a context worth knowing and there are a few observations to be made:

1. After a spring beating by Gomery hearings, the Liberals are moving gradually upward in Quebec. See especially the table on Quebec in this Decima news release. Given that there is generally a pro-Bloc tilt in the polls – the so-called hidden federalist vote – it actually suggests that Liberals may not actually lose that much ground in Quebec when the election is finally held.

2. There is persistent Conservative weakness in BC. Liberal support may be getting boosted a little by the proximity to the spring provincial election but by July that effect should be fading. I can’t say I understand this but it is potentially significant and being overlooked.

3. The leadership numbers in the Environics poll are interesting. Clearly Jack Layton is making a good impression on the electorate and Stephen Harper is not. My own sense is that Martin, whose numbers continue to fall, has nevertheless arrived at a sort of grudging acceptance on the part of the electorate, and could even benefit in the coming months from the enormous fall in expectations about his performance that accompanied his first year in office.

4. I have calculated seat numbers for the Pollara and Environics polls. I need all the regional numbers and Decima does not provide them. I average the three polls and ran them through my seat calculator. The detailed numbers are here. Compared to the last election, we find the Bloc and the NDP up, the Conservatives down and the Liberals about the same – losses in Quebec are offset by gains in B.C. I am doubtful that the Liberals are as strong and the NDP as weak in Manitoba/Saskatchewan as the projection suggests but that is what comes out.

Sunday, July 31, 2005

B.C. Election 2005 - Further Thoughts

I have reviewed the 2005 election results in detail and made comparisons to 1996 and 2001. What is interesting is that despite the nine-year gap in a province where the population grew rapidly along with significant demographic shifts and a redistribution of riding boundaries - a fact that makes the comparison to 1996 a little rough - I find the 1996 result is a slightly better predictor of the 2005 election than the 2001 outcome. This is not surprising in the sense that 2001 was an extreme one-sided election with NDP support levels unusually depressed, not typical of preceding elections. My calculations are just one more confirmation. The average error for the percentage prediction for the NDP and Liberals was about 4% in both cases, with error higher in the case of 2001 as the base. To clarify I compare the actual percentage obtained in each constituency with my predicted outcome for the same, and the difference is what I refer to as error. There is some error

There appears to be a minute overall shift that slightly benefits the Liberals, but it is too small for one to be certain. The NDP seems a little stronger in Surrey and on Vancouver Island, the Liberals in Burnaby and the northeastern suburbs, but the numbers are too small for one to feel confidence in the assertion.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Ignatieff as Liberal Leader

There has been some media speculation that Michael Ignatieff might return to Canada to run for Parliament as a Liberal with the idea that he could replace Paul Martin as Liberal leader in a few years when the current PM retires.

The metaphorical comparison is to Pierre Trudeau, a Quebec academic/intellectual who then went on to have a long and ultimately successful career as Prime Minister. My impression is that there may be some substance to the speculation - Ignatieff did address the Liberal Convention in March so the connection is there.

What might be his prospects? He is not listed in the top rank of possible candidates by Calgary Grit – a somewhat Chrétien leaning Liberal - although his name does appear further down.

A major drawback for Ignatieff is that he supports Bush’s Iraq war, which is unpopular in Canada, especially so in Quebec. However, it may not matter if the war is over by the time the Liberal leadership opens up.

Ignatieff is a strong critic of ethnic nationalism like Trudeau but as a non-Quebecker, in a weak position to carry the debate in Quebec. I have no idea how strong his French is.

Pierre Trudeau was a world traveller but he never left Canada to live abroad. As an intellectual he was continuously active in Quebec politics – publishing Cité Libre, speaking to strikers in Asbestos, etc. He was very much tuned into Quebec politics, and after entering electoral politics and winning the Liberal leadership, he subsequently dominated federal elections in Quebec. I think his biography looks quite different from that of Ignatieff when one looks closely.

In fact Trudeau is more admired now than when he was in office, and the clouding of memory by time obscures the fact that he was by no means an unqualified political success. For example, Trudeau’s first term was a disaster resulting in the near loss of 1972, and he never did win back to back electoral majorities.

Electoral politics is very demanding and leaders have to be attuned to local sensitivities everywhere. One of the incidents that hurt John Kerry in last year’s U.S. election happened in Green Bay, Wisconsin. He called the football stadium there Lambert Field rather than Lambeau Field. Similar hazards would confront Mr. Ignatieff. If you haven’t lived in Canada for 30 years you are at a great disadvantage. Would Ignatieff know that Shania Twain is from Timmins or that Winnipeg used to have an NHL franchise called the Jets?

That fact that he is being touted is partly a reflection of the undue obsession of our Ottawa media with the politics of personality and leadership, but also of the fact that the Liberals have a dearth of quality successors to Paul Martin.

Ohio Congressional By-election

There is an interesting Congressional by-election going on in the 2nd Congressional district in southern Ohio bordering on the Ohio River. This is as safe a Republican CD as there is the U.S. It is partly classic working class blue colour Appalachia but also southern influenced fundamentalist Christian pro-Bush country. Voting is on August 2.

Bush appointed the incumbent to an administration job thus opening the seat. However, the Democrats have an Iraq war vet, Paul Hackett, who appears to be making inroads in a district that has voted for the Republican in the past four elections by 40 to 50 point margins. Now rumours say Republican polling puts it within the margin of error or that Hackett is 10 points back. It has the Republicans in a panic, with huge ad buys and a swift boat style campaign of disinformation directed at Hackett although later reports indicate that the swift boater has backed down.

Be nice if it was a straw in the wind, but local factors including the fact that the Democrat is a pro-gun (but also pro-choice) war veteran perhaps makes it atypical. However, it is getting increased attention and even a close outcome will be seen as bad news for Bush whose recent poll numbers have turned negative.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

NHL Players’ Association Politics

The media treatment of this story has been exclusively focused on how Player’s Association executive director Bob Goodenow is in trouble (despite evidence to the contrary). Take this example from the July 21 Globe and Mail:

Bob Goodenow, for whom the word embattled has become a prefix to his title as executive director of the National Hockey League Players' Association, received an informal show of support last night from at least some players.

But a small story on an inside page of the sports section of the July 16 edition of the Globe suggests to me that Goodenow's position will emerge from the strike strengthened. It is because of this overlooked aspect of the agreement:

In the deal, a player's minimum salary would jump to $450,000 (all figures U.S.) from $185,000. After two years, the minimum would jump to $475,000 for the middle two seasons of the agreement and to $500,000 for the final two years.

The highly-paid players are taking a hit (but they offered to cut their own wages early on in the process) and there is a salary cap. However, the teams have always helped finance the big salaries by having numerous players at or near the minimum. The now much higher minimum (about 143% higher) will affect a large number of players perhaps even a majority. So I think the deal may well strengthen Goodenow’s position.

I certainly welcome the move towards greater income equality in hockey, as much as I would welcome it more generally. It is the one aspect of all this worth savouring.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Principles of Journalism

One journalistic value oft cited is that a journalist’s role should be ‘to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable’. Another principle or ethic is that a journalist must respect a pledge of confidentiality to sources. This promise must be kept even if, as in the current case of Judith Miller of the New York Times, it means going to jail.

The other journalist who was headed to jail until the last minute in the Rove affair, Matt Cooper of Time Magazine, said he received a waiver from his source – Karl Rove (although there is some doubt about that) and was therefore spared some time in the big house. However, what all this reveals is that in this case the keeping of the promise of confidentiality means Cooper and Miller are protecting high level sources; in other words comforting the comfortable.

My view is that there are generally exceptions to principles and that includes the protection of confidential sources. What matters are the particular circumstances: that is who is being protected for what reason. Keeping Karl Rove’s name a secret so he can go his merry way of trashing reputations unfairly for partisan political purposes and all the while sell a few magazines or newspapers does not appear to me to be particularly justifiable as journalism.

It is clear that a great deal of the actual practice of protecting sources has the real effect of permitting the Roves of the world to manipulate the media as if it were a public relations arm of the White House.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Karl Rove

There is a certain poetic justice in the Karl Rove scandal. A political operative who has made his reputation on dirty tricks is hoist on his own petard as one of his schemes ends up triggering a criminal investigation that could result in his being indicted. The vast sound and fury now reverberating in cyberspace and on the airwaves about the scandal will not amount to much in the end if Rove does not face criminal prosecution. I predict this will only become a truly major Washington scandal when and if indictments are handed down. I assume, however, that Rove will fall on his sword (much like John Poindexter did during Iran-Contra) to protect Bush. In any case, there is as yet no suggestion that Bush has any involvement - beyond the usual lies and hypocrisy.

The announcement of the Supreme Court Justice nominee coming so quickly in the wake of the eruptions caused by the Rove revelations suggests that the scandal is doing real current damage to the White House. Although I think the Supreme Court fight will be successful in deflecting attention from the Rove affair, it may only be temporary. In the interim there are many worthwhile blog postings on this affair. Two that I highly recommend are the Frank Rich article, ‘Follow the Uranium’ in the New York Times and an excellent summary of the whole affair by ex-Clinton White House advisor Sid Blumenthal on Salon.

I also liked the comment by Jon Stewart, quoted on Kos:
It seems to me that whether or not this is a crime is a moot point. It seems to me that whether or not what Karl Rove was doing is a moot point. What seems like the real issue to this is simple: when it first came out that her name was released and people started wondering, 'was that a leak of a CIA operative?' the White House pretended they didn't know anything about it. And Karl Rove pretended he didn't know anything about it. To me that is so far, the only issue.

And don’t miss this Paul Krugman column from the July 15 New York Times.

7/7 London

The most appropriate comments on this tragedy were made by London mayor Ken Livingstone and they can be found here:
http://www.london.gov.uk/mayor/mayor_statement_070705.jsp

To me the highlight was:
I want to say one thing specifically to the world today. This was not a terrorist attack against the mighty and the powerful. It was not aimed at Presidents or Prime Ministers. It was aimed at ordinary, working-class Londoners, black and white, Muslim and Christian, Hindu and Jew, young and old. It was an indiscriminate attempt to slaughter, irrespective of any considerations for age, for class, for religion, or whatever.

That isn't an ideology, it isn't even a perverted faith - it is just an indiscriminate attempt at mass murder and we know what the objective is. They seek to divide Londoners. They seek to turn Londoners against each other. I said yesterday to the International Olympic Committee, that the city of London is the greatest in the world, because everybody lives side by side in harmony. Londoners will not be divided by this cowardly attack. They will stand together in solidarity alongside those who have been injured and those who have been bereaved and that is why I'm proud to be the mayor of that city.

There have been many expressions of solidarity with Londoners throughout Europe and in Canada were the subway in Toronto observed a two minute shut down to respect similar observances in Britain Europe. But in George Bush’s America? James Wolcott picks up the story here:

I was watching the news of the two minutes of silence held for the victims of the London bombings, a silent vigil held not just in London but across Europe.

"Britain's Queen Elizabeth stood in silence at Buckingham Palace. In London's Trafalgar Square, a giant banner declared 'One City, One World.'

"Taxis and buses pulled over, workers left their offices to stand in the street and financial markets paused to remember the dead.

"In Italy, government offices, railway stations and airports paused while television stations cut into normal broadcasting to honour the London dead.

"In Paris, President Jacques Chirac's annual Bastille day television address was put back so the French could mark the moment. Chirac stood silent on the steps of the Elysee Palace."

Has the United States or even simply Washington, DC held a silent moment for the victims of the London bombings? Has any national gesture of solidarity been proposed?

If so, I haven't seen or heard of it. We're just going about our business while insisting that the world perpetually acknowledge our scars and trauma from September 11th as our justification to wage whatever aggressive action we deem necessary to ensure it never happens again.

For months, we've been hearing and reading that Brits no longer discriminate between average Americans and the policies of our government--that the reelection of Bush has made them hold us in something of the same contempt they hold him. Well, they have good reason, and we keep furnishing them with better reasons all the time.

http://jameswolcott.com/archives/2005/07/one_city_one_wo.php

New Mirror Site

I have set up a mirror site for this blog so I can do some things - like publish tables of figures - that I can't do on the blog.

For my own amusement and inspired by these truly brilliant efforts at boreme.com, I created some ads for the election that did not actually occur in 2005.

Scroll down to the bottom of the page. They are Powerpoint Shows and will only play back properly if you have Powerpoint XP.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Noise Machine at Work

The U.S. right wing noise machine - including its blog component along with talk radio and FOX - occasionally selects something said by a liberal or a Democrat and decides that it is worth making a huge fuss over on the grounds that it is beyond the pale in terms of patriotism. They have done this recently with respect to a speech made by Illinois Democratic Senator Dick Durbin on the treatment of prisoners in Guantanamo. One conservative blogger, Hugh Hewitt, even quoted extensively from the speech in order to justify his call for a Senate censure of Durbin.

I do find their commentary disturbing. It suggests a type of blind lunatic partisanship that it is completely out of touch with reality. Here is what Hewitt suggests:

SENATE MAJORITY LEADER BILL FRIST and Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter should move this week to initiate a censure resolution of Illinois Senator Dick Durbin for his remarks on the Senate's floor on June 14, 2005. Not only did Durbin's remarks injure America's position in the world, provide an enormous propaganda victory to the enemy, and slander the United States military, they also represent an escalation in the political rhetoric of the left, which is designed to undermine the public's confidence in the military, the administration, and the war.

Bill Kristol, former chief of staff to Dan Quayle when he served as Vice-President, said the same thing.

What part of Durbin’s speech has them in a lather? It is the following passage:

When you read some of the graphic descriptions of what has occurred here -- I almost hesitate to put them in the record, and yet they have to be added to this debate. Let me read to you what one FBI agent saw. And I quote from his report:

On a couple of occasions, I entered interview rooms to find a detainee chained hand and foot in a fetal position to the floor, with no chair, food or water. Most times they urinated or defecated on themselves, and had been left there for 18-24 hours or more. On one occasion, the air conditioning had been turned down so far and the temperature was so cold in the room, that the barefooted detainee was shaking with cold....On another occasion, the [air conditioner] had been turned off, making the temperature in the unventilated room well over 100 degrees. The detainee was almost unconscious on the floor, with a pile of hair next to him. He had apparently been literally pulling his hair out throughout the night. On another occasion, not only was the temperature unbearably hot, but extremely loud rap music was being played in the room, and had been since the day before, with the detainee chained hand and foot in the fetal position on the tile floor.

If I read this to you and did not tell you that it was an FBI agent describing what Americans had done to prisoners in their control, you would most certainly believe this must have been done by Nazis, Soviets in their gulags, or some mad regime -- Pol Pot or others -- that had no concern for human beings. Sadly, that is not the case. This was the action of Americans in the treatment of their prisoners.

It is not too late. I hope we will learn from history. I hope we will change course.

It is clear that he laments the evidence of torture and mistreatment supplied by the FBI and argues, quite correctly, that if one did not know the source, one might well attribute this behaviour to Nazis, gulags, etc.

For the right wingers (or wingnuts as they are known) this statement is simply an attack on the U.S. military as being essentially like Nazis, gulags, etc. rather than a straightforward attack on the specific behaviours at issue. Hence the calls for censure.

The underlining emphasizes his true meaning and therefore how completely reasonable his statements are. But try telling that to the wingnuts.

Ironically, the most effective rebuttal to the loony right has come from conservative blogger Andrew Sullivan who poses the pertinent question.

I've now read and re-read Senator Dick Durbin's comments on interrogation techniques at Guantanamo Bay. They are completely, perfectly respectable. The rank hysteria being perpetrated by some on the right is what is shameful. Hugh Hewitt should answer one single question: does he doubt the FBI interrogator who witnessed the appalling treatment of some detainees at Guantanamo?

I also strongly recommend this post by Kevin Drum, and this one, plus this commentary by Matthew Yglesias, who correctly describes the right as falling into an “ethical black hole”.

And to give them credit (via Atrios), here is an editorial from the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

The comments that were criticized came late in a long, thoughtful speech on the Senate floor in which Durbin reflected on the United States' obligation to be better than reprehensible regimes of the past. He talked at some length about mistakes American presidents made in previous wars (repealing habeas corpus during the Civil War, interning Americans of Japanese descent during World War II, taking over the steel industry during the Korean War), and he urged President Bush to recognize and rectify his mistake in prisoner treatment during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. …
Durbin was spot on in his assessment of Guantanamo. That's why he was so roundly attacked. He told the truth. And his message is of vital importance; the United States is better than this.

Or ought to be is more like it. But it is the influential character of attacks like this that make one despair of the future of political debate in the U.S.

UPDATE: Durbin has now apologized. Demonstrates the political strength of the noise machine, sadly.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Democrats and the Bubba Vote

There is an ongoing debate within the Democratic Party about its failure to address the economic concerns about culturally conservative “Bubba” vote in the south, who are voting against their economic interests by supporting Republicans. It is the principal subject of a much discussed book that laments the phenomenon: What’s the Matter with Kansas by Thomas Frank. I found the book to be analytically weak and not all that helpful.

It seems to me this post by Kevin Drum poses the issue well:

So exactly what economic interests are they voting against? Forget the Krugmanesque (or Drumesque) arguments about regressive taxes or rising income inequality. They may be true, but they're way too abstract. If you want to convince these guys that their economic interests lie with Democrats, we need to offer them something real: local clinics, free healthcare, tax rebates, something. Right now, I don't think these voters believe that Democrats are actually promising anything that would make a genuine difference in their lives.

I think the most important answer to the “dilemma” posed by Drum is for the Dems to push for single payer health care. However much they are fought by special interests, at the end of the day the program would clearly be in the interests of the white working class “Bubbas” and many others.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Elizabeth Drew on Corruption

There have been numerous gripes in the Conservative blogosphere in Canada about Liberal corruption. However, as I have commented before, corruption sponsorship-style simply pales in comparison with the everyday life of politics south of the border. Elizabeth Drew summarizes this well in an article in the New York Review of Books. An excerpt says it all:

Corruption has always been present in Washington, but in recent years it has become more sophisticated, pervasive, and blatant than ever. A friend of mine who works closely with lobbyists says, "There are no restraints now; business groups and lobbyists are going crazy—they're in every room on Capitol Hill writing the legislation. You can't move on the Hill without giving money."

Now that is real corruption.

The Health Policy Experts on the SCC

Several points about the Supreme Court of Canada decision on health care.

First the media did an absolutely dreadful job of reporting its actual contents. The majority ruling found that the restrictions violated the Quebec Charter. However, one member of the majority refused to offer an opinion on whether it violated the Canadian Charter so the ruling was evenly divided, and therefore no constitutional decision was rendered. The Quebec Charter is not constitutional but an ordinary piece of legislation. Thus Quebec’s decision to abide by the ruling is entirely discretionary. While the Quebec Charter does have an override clause (s. 52), the reality is that any Quebec government is free to legislatively overturn any Quebec Charter decision it doesn’t like. The constraints are political not legal. Virtually all the reporting was seriously confused about this. And this is an issue that belongs in the realm of politics, not constitutional rights.

It follows therefore that one cannot use the notwithstanding clause in the Canadian Charter yet, as there is no ruling to actually override. You could have been easily confused about this, for example, by stories such as this one. This case, however, does tell us why should retain s. 33 and recognize that someday it will be necessary to use it. Courts can behave in truly appalling ways.

This brings us to the politics of the matter. On the issues raised by two-tier health care I won’t comment except to note there was an excellent column on this subject in the Star by Thomas Walkom. I do suspect the age and class position of the judges in the majority influenced their rulings. They are older and hence vulnerable to illness, and no doubt would like the right to use their money to buy leverage in the system. Why shouldn't wealthy judges have it both ways: accessing tax-supported health care when it suits them and paying their way to the front of the line when it doesn't.

Some who were encouraged by the ruling, such as Mike Harris, suggest there would be more lawsuits don’t realize that the Court is not likely to rule this way again. Two judges now on the court, Rosalie Abella and Louise Charron, did not participate as they did not hear the original case. I am not sure about Charron, but I am confident that Abella will not support the majority position if she gets. Two of the judges in the majority, John Major and Beverly McLachlin are Mulroney era appointees with Major slated to retire next year, so the majority is almost certain to be overturned with his replacement.

In the end it is public support for the current system, and that remains strong, which will determine its fate.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Fraser Institute and the CBC

The Fraser Institute published a study this week purporting to prove that "CBC’s television news coverage of the United States is consistently marked by emotional criticism, rather than a rational consideration of US policy based on Canadian national interests...

This anti-American bias at the CBC is the consequence of a "garrison mentality" that has systematically informed the broadcaster’s coverage of the US. Garrison mentality was a term coined by Canadian literary critic, Northrop Frye. He used it to describe a uniquely Canadian tendency reflected in our early literature, a tendency, as he put it, to "huddle together, stiffening our meager cultural defenses and projecting all our hostilities outward."...

To gauge the extent of anti-American sentiment on CBC, one year’s coverage of the Corporation’s flagship news program, The National, for 2002 was examined. The authors chose 2002 because it followed the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon, but was prior to the US invasion of Iraq.

In total there were 2,383 statements inside the 225 stories that referred to America or the United States on CBC in 2002. As with most news coverage, the largest number of statements was neutral; they constituted 49.1 percent of the attention. Thirty-four percent of the attention to America or the United States was negative, over double the 15.4 percent positive descriptors. Only 1.6 percent of the statements were considered ambiguous."

There was, however, an effective rebuttal on Antonia Zerbisias’ excellent new media blog on the Toronto Star web site. She points out that in the period under study were some stories bound to elicit negative statements about the U.S., such as the accidental killing of four Canadian soldiers by a U.S. fighter pilot in Afghanistan. Might just have had some influence on the numbers. The study merely cites coverage of this issue as another example of anti-U.S. bias (p. 12 of the study).

If he were being honest Cooper should have argued that the views of his study deserved attention despite the fact that he is politically a conservative who in the past for example, collaborated with Stephen Harper and Tom Flanagan on the so-called Alberta firewall letter (see this account of Cooper’s role on the web site of the conservative Alberta Residents League).

Of course offering such a the disclaimer might be an acknowledgement that his analysis is somewhat less than objective and dispassionate, and perhaps should not be taken too seriously.

UPDATE:
Don't know how I missed the Globe's John Doyle's comments on this subject but they are worth quoting:

Yoo-hoo! Any study that finds "the largest number of statements was neutral," actually finds that the broadcaster is doing its job.

In fact the level of neutrality is extraordinary given one of the key stories of 2002 -- the killing of four Canadian soldiers and the injury of eight others in April, 2002, when a U.S. fighter pilot dropped a 500-pound bomb on the Canadians in Afghanistan after the pilot's commanders had initially denied him permission to drop it. The incident stunned Canadians and the first reactions from the U.S. military galvanized many into genuine anger at the United States, which lasted for months.

Choosing one news program during a year of intense feelings and then spinning the figures is just bogus. There is more integrity in a WWE bout.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

New Decima Poll & Harper's Nightmares

One assumes that Stephen Harper will toss and turn tonight with visions of Liberal majority in the next election recurring frequently in his nightmares. The new Decima poll is devastating news for the Conservatives. How devastating? According to my calculations, in Ontario, where the Liberals are reported to be at 48%, the NDP at 24% and the Conservatives at 22%, the resulting distribution of seats would be Liberals - 90; NDP -14; Harper Conservatives - 2.

These numbers are clearly Grewal-driven. For a full discussion that provides some context about just how bad this is for Harper, I recommend reading this post by a Canadian small 'c' conservative, which I discovered courtesy of the aptly named Buckets of Grewal blog and its post: What Did Harper Know and When Did He Know It?.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Harper and Grewal

I suspected early on that the Grewal tapes affair could only hurt the Conservatives. The inside-the-Queensway crowd (for example. John Ibbitson's column here (subscription required) says: Both the governing party and the Official Opposition have been tainted by this latest scandal. But the situation for the Liberals is worse.


Not so. That’s simply because they were already badly tarnished by the Sponsorship scandal (see here), whereas the Conservatives did have at least some positive ratings in earlier polls on honesty & ethics issues (for example, see page 14 in this Ekos Poll), although in this Environics Poll (see for example, questions 7 and 8(b) they trail the NDP. They are the big losers out of Grewal because they have now come to share the Liberal taint.

On a related but slightly different note, David Olive analyzed Harper’s problems quite well in the Star on June 5. It includes my favourite Stephen Harper quote plus a couple of additional gems:

Canada appears content to become a second-tier socialistic country," Harper wrote in December 2000. In a little-noticed addendum to his widely criticized 2002 observation that Atlantic Canada tolerates "a culture of defeat," Harper also observed that "in parts of the Prairies" there is evidence of "the kind of can't-do attitude (that) is a problem in this country."


Monday, June 06, 2005

Polls and BC Election

Now that the final numbers are in I can begin some B.C. election post-mortems. On the polls I have compared the final vote shares province-wide to the predicted numbers from Mustel, Ipsos Reid and the Strategic Counsel.

The final vote percentages were Liberal - 45.8; NDP - 41.52, Green - 9.18 and Others 3.5.

And the closest pollster was the Mustel Group with a total net error of 5.64 percentage points, followed closely by Ipsos-Reid at 6.04, both being good performances. The Strategic Counsel poll for the Globe trailed substantially with total error of 14.04. Their estimate of the NDP vote at 36% was outside their claimed margin of error ± 3.1%. The poll had also suggested a 13 point win for the Liberals.

My forecast model predicts a Liberal win of 49-30 compared to the actual 46-33 using the actual vote shares. The model adjusts outcomes based on changes from the 2001 result, which was likely out of the ordinary pattern of B.C. politics. The results are interesting and I will post on them at a later date. It is useful I find to compare them to the 1996 election, which more closely resembles 2005 in terms of its overall outcome than 2001.

Deep Throat

The coverage of the unveiling of Deep Throat would lead you to believe that it was his disclosures to Bob Woodward and the stories based on the leaks in the Washington Post that were the only key ingredients in the ouster of Richard Nixon as a consequence of the Watergate scandal.

I think this is a little misleading and overestimates the importance of the media in unravelling the cover-up. This analysis overlooks the fact that during the trial of those caught during the break-in the presiding judge, John J. Sirica expressed annoyance and skepticism at the stories the defendants told and put off sentencing of James McCord and G. Gordon Liddy in part to pressure them into revealing more of the story. On March 19, 1973 McCord, seeking to avoid jail time, sent Sirica a letter, which, among other things, named John Dean and John Mitchell as participants in a cover-up of the original crime and its ties to the Committee to Re-elect the President and the White House. As this chronology confirms, this was the moment that effectively brought the cover-up to an end, blowing the scandal wide open.

The Woodward/Bernstein articles did matter - my guess is that they influenced the thinking of Sirica - but it is important not to lose sight of the actual sequence of events.

The testimony of Alexander Butterfield at the Watergate Senate Committee hearings on July 16, 1973 that there was a White House taping system is what led to the disclosure of the contents of the tapes and hence Nixon’s resignation. Without the tapes, it seems unlikely there would have been sufficient votes to ensure Nixon’s impeachment and their disclosure resulted from the Senate investigation. I did see one of the Committee’s lawyers (on ABC News Nightline) arguing that without Deep Throat there would have been no Senate investigation. I doubt that. There was enough leakage on this story apart from Deep Throat and the Washington Post - a couple of times the New York Times scooped the Post - to lead me to believe that the Senate Democrats would have pursued this issue after the initial trials were over even if the issue had assumed a lower profile until that point.

I commented recently on the fact that Watergate was likely the worst of all government scandals in the past half century, far worse than the Sponsorship affair here.

What is amazing has been some of the collective amnesia today about how bad it was. This post by Obsidian Wings helps correct the record - note the contemplation of murder and fire-bombing.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

More Belinda or How Not to Become PM

A correspondent writes that he has learned that, at a campaign school conducted by the Conservatives a few weeks ago, Belinda was cast in the role of interview subject as part of campaign media training. After the interview was over the trainer told the audience that this was exactly how NOT to respond to questions in an interview - in a none too subtle manner. M. Stronach was humiliated and furious. There is a suggestion this may have been deliberate on the part of Harper - possibly punishment for speculation on her part that she would like to see the budget adopted. Um, and we know what happened next.

The whole episode is bad enough, but if this story is ever confirmed in the media, it means much more trouble for Harper. Think of how most women would respond to a story about any woman in politics being singled out for deliberate humiliation.

Coming on top of today's Globe story about efforts by Canada's Christian right to grab Tory nominations, one could imagine Liberal strategists wringing their hands at not having an opportunity to confront Mr. Harper at the polls.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Belinda

I would remiss if I let this one pass. I will make two points:

1. The affair is symptomatic of what is perhaps the Conservatives’ biggest problem: the widely accepted belief that the merger of the two parties was an Alliance/Reform takeover that alienated a huge number of centrist, Red Tory, socially progressive-fiscally conservative (call them what you will) traditional Progressive Conservatives despite the support of some like Bill Davis and Hugh Segal traditionally associated with the Red Tories. However, many in this group perceived the merger as a hostile takeover by Reform, and both key individuals and en masse they defected to Paul Martin Liberals. Ms. Stronach’s defection is merely the latest chapter in a crossing the floor story that featured earlier moves by Scott Brison and Keith Martin.

It can be seen statistically by examining a specific example: the combined Alliance-PC vote in Ontario in 2000 was 38% but the merged Conservative Party could only obtain 31.5% in 2004 – an election in which Liberal support in Ontario actually dropped by 6.8%.

Mr. Harper made a number of key strategic errors in the lead-up to the loss of the confidence vote but his role in the loss of Belinda Stronach was the greatest. It is an enormous symbolic blow that undermines completely the efforts the Conservatives have been making to moderate their image.

2. Stronach is now a Liberal and a cabinet minister with a significant portfolio. She has puzzled me right from the moment she entered politics to run for the Conservative leadership. She did not appear to have natural political abilities. With her millions she had some of the best advice money can buy, but it is far from clear whether, apart from her vote on May 19, she will be an asset to the Liberals. See, for example, this commentary by veteran Hill watcher Doug Fisher, a one time CCF-NDP MP, although now a political columnist for the Sun news papers who leans strongly to the right. He comments, in comparing her to other women:

"... she isn't cut out for the game of politics. She's just not a "natural" -- unlike women such as the late Judy LaMarsh, or Deborah Grey and Sheila Copps. More than a year of generous exposure by the news media demonstrate that she is barely an adequate speaker, let alone a good one. She cannot think on her feet and has a relentless devotion to cliches and chamber of commerce platitudes."