Thursday, October 08, 2009

Calvin Klein's Obsession for Politicos

This particular fragrance comes in many bottles sporting such labels as Strategic Council, EKOS, Angus Reid, Ipsos Reid and Nanos. The fragrance is likened to that which comes out of the back end of a bull but that does not stop politicos of every stripe, both professionals and otherwise, from constantly marinating in it.

Why? Who knows but the obsession is real which is very strange. After all

Polls are not predictive. I still remember reading a banner headline in a newspaper just a couple of days before the writ was dropped for the 2004 election that stated "Liberals Heading for a Majority: Poll."

Polls do not measure support for parties. They measure the opinions of a sample of people at the time the poll was taken. The only true measure of support for a political party is what it received on election day. When a person marks his X on that little piece of paper and drops it into the cardboard box he is committed. He cannot change his mind.

Public opinion can change at any time. You just have to look at the 2004 election example. It is obvious that many Canadians changed their minds as the campaign wore on because on the Saturday before the election the Liberals and Conservatives were deadlocked at around 33%. Then many of these same people changed their minds again because the final result was a 6 point victory for the Liberals.

Then you can look at the 2008 election. Towards the end alot of people had changed their minds about the Liberals and Mr. Dion, which fact probably went into the calculation of Mr. Duffy as he was deciding whether to release the now infamous Dion Atlantic TV interview.

I know many out there would still argue that all of this is true but polls do matter because of two considerations.

Polls drive the media narrative. What came first the chicken or the egg? I am more convinced that the narrative drives the polls, not the other way around. We saw that at the end August, beginning of September. The media began hammering away at the narrative that Canadians did not want an election but it took them more than a week to publish polls stating that. Assume it takes at about three days to take and publish a poll and that works out to almost a full week to peddle that narrative before actually asking Canadians for their opinions. I can guarantee that had some effect on the subsequent polling estimates.

Then there was Paul Martin. When Mr. Brault gave his testimony during the Gomery Commission the Liberal polling numbers dropped 6 points overnight. The Conservative numbers did not budge either way. The Liberal numbers had fully recovered and were back to their pre-testimony levels within 10 days but that did not stop the media from stating in almost every political news story, in the subsequent months, that the Liberals were plunging in the polls.

Polls influence public opinion. There is some truth in that but do not overestimate that influence. If its influence was as strong as some people think we would never have a change of government. It is very rare for an opposition party to ever lead a sitting government. So, except in the rarest of instances the sitting government will always be seen leading its chief opponent. That is true of the horse race numbers and the individual leadership numbers for each party leader. If that situation has such a strong influence on public opinion we would not have seen some of the big changes we have seen in the last 20 years. Think Peterson, Campbell, Eves, George Bush Sr..

As well, if polls had such influence on public opinion we would probably have a two tier health care system by now. The Fraser Institute has published many studies, containing much polling data, demonstrating that Canadians are alright with the idea for more than a decade. Yet no politician out their will ever suggest converting the Canadian health care system into a two-tier system.

With this in mind I find it disturbing that some Liberals out their are stating that the Liberals should change their strategy to turn their numbers around. That is bad advice. They had better hope beyond hope that the Liberals do not succumb to the temptation to chase higher polling numbers. They are unlikely to succeed in overtaking the Conservatives.

As well, a political party or individual who makes decisions bases on polls, particularly the public polls is destined to fail.

As I have stated in a previous post the Liberals having finally shown that they have developed a long-term election strategy and an election theme. It is easy to see if you look past all of the political noise that we have subjected to since the Sudbury Declaration. It would be a shame if they let that strategy and theme fall by the wayside in a futile quest to improve their polling numbers. Instead, continue to implement the strategy and the polling will take care of itself.

A little piece of trivia. In the primary season leading up to the 1992 US elections none of the stars of the Democratic Party believed they could unseat George Bush Sr. He was extremely popular after winning the first Gulf War and the polling seemed to indicate he would take the '92 election in a walk. So none of these party grandees put their names into the ring. They figured they would lose, thus ending their hopes of winning in '96, so they decided to let a relative unknown win the nomination so that he could be sacrificed. Needless to say they were wrong, Bill Clinton won two elections and the time of these grandees passed, denying all of them a chance at the White House. I wonder if some of them regret allowing the polls to have such an influence on their decisions.

I know I am asking alot in saying ignore the polls but at the very least I would suggest that obsessing over them is probably not a good idea.


Blogger marie said...

I know I am asking alot in saying ignore the polls but at the very least I would suggest that obsessing over them is probably not a good idea.

You are right. The only ones that do count are on election day when voters look at King Harper on the ballot card and choose another candidate.

October 18, 2009 9:31 PM  

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