Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Sorry State of Political Reporting

I do not know why I bothered but I read the most recent article today in the Globe and Mail by Jane Taber and the only thing I could think of was "no wonder mainstream news organizations in the Western world are having difficulties".

I am a political animal and I found that article to be boring and pointless beyond belief. I had to force myself to finish it. I could only imagine the reaction from those who do not care about politics.

That article really sums up the MSM's troubles. They publish articles that the vast majority of their consumers will not read and they are doing it with increasing regularity and then wonder why their readership and ratings are down across the board.

The alternatives to that article are many, the agreement on the changes to pensions reached by the country's finance ministers being an obvious one. As someone who is middle aged I read the story about it and I will read any analysis of it in the future because it will actually have an impact on my life at some point.

An article about Conservative election strategy, not so much. Particularly since the article was unadulterated BS. Somebody should tell these "political" journalists that political parties generally do not make their election strategy public as they do not want their opponents to know what it is until an election is called. So, if a source within a political party calls you up and wants to talk to you about such a strategy all sorts of red flags should go up in your head and you should be a little more critical of what the source is telling you instead of taking it as whole cloth truth.

For instance the obvious question is why would you be making any part of your election strategy public? I am certain that you would not get a straight answer but you should at least give it the old college try.

One obvious answer.

The Conservatives want to give the impression that they have the "Big Mo" going into the Spring. The target audience for that message is not the electorate but the Liberals. The Conservatives know that Stephen Harper will be fighting his fourth election. They know that his esteem amongst the electorate is at its lowest since he was elected to government. Certainly Mr. Ignatieff is lower but he is the Leader of the Opposition so that is to be expected. They know that a large majority of Canadians now believe the country is heading in the wrong direction and that number has been growing steadily for about a year. In short, they know that the next election will be a crap shoot that they could very well lose so they want to postpone it as long as possible. So, they come up with some bullshit story and peddle it to any journalist that is willing to take it at face value.

The MSM in the Western world is having difficulties and the big brains in their head offices are attempting to come up with all sorts of ways to reverse the trend. Here is a little bit a free advice on how you may be able to contribute to such a reversal; Stop allowing your news organizations to be manipulated by political parties and remember that the main reason why people consume the news is to find out what is going on in the world that will directly effect their lives and their livelihoods. Until you do that you can expect the downward trends in readership and ratings to continue.

Friday, December 10, 2010


It was with great amusement that I read the story in the Globe and Mail last week about how the Conservatives were "on track" to a majority government using a "cluster" strategy in Ontario to put them there. They managed to weave together the Conservative win in Vaughn, the latest Nanos poll and some interesting speculation on Conservative strategy into a wonderful piece of political fiction.

First the poll.

The key feature of the Nanos poll was if you look at the estimates from the current poll and compare them to the estimates from the last poll you notice that the change in the estimates for all of the parties is within the margin of error. In fact, the aggregate change of both the Liberals and the Conservatives is well within that MOE. What that means is there was no real change in the estimates from one poll to the next. The fluctuation of the numbers is the natural differences you will see from one poll to the next when you use the same polling methodology poll after poll.
The other two big polls that came out this week show the same thing.

The most interesting thing about all three big polls is they are either monthly or quarterly polls and in all cases they showed that over that time there has been no change in the political dynamic in this country. They demonstrate that Canadians are in a holding pattern, with the Conservatives holding the incumbent advantage. In fact, you can go back farther with these polling companies to see that this pattern is one of long standing so it is probably going to take an election to change it.

As for the actual estimates themselves you just need to remember that all polling companies poll the same survey population using slightly different polling methodologies and that is the reason why each polling company has different estimates. The only constant for all of them is the "holding pattern" dynamic that I mentioned above. Which one of these polls best reflects the current reality as far as the level of support each party enjoys amongst Canadian voters? Who knows and it really is not relevent right now because an election is not imminent.

Second the "Cluster Strategy".

The biggest and most obvious flaw in the logic of this strategy outlined by this story is it is based on the very unreasonable assumption that the Conservatives will hang on to their current seats. Therefore, they only need about 10 seats to win a majority and they seem to be available in the 416 and 905 area codes.

What is missing is, if you believe the polls, the Conservatives could lose all but one of their seats in Quebec. No serious Conservative strategist would not take that possibility into account when planning strategy so in fact they are looking at the possible requirement of winning from 15 to 20 additional seats in those two Ontario area codes. Looking at those two area codes there do appear to be around 9 seats that the Liberals won by a small margin so they could be vulnerable. However, there are a like number seats in that part of Ontario that the Conservatives won by very slim margins (Mr. Fantino, I am looking at you). So, this "cluster" strategy must be able to accomplish the goal of winning all of the "vulnerable" Liberal seats without losing any of the "vulnerable" Conservative seats and then take another half-dozen or so Liberal seats where their margins of victory were much higher. Is this possible? Certainly but it I were a political strategist I would not be counting on it happening.

The above also does not take into account that the Conservatives won many more seats in other parts of the country by small margins so the Conservatives would need to bat a thousand in keeping all of them just to keep their "seats to majority" requirements under 20.

Another obvious flaw is the strategy as outlined in the story is the Conservatives seem to be planning on accomplishing this feat by preaching law-and-order in the cities and suburbs while preaching their anti-gun control gospel in rural areas. Do Conservative strategists really believe they can keep their message on gun control from seeping into the urban and suburban areas of this country where gun control is popular? Good luck with that.

The whole "cluster strategy" story was a piece of political fiction. Their analysis of the Nanos poll was superficial at best as they did not mention the fact the estimates had not changed from one quarter to the next. Their analysis of the "cluster strategy" was also very superficial and it was based on some extremely questionable assumptions.

All-in-all an interesting read but not one that could be taken seriously.