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.


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