BC Politics

Chickening Out On Change

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in BC Politics, Polls | 18 Comments
"Well this is awkward"

“Well this is awkward”

We’ve been reminded this week that an 8-point lead in the dying days of an election campaign is about as safe as a 2-goal lead in the final 90 seconds of a playoff hockey game. Never take anything for granted.

Despite leading by between 2 to 9 points in every poll fielded over the past week, Adrian Dix managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. It was a stunning result that no one saw coming – even though the exact same thing happened just one year ago in Alberta. In that campaign, Allison Redford trailled by 2 to 10 points in every poll, but still crushed Danielle Smith’s Wildrose Alliance on election night.

This has, of course, set off another round of polling post-mortems. I blogged about six possible polling error after the Alberta Surprise, and the issues are largely the same in British Columbia. So rather than rehash each point I want to look at the big picture.

We can quibble about things like question wording and ordering, but the largest problem cuts to the very core of the science of sampling – simply, polls are not truly drawn from a random sample of voters. I have no doubt if everyone was forced to vote and everyone was forced to answer the phone when pollsters came a calling, we’d see results within the margin of error. But that’s simply not the case, even though we pretend it is.

Indeed, only half of British Columbians bothered to vote yesterday. Admitedly, it’s difficult to figure out who is really going to vote in a world where 80% of people intend to…but then don’t bother showing up because they get distracted…or tied up a work…or because the weather sucks…or because the weather’s too nice to spend voting. There are ways to minimize this source of error, but it doesn’t appear polling companies made any effort to screen out unlikely voters or to gauge how solid support levels were. If they did, it wasn’t reported in the methodology, which is another problem in and of itself.

Moreover, there were warning signs the NDP was destined to lose the turnout game. Both Ipsos and Angus Reid showed the NDP and Liberals neck-and-neck among older voters, with the NDP up by 20-30 points among the under 35 crowd – a group notorious for their loud music, baggy pants, and low voter turnout rates.

The other side of the equation is that, sadly, not everyone is forced to respond to pollsters when the phone rings during Survivor. If you’re willing to spend the money, you can get a respectable response rate via traditional phone surveys, but all polls published during the BC campaign used either robocalls or online pannels.

Both of those methodologies have inherent problems. You often need to make 50 to 100 robo calls to find one sap willing to complete the survey. So we know Adrian Dix is popular with shut-ins, but extrapolating beyond that is risky. Moreover, since robocalls can only ask 5 simple questions before respondents drop off, you rarely have the opportunity to collect enough demographic information to judge how representative the sample is.

You can get those demographics using online panels, but while a national panel will have hundreds of thousands of Canadians on it, you’re fishing from a much smaller pool when you get down to the provincial level. You can always try to correct for demographic biases via weighting, but this can lead to a whole new set of problems. And it’s almost impossible to correct for attitudinal biases. The bottom line is that if you don’t have a large enough sample from Vancouver Island on your panel, you’re not going to get good data from Vancouver Island. It’ll be the same hundred people answering every survey.

Still, when different methodologies in different provinces keep missing the mark in the same direction, it feels like there’s something larger at play here. While the Clark and Redford miracles stand out, Jean Charest exceeded public polling numbers in 2012, as did Stephen Harper in 2011.

In all cases, voters had the opportunity to turf long-time and largely unpopular governments – then chickened out on change at the last minute. If an increasingly disengaged electorate truly is making up its mind more and more in the dying days (or hours) of the campaign, then a horse race poll is never going to predict the outcome spot on.

But maybe that’s not the end of the world. After all, superficial media polls are not designed to provide anything deeper than cheap entertainment. And where’s the fun in cheap entertainment, if the chance for a last-minute comeback doesn’t exist?

No Bull

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in BC Politics | 8 Comments

I watched bits of the BC Leaders debate last night, mainly out of curiosity to learn about soon-to-be Premier Adrian Dix and see the man in action. I wasn’t overly impressed, but I don’t think the BC NDP need an overly impressive leader to win what looks to be essentially a slam dunk election.

But this post isn’t about Dix or Clark, or what to expect when British Columbians vote on May 14th. No, this post is to share one of the most amazing political commercials ever with you. Enjoy.

Provincial Unrest

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in Alberta Politics, BC Politics, New Brunswick Politics, Newfoundland Politics, Nova Scotia Politics, Ontario Politics | 11 Comments
Alison Redford, after seeing her latest poll numbers.

Alison Redford’s approval ratings have fallen to “Stelmachian” levels

Angus Reid has released their quarterly Premier approval ratings. As per usual, Brad Wall is more popular than God, and everyone else is a little more human:

Wall (SK): 64% approve, 28% disapprove
Alward (NB): 41% approve, 50% disapprove
Selinger (MB): 38% approve, 49% disapprove
Wynne (ON): 36% approve, 37% disapprove
Marois (QC): 33% approve, 62% disapprove
Dexter (NS): 30% approve, 62% disapprove
Redford (AB): 29% approve, 66% disapprove
Clark (BC): 25% approve, 67% disapprove
Dunderdale (NL): 25% approve, 73% disapprove

While Wall’s number sticks out, there are a few other interesting tid-bits from this poll:

1. Obviously enough, these numbers spell bad news for Darrell Dexter and Christy Clark, who are both heading into elections considerably less popular than the opposition leaders trying to defeat them. Still, it’s worth recalling that this same poll found just 19% of Ontarians approving of McGuinty a mere 10 weeks before re-electing him in 2011. Sometimes you can win without being loved.

2. The danger may be less imminent in Newfoundland and Alberta, but the Tory dynasties in both provinces must be feeling a bit like the New York Yankees this season – it’s far too early to count them out, but you have to wonder if this is the begining of the end.

Redford’s numbers are right around where Ed Stelmach’s were when the Tory establishment mounted a putsch 2 years ago. Like Stelmach, Redford won with little caucus or establishment support, and has struggled to keep up with the Wildrose fundraising machine.

I don’t think the Tories will or should force her out, but when your approval rating is below Raj Sherman’s, you need to at least watch your back.

3. A lot of Ontarians still haven’t made up their minds about Kathleen Wynne.

4. The most surprising finding, at least for me, was that the Premier of New Brunswick is named David Alward. Who knew?

The Wisdom of the Masses

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in BC Politics | 4 Comments

The UBC Election Stock Market proved to be a lot of fun during the 2008 election, as Canadians could bet up to $1000 on the outcome they expected. For some of us, it proved to be expensive fun, but fun nevertheless.

The good news is, the market is back, just in time for this spring’s BC election. Once again, you can buy shares for popular vote, seat totals, and outcome. The neat thing about prediction markets is they’re more forward looking than polls because people are betting on what they think will happen – not necessarily how much support each party has at the moment.

There’s likely not enough buy-in yet to extract much meaning from the market, but it currently pegs NDP support at around 44-47% and the Liberals at 31-35% – with the Liberals as 8% long-shots to form a majority government. That aligns closely with the most recent polling numbers, but if a time ever comes when those figures diverge, I’d be more inclined to bet on the market than the polls.

Case in point – in last year’s Alberta election, a sort of no-money prediction market set up by Daveberta and myself saw nearly one-third of participants predict a PC victory, even though every single poll had the Wildrosers cruising to victory. Yes, some of that was likely Tories who had never lost an election in their lives drinking the cool-aid, but a lot of the top entries were from campaign insiders whose own internal numbers and sense of what was happening on the ground proved to be more accurate than week-old robo-dial polls.

Provincial Matters

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in BC Politics, New Brunswick Politics, Newfoundland Politics, Nova Scotia Politics, PEI Politics, Quebec Politics, Saskatchewan politics | 10 Comments

Charest stands a better chance running against this guy, than against Pauline Marois and Francois Legault

Your Friday morning coast-to-coast link roundup:

Atlantic Canada: CRA’s quarterly poll numbers have been released, showing the PCs up by 12 in New Brunswick and the NDP up by just 2 in Nova Scotia. The PEI headlines scream about “plunging” satisfaction with the Ghiz government, but the Liberals still lead 20 points – I think most Premiers would be happy if their numbers plunged to those depths. In Newfoundland, the PCs still lead by 16 points, but that’s a far cry from the old days when Danny Williams routinely polled over 100%.

Quebec: Expect protests on the streets of Montreal to continue through the summer, as negotiations between embittered students and the Quebec government have broken off. Far be it from me to tell Jean Charest what to do, since the man has repeatedly proven himself to be a modern day Lazarus, but if I were him I’d roll the dice and call an election on this issue. Even if the public is mixed on his handling of the protests, it’s a chance for him to look strong and make the election about an issue he could potentially win on.

Saskatchewan: Nothing to see here – everyone still loves Brad .

British Columbia: At the other end of the “most popular Premiers” poll is Christy Clark, who has taken to explictly criticizing Angus Reid. Perhaps the situation isn’t as dire as the polls suggest, but it’s been over a year since any pollster showed Clark ahead and four different companies confirm double-digit leads for the NDP. We’re still a year away from the BC election, but that incumbent winning streak we’ve heard so much about is going to be seriously put to the test (if not before then in Nova Scotia or Quebec).


Posted on by CalgaryGrit in BC Politics | Leave a comment

It’s hardly the kind of decisive victory the anti-HST movement would have expected a year ago, but 55% of British Columbian have voted to replace the HST with the GST and PST.

One immediate consequence of this is that Christy Clark and Jim Flaherty will need to come to some kind of deal over how much federal HST compensation the province keeps. Given their respective political situations, one imagines Flaherty holds the better bargaining position.

The more interesting fallout will be what impact this has on the next BC election. Even though the Liberals “lost” today, this takes a big issue off the table for the NDP.

The only person who talks about coalitions more than Stephen Harper…

Posted on by CalgaryGrit in BC Politics | Leave a comment

From Christy Clark’s victory speech last night:

Our party is a coalition, it is a great coalition, and I am proud of the support that I have received from all elements of that coalition.”

Clark’s talk of the BC Liberal “coalition” is a direct response to her largest challenge – keeping the right flank of the BC Liberals content. Right now, the BC Conservatives aren’t in the game, but that doesn’t mean they can be ignored. That’s the external threat. The internal threat is a caucus that didn’t really want Clark as its leader – sure, it’s in their best interest to get behind her, but that never seems to help when you’re dealing with elected officials, now does it?

From the vantage point of someone who pays only passing attention to BC politics, Clark strikes me as the party’s best bet to win the next election. She’s likable and, more importantly, is a fresh face at a time when the BC Libs desperately need a fresh face.

All eyes now turn to the NDP, who will pick a leader to go up against Clark on April 17th.

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