Saturday, April 15, 2006

Why poll reading should be accompanied with salt in granular form

I’ve been a somewhat lonely voice at times when I’ve warned against underestimating Stephen Harper and his political acumen, especially after the rocky start he had in government. The guy is no dummy. Recent polling bares that out, but not too much should be read into it. In fact, the poll is rather misleading.

I’m referring to a piece today in the Globe “PM’s agenda resonating with voters: poll”, that reports on a recent Strategic Counsel poll. First off, I think this particular polling firm is rather useless, given their piss poor job predicting the last campaign and the fact Alan Gregg is a staunch Conservative.

Let’s look at the numbers though. Gregg said the Conservatives’ vaunted “five principles” are quite popular with Canadians. How popular? Well, he doesn’t give any numbers for that one, and given his sketchy analysis track record (as Conservative friendly as he can spin it) who can say what the number is.

Abortions for some, miniature American flags for others

I’m sure it’s fairly high though. And why not? Let’s refresh ourselves on the five priorities: accountability, child care, reduced waiting times for health care, safe streets and a cut to the GST.

What’s not to love? Accountability? Why not. Child care? Everyone loves kids. Reduce wait times? Well, we don’t want to increase them! Safe streets? Yes, please. Cut the GST? Taxes bad, gimme gimme.

So, read just those five bullets over the phone by a pollster, who wouldn’t support them? I’m sure it polled at 105 per cent. But how would it poll if people knew a little more?

Accountability: Sounds good, but we’re hearing the proposed legislation has more holes than Swiss cheese. Then there’s Fortier in the Senate, Emerson in cabinet, Reynolds and a bunch of staffers becoming lobbyists, the war with the media, and muzzling the military.

Child care: The baby bonus redux sounds nice, but it won’t create any spaces for those that need them, and will be a drop in the bucket of the cost of child care. Good, although not much, for stay at home parents. But for low income Canadians, how much will be clawed back in taxes?

Safe streets: We’ll see what they have proposed here, but tough on crime, while it sounds good, hasn’t necessarily been proven to be overly effective. And statistically, if I’m not mistaken, the streets are getting safer. Not that I feel any more comfortable in Scarborough after dark.

Reduce wait times: Why not, but how? The Martin Liberals were promising that too. They threw a crap load of money at it and got no where. At the end of the day it’s up to the provinces, and there’s not a lot the feds can do.

Cut the GST: I’ve blogged on this at length. This will cost people money, and if people wake up to that the anger will be substantial.

The thing is though, not that many people know the story and the facts behind those five bullet points. Ask someone if they support the GST cut knowing their income taxes will be going up in return, and what would that do for the numbers?

This shows why Harper is no dummy. Feed the public appetizing sounding pablum, and keep them in the dark. Pick a battle with the media, so any negative media seems like spite. Clearly, the opposition parties need to do a better job getting the word out, but most people won’t be paying attention until the next election. In the end, it makes a poll like this useless. It’s like asking people if they like puppies. I’m sure most people will say yes, but so what?

Spin, Allan, spin

The rest of the story is filled with much silly spin from Allan doing his best to pump-up the Conservatives and Harper. Nothing to loose any sleep over; his record speaks for itself and his bending of reality is obvious.

I did want to touch briefly on his last point though. Gregg said 60 per cent want to wait at least two years for another election. Said Allan:

“There is no huge appetite for an election.”

Is there ever an appetite for an election? For a nice veal parmesan, sure, but not for an election.

“In fact, there tends to be a predisposition to say, go in the direction you are going in, govern for at least two or three years and then we'll look at this again.”

Now you’re really full of crap Allan, give me a break.

The appetite for an election question is one of the stupidest questions in political polling. When has there ever been an appetite for an election? People are nearly always going to say no to that question. But does it really matter? Not really. There was “no appetite” for an election with the Conservatives forced the last one. People still went out and voted.

It’s like asking people if they have an appetite for going to the dentist. Even with the raspberry fluoride and free toothbrush, who is going to say yes? They’ll still go though, because they don’t want cavities.

The question to ask after that question is would you be negatively disposed to the party seen as forcing the election? Word it however you like, but the point is to get to how much people care about election timing, and if it will impact their vote. I’m not saying the opposition should force one tomorrow, because tomorrow is Easter Sunday, just that if the right issue were to come along no one will care about the timing.

And finally…

...any polls about party popularity are useless until the Liberals have a leader in place. And polls about potential Liberal leadership candidates are useless for any number of reasons, and even if they weren’t I hope party members will make their decision based on the candidate, their ideas and their vision, and not any polling results. If we build it, they will come.

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Penny said...

Dang!! Looks like you beat me into "print" on this story....!

Yeah, I got a kick out of that Globe article too. According to the survey, 9% describe themselves as seeing eye to eye with Harper, and just over 50% have similar priorities.

I would not call that "resonating with voters" - whatever that's supposed to mean.

robedger said...

Nothing to add here, just wanted to let you know that I thought that was a great post.

eugene plawiuk said...

Good break down I have linked your article to mine; Only 9% support for Harper.

wilson61 said...

The real story isn't the big 5; I think it is:
Tamil Tigers
Canadians are seeing a PM with a backbone and they like it.

EX-NDIP said...

Finally a PM with somethin going on between his ears . . . unlike the last 12 years of Lieberal reign. You must still be reading the Lieberal Red Book . . . you will have no trouble getting a job in the MSM . . . many happy decades in opposition!!!

Anonymous said...

Great to see Prime Minister Harper being appreciated by the Canadian public. Decisions are being made and acted on for a change. Most people appreciate that. For even better looking poll results have a look at
which has the Harper government at 41%. Majority territory.

moquitlam said...

Lets say Greggs #s have some legitimacy. Harper still isn't riding a Diefenbacker-like wave of support. Maybe once people have that first child care check in their pocket and see that that package of diapers are .32 cents cheaper, then they'll be saying 'Damn right!' Only Harper apparently has the magic to say when the election is worth calling (like this past winter - despite constant polls showing that the public had no appetite for an early election, he talked everyone and crazy Jack into it) and all the sundry attached. He is crafty and a touch dictatorial. Since there's plenty of blue koolaide out there, maybe he might be able to buy a full mandate, but as you pointed out the magic beans really don't grow SH*T.
Great Post, fellow BCer!

A BCer in Toronto said...

Thanks all. Penny, I enjoyed your post on the topic too. I guess great minds think alike...Anon, please keep thinking you're majority bound. Don't let me correct you...and thanks NDIP but I'm already party of the media conspiracy. If you'll excuse me, I'm late for our regular Liberal bias biscotti brunch. I'm bringing the cappuccino this week.