Monday, April 02, 2007

Questioning the pundit establishment narrative

Polls are dumb...However, I'll mention this latest one from Ipsos just to raise a point.

Ipsos, you may recall, had the post-budget poll that had it Cons 40%, Libs 29%, causing much Conservative gloating and Liberal nervous nellying. As was warned at the time however, taking a poll the day after a budget is dumb, and misleading. With the dust having settled, Ipsos how has it at Cons 36%, Liberals 31%. In other words, it's back to a horse race, as it has been all along.

But, more interestingly, take a look at this Ipsos chart, which quite usefully includes their historical polling numbers right back to the last election:

Take a look at the change between Election 2006 and today, some 14 to 15 months later: Cons unchanged, Liberals up one, NDP down two, Greens up four, Bloc down three.

Yes, some 14 months after the last election the Cons are exactly where they started, and the Liberals are one only point better.

Now, consider what has happened over the past 14 months.

For the Liberals, after a dispiriting election loss, Paul Martin resigned as Liberal leader. Bill Graham tried to hold down the fort in the HoC while the leaderless Liberals launched a marathon leadership race. Finally, four months ago Stephane Dion took the helm, finally allowing the party to turn from internal matters to holding the Cons accountable.

For the Conservatives, their re-election campaign began 14 months ago, with every move carefully choreographed by Doug Finley and the PMO. Two budgets have unloaded billions more in taxpayer dollars than the Liberals ever dreamed of. They've cut the GST and tried to buy off parents with taxable "child care" cheques. They've staged countless taxpayer funded photo-ops. A chicken in every pot, with a side of mashed potatoes and a biscut.

And, after all that, where are we? Cons unchanged, Liberals up one.

The media narrative

Despite all that, the focus in the media and among the punditry has been on the Liberal Party's poor performance in the polls under Dion. And I have certainly been among those raising issues because while as we can see things are far from lost, treading water is not acceptable and I think we need to do some tweaking to our strategy if we're going to start building more support.

But there's a BIG question that seems to be going completely un-discussed. It's not even mentioned. But I think it's far more relevant. Why, after 14 months as Prime Minister -- 14 months of patronage, pork barrel politics and shoveling billions of taxpayer dollars off the back of a truck – why, as these numbers show, has Steve Harper utterly, spectacularly failed to build Conservative support even a little bit?

UPDATE: For some reason, comments were ticked off. Apologies, it's now ticked on.

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Steve V said...

And, if the media wants to harp on Dion's "problems", then it must be accompanied by the question, why hasn't Harper capitalized? Dion is the weak, hard to understand, flip flopping, geek and yet the status quo remains. Huh?

Ti-Guy said...

Pundits operate in a vaccuum. Very few of them will entertain any real challenges to the assertions they make from anyone outside their "caste."

uncorrectedproofs said...

I'm not so sure the media narrative is unwarranted. After all, Dion was expected to rejuvenate the party after it hit a dismal low of 30% in the 2006 election. The fact that the Liberals are stalled under his leadership, after his post-convention boost, is an important story.

Steve V said...

uncorrected proofs

That story may be important, but it isn't taken in isolation, it should be accompanied by Harper's inability to expand his base, given the favorable circumstances. The punditry continually speaks of Harper's obsession with attaining a majority, and view all policy within this lens, which then begs the question, why has he failed?

At least some balance, for every Dion is failing story, there should be the companion, why has Harper failed- both are "important".

Gayle said...

To add to Steve's comment - you still have to consider that Dion has been leader for only a few months, and the party has been fractured over the past several years. He is building internally. which is important to do before heading in to an election.

I am not concerned about the fact a small portion of the caucus have been unhappy - that is to be expected with new leadership of any organization. It certainly does give a short term impression of Dion that may not be favourable, but in the long run it should hopefully lead to a united party.

Harper, on the other hand, has been leader of the party for longer than 4 months, and PM of the country for longer than a year. What is his excuse?

Scotian said...

Good question. Given this was the best year Harper could ever have in government (honeymoon, no effective opposition, a massively discredited dispirited and leaderless Official Opposition party after that election result) the fact he has stayed flat from the last election to the apparent pre-election period we are in now is a very important question indeed. As to the answer, well I am hoping it is because the political tools he has relied upon are far more aggressive and nasty than most Canadians are comfortable with (from the rhetoric to the transparent vote buying to out of campaign cycle attack ads) combined with what they have known about Harper from his prior public stands of a far harsher and hard right political philosophy until 2005 when he suddenly had multiple unexplained epiphanies and changed his positions drastically.

There is also the fact that he has governed as if he were still in opposition, and I think that bothers some folks too. It is one thing for an opposition party and leader to be attacking the government, it is part of their function in Parliament after all, but it is not the role of the government to be attacking the opposition parties in QP on their old records instead of answering any questions about how they are governing.

Assuming Harper goes down in the next election I suspect there is going to be a lot of dissection as to why he failed so drastically given all the advantages he had. He had no effective opposition for government with the Libs so dispirited and discredited when he came to power, he had an economy in top shape, a fiscal health Canada had not seen in many decades to go out and try to buy votes with, and yet he still cannot get anywhere. That is a serious question and does deserve much more consideration and coverage than it appears to be getting.

Very good post Jeff, thanks for it.

McLea said...

So polls are dumb......unless they further your argument.


Joe Calgary said...

I think the dumbest part of your post is ignoring the undecided.

sinblox said...

booooooooooooooooooring. got anything interesting to post?

rockfish said...

His tactic of negative ads, including reaching into the past for juicy quotes, is a pandora's box that holds no chocolates for Harpor. Can't you envision the reply now...

"Harpor promised accountability -- he appointed a bagman to the senate and made him the guardian of public works...
Harpor promised that the courts would keep him in check -- then proceeded to stack the boards that select them with friends and chums...
Harpor promised an independent voice for Canada on the international scene -- and he parrotted George Bush in the middle east and at home.
Harpor promised to protect both Income Trusts and provincial territorial rights on resources -- then turned right around and taxed them.
Harpor promised to honour agreements for both child care and First Nations -- and slashed and reduced funding to both.
Listening to Harpor over the years, and he's made a lot of promises (screen filled with words like 'Iraq', 'cut social programs', 'build a firewall between provinces', 'strip away rights of minorities' etc)...
It isn't just the promises he's broken that Canadians should be concerned about, but which promises is willing he keep?'
Feel free to improve on that...

Jeff said...

I'm not so sure the media narrative is unwarranted.

Proofs, Gayle and Steve addressed this too, but I'll say I didn't say it was unwarranted. Indeed, as mentioned, I've done a few posts on the topic myself raising concerns, and counsellings changes.

What I was saying that the other half of the story is being ignored: Harper's own failure to gain any ground. Given Harper has had quadruple the time and all the advantages of incumbency, that IMO is an even bigger failure, yet it's being ignored.

So polls are dumb......unless they further your argument.

The two aren't mutually exclusive Mclea. Much like Conservatives and logical arguments, although that is alas more rare.

I think the dumbest part of your post is ignoring the undecided.

How so, Joe?

got anything interesting to post?

Nope, expect more of the same.

Ti-Guy said...

A persuasive counter-argument or compelling thesis on the part of Conservative partisans here would have been interesting. This, in the end, explains Harper's appeal with some people: being more against, than being for, anything substantial, and spending a lot of time and energy making that very obvious point over and over again.

How unsurprising that Canada has a Prime Minister who is hardly anything more than a troll.

Michael Erskine said...

There are few better advantages flying into a campaign than being below the radar headed in--worked wonders for Peterson a few years back in Ontario. While the Tory ad tactic seems to be working remember--polls are meaningless until a month or two after the writ falls. Unlike poli-junkies, Jacques and Jane Canuck couldn't give a flying Timmy's until the horses near the wire.

Dr. Tux said...

I glad to see that this story is catching on. Steve V and I have been talking about this for the past couple weeks.

Oliver said...

"Why, after 14 months as Prime Minister -- 14 months of patronage, pork barrel politics and shoveling billions of taxpayer dollars off the back of a truck..."

Wow. That's just breathtaking, coming from a liberal. The same could be asked, why, after 13 YEARS of patronage, pork barrel politics and shovelling billions of taxpayer dollars into unmarked envelopes..." couldn't Paul Martin win a majority?