Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Things can change, and campaigns matter

I've made the point a few time recently that, while the polls aren't favourable for the Liberals at the moment, things can change. That's not to say that things will change. No one can predict the future with any accuracy. But a poll today is a snapshot, and isn't necessarily indicative of what an election six or seven weeks from now could show.

For example, take a look at this chart. It shows the Liberals with a 15 point lead over the Conservatives, 41-26. That's a healthy lead, and potential majority territory.

When was this Nanos/SES poll taken, you ask? December 9, 2005, near the beginning of the 2005/06 election that would see the Conservatives end up forming a minority government. The popular vote would end up Conservatives 36, Liberals 30.

Dive into the leadership numbers and you'll see that, while Stephen Harper wasn't as far back as Michael Ignatieff is today, Paul Martin still had a healthy lead despite the swirling sponsorship drama. Canadians weren't sold yet on Stephen Harper.

So what's the point? The point is, as we see, things can change, and campaigns matter. Things happened on the campaign trail in 2005/06 that couldn't have been predicted going in. The leaders campaigned, things happened, and opinions were formed. The same will happen during the next election.

And while there are differences between 05/06 and today, there are interesting parallels. An opposition leader who has struggled, and not connected with Canadians. A government with an accumulation of scandal that hasn't hurt it too badly -- yet. And an electorate that has largely yet to tune in to the political debate.

So while we shouldn't dismiss polls, we shouldn't live and die by them either. A poll today can't tell us how people will feel in May. Campaigns matter, and the next one will be worth watching. There's a reason we play the full nine innings. No one knows today what the future will bring.

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Skinny Dipper said...

Excellent points about election campaigns. I do think we will see some different trends depending on how well the party leaders and their teams campaign.

Gayle said...

I think the polls are largely due to the taxpayer funded pro-government ads and the CPC funded attack ads.

Every time we seem headed to an election Harper pulls out these ads. That is not going to change so what is the point in waiting? An election campaign means people start paying attention.

Dennis (Second Thots) said...

Of course, the idea that campaigns matter and can move the polls isn't anything new. Dion's people used the same argument in 2008, and they were kind of right. The polls did move, but not in the direction they preferred.

The entire premise of the Liberals' current election strategy is that Iggy has to perform above expectations in an environment he's never been exposed to before against a battle-tested and battle-ready opponent. And he's dug himself a deeper hole than Dion did, too.

Can things happen? Sure. Are they likely to happen the way you want? Not so sure.

Jeff said...

Sure Denis, things can get better, or things can get worse. I'm not saying things will change; merely that they can. The campaign will tell the tale.

In 08, incidentally, the in-campaign polling was interesting. The first two weeks the CPC were in majority territory with an Liberal wipe-out. Then Dion stopped talking greenshift and started talking economy, and for a time in week 3/4 the LPC and CPC were neck in neck. Then near the end, with the ATV interview and other things, the wheels fell off and the CPC built enough of a lead to win a strengthened minority.

Even in that campaign, there were several major shifts, caused by events on and off the campaign trail that couldn't have been predicted going in.

We won't know what the next campaign will hold until we're there.

Dennis (Second Thots) said...

Sure. By the same logic, of course, the wheels could fall off the Liberal party, just as it did with the Conservatives in '93. It's not a perfect analogy, but I don't think anyone predicted that outcome before the campaign started.