Political Perspectives is produced by the students and faculty of Carleton University's School of Journalism and Communication, Canada's oldest journalism school.


Final Observations

Posted by ealboim under All

Elly Alboim

The final days of the campaign matter

Despite the wind down of media coverage beginning with the Royal Wedding, it was clear once again – as happened in 2004 and 2006 – that the final three days of the campaign can make a difference. In those two elections, the Liberals fought back and depressed the NDP vote. This past weekend, it seems clear that the Conservatives blunted the NDP surge in ROC, most particularly in Ontario. They forced a second consideration and gained a crucial couple of points that won them seats. The NDP increase was not large enough to overcome it. Paid media and a call to strategic voting appeared to work again.

Assessments of leaders matter more than people like to think they do.

The finish is quite consistent with the leadership attribute scores. Mr. Layton’s Quebec breakthrough seems to have a strong leadership component. Mr. Harper ‘s leadership scores stayed high and Mr. Ignatieff’s never really moved. It is likely, as it usually is (see Ed Broadbent), that Mr. Layton’s scores clustered around the “soft” attributes of likeability, while Mr. Harper’s clustered around the “hard” attributes of competence – usually a closer fit with final results. It may be that the weighting of the variables was different in Quebec than was the case in ROC.

The debates can matter a great deal

It is obvious that the French language debate began the shift in Quebec this time as it did in 1984 for Mr. Mulroney. And it is also a fair inference that the research about debates is correct – solutionist presentations are more effective. Mr. Ignatieff missed the opportunity to use the English debate to rework his image and to showcase his policy set.

Electoral waves overwhelm conventional wisdom and prominent personalities, reducing the ground game to irrelevance

Cabinet ministers, long time incumbents, star MP’s went down to defeat while first time candidates without offices and telephones won. The winning candidate who vacationed in Las Vegas will be forever remembered as a proof point of this. To the last day of the campaign, seasoned political reporters and columnists in Quebec could not believe that the BQ was in serious trouble and said so aggressively.

Anecdotal evidence – the backbone of much media reporting — is often misleading

There is no doubt that by conventional standards, the Liberal tour went extremely well. Money poured in as did volunteers. The view of the Conservative campaign was that it was flat, overly controlled and remote. Neither impression had much to do with the final outcome.

The “news” of the campaign mattered much less than media anticipated

There were allegations, embarrassments and gaffes that made up the “news” of the campaign. On the whole, there were probably more of them than in the normal campaign. None of them appeared to stick or have much impact. Yet again, the disconnect between what media think germane in an election campaign and what the electorate does is quite wide.

The polling industry will have to do some self-examination

There was too much contradictory variation throughout the campaign to be able to get an accurate sense of some of what was going on. The NDP Quebec surge became clear but many pollsters missed the late Conservative uptick in ROC. To be fair, others had the Conservatives higher all along. Media could not cope with the flood or explain the potential impact of the conflicting methodologies. Averaging the polls became a common practice and a highly misleading one. Try averaging apples, oranges and celery and see what you come up with.

Seat projections are only as good as the data that goes into them

Of course, the more the variation in the polls, the more the disparity in the seat projections. And averaging them makes matters worse — garbage in, garbage out isn’t a cliché for nothing. The wide difference in seat projections shows the difficulty, as well, in projecting from national or provincial data. There are too many regional differences in Canadian campaigns not to work from regional sub-samples which are not generally available outside party polling.

Despite the excitement of the race and the obvious mood for a change in Quebec and among progressive voters, there is still a fundamental problem of disengagement

Early turnout figures show a only slight uptick in turnout, still way below traditional levels of turnout a generation ago. We’ll see over time how the vote mob phenomenon affected the youth vote but it seems unlikely to have made a major difference.

The majority government probably means a significant change in the political atmospherics that have so poisoned Ottawa and alienated so many Canadians

Although the polarization among the electorate is quite clear, so is the mood for a change in behaviour. A four year majority probably means a more measured and considered pace in Parliament. It also desensitizes in a fundamental way some of the partisan cockpits. Committees will no longer be paralyzed by intense partisanship and no longer be able to investigate anything Opposition members choose to be of political advantage. That of course does not preclude government members doing so. Similarly, private member’s bills – the source of much intense scrutiny and division – will be less important except for those the government chooses to move forward. That may still lead to difficult moments but not unpredictable ones. And finally, and most importantly, the constant brinkmanship over votes of non-confidence will be gone. There will be no more weekly watches for the possibility that the government might fall.

Over all, Canadians will hear much more about what the government does rather than about the partisan processes and overheated rhetoric of parliament – at least for a long while.

Elly Alboim is an associate professor of journalism and a former CBC parliamentary bureau chief.