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

MAR 2011

Campaign preparations

Posted by cwaddell under Election 2011, Election 2011 Campaign strategy, Election 2011 Student articles, Political Strategy

Watch a March 18 story from Carleton’s student-run web publication Capital News on candidates preparing for the election.

Then listen to a Capital News discussion with Carleton political science professor Jonathan Malloy on political scandals in Canadian history.


Reprising the coalition

Posted by cwaddell under Election 2011, Election 2011 Campaign strategy, Political Strategy

Christopher Waddell

With a federal election campaign about to begin, the post-2008 election three-party Liberal-NDP-Bloc coalition talk is already back with the Conservatives likely to be bringing it up as often as possible. Before anyone pays much attention to all that though,  it is worth remembering that the environment is much different than in 2008.

There will be a provincial election in Quebec probably before the end of 2012 and the Parti Quebecois stands a reasonable chance of winning that vote. With that could come renewed talk of separation and even another referendum. As long as that remains a possibility, it would take a political world far stranger than even the one we have seen in recent months to have a federal coalition government in Ottawa include the Bloc but in an election campaign that’s unlikely to stop the Conservatives claiming it could happen.

Christopher Waddell is director of the School of Journalism and Communication at Carleton University. He is a former reporter, Ottawa bureau chief for the Globe and Mail and a former CBC-TV parliamentary bureau chief and executive producer-news specials for CBC TV News. You can follow him on Twitter @cwaddell27

OCT 2009

Seat Projection: Comfortable Tory Majority

Posted by padams under All, Political Strategy

Paul Adams

There has been a dramatic shift in the Canadian political landscape in recent months. During the summer, the Liberals gradually gave up the advantage they had enjoyed over the Conservatives during most of the spring; but even as recently as the first weekly poll in September from EKOS (where I participate in the political research), the two leading parties were in an exact tie, at 32.6% each.

That seems like a long time ago. The Liberals have now dipped to historic lows two weeks in a row.

In an EKOS poll released to the CBC today, the Conservatives had 40.7% of the vote, followed by the Liberals at 25.5%, with the NDP at 14.3%, the Greens at 10.5% and the BQ at 9.1%.

Whenever you see this kind of dramatic shift, you hear pollsters talk about the leading party “approaching majority territory” or “in majority territory”. Sometimes, these are just educated guesses, but at EKOS, we have been running our numbers through a seat projection model — one that proved extremely accurate in the last election.

So here’s where we appear to be now. The Tories are now trading in comfortable majority territory. If an election were held today, and the results mirrored EKOS latest poll down to the regional level, this would be the likely result as translated into seats:

Conservatives 167

Liberals 68

BQ 50

NDP 23

Greens 0

Since a bare majority would be 155 seats, a result like this would constitute a “comfortable majority”: that is, not one that would be shaken by the odd defection or by-election reverse. There’s a good chance a parliament like this would last a full four-year term.

In terms of regional strength, the Conservatives would be able to claim that they were a national party, representing every region with a significant number of seats, including Quebec, where the EKOS projection suggests they would hold 10 seats.

The Liberals, in contrast, would hold just 10 seats west of Ontario, almost all of them in British Columbia. They would trail the Conservatives in every region in the country except Quebec, where, despite having similar popular support to the Conservatives, they would win a few more seats due to a more efficient distribution of votes. (The BQ, naturally, would be far away of the other two parties in the province.)

In Ontario – a province that the Liberals were able to sweep in the last decade, winning virtually every seat – the Conservatives would win 68 seats to the Liberals’ 28, and the NDP’s 10.

Of course, as Harold Wilson famously remarked, “a week is a long time in politics”. A lot can change between now and the election in terms of popular support and the distribution of seats.

But if the Conservatives seem to have a special spring in their step these days, while the Liberals seem to slouch a little, this is why.

— adapted from a blog posting on the www.ekospolitics.com website

Paul Adams teaches journalism at Carleton and is executive director of EKOS Research Associates

SEP 2009

Viral Senators

Posted by cwaddell under All, Media Commentary, Political Strategy

Christopher Waddell

A seat in the Senate has long been a reward for those who pitched the Conservative and Liberal parties to corporate donors. With laws now severely restricting corporate funding of political parties, the Conservatives have a new innovation – making Senator Mike Duffy into a pitchman with personally-addressed emailed video messages soliciting not money (so far), but advice on policy priorities. Watch one here.

It is an interesting concept but at three minutes the video is far too long. As polling firms working on the Internet have discovered, people have a limited attention span on the web.

Filling out the list of priorities gets you a brief closing thank you from Mike and a promise he’ll be back in touch soon – frequently he says. Then you get the chance to forward it to your friends, cleverly structured in a way so that the recipient believes it is coming from you, not the Conservative party.

With a large enough response distributed across the country and beyond just partisans, it could become a way to circumvent pollsters by going directly to the public much more cheaply than paying for polling as well as a way to spread the Conservative message by completely ignoring the mainstream media.

Christopher Waddell is acting director of the School of Journalism and Communication at Carleton University. He is a former reporter, Ottawa bureau chief, national editor and associate editor of the Globe and Mail and a former CBC-TV parliamentary bureau chief and executive producer-news specials for CBC TV News.

SEP 2009

Election talk

Posted by padams under All, Media Commentary, Political Strategy

Paul Adams

We’ve all been negligent in blogging from the J-School due to the pressures of the first week of classes. Sorry.

Let me offer two little election-related squibs.

First, how is it that the media all missed the NDP’s willingness to strike a deal with the Conservatives in the first days after Michael Ignatieff seemed to set us on a course towards an election? Jack Layton laid out four areas where the NDP would like action from the government, and was careful not to close any doors or to set down maximal objectives for any one of them. He said this wouldn’t be a “backroom deal” because it would all be out in the open.

Layton appeared repeatedly on television saying that he hoped the Conservatives would be reasonable and come to some accommodation with opposition parties (though he also said he did not hold up much hope). But, somehow, Layton couldn’t be heard. I saw him on both CBC and CTV saying he was open to discussions, after which the host would say something to the effect that “there you have it, he’d slammed the door on any deal with the Tories”.

I think the “certain election” narrative prevented some people in the media from noticing that Layton was trying hard to leave a door open to helping the Tories delay. Now that that narrative has got a bit tired, Layton’s openness — which stems directly from his strategic situation, so it should not be a shock — is finally getting some ink.

Meanwhile, let me update you on seat projections. The Tories opened up a small but significant lead in the polls last week, including EKOS’s (we had about a 3 point lead for the Tories). The seat projection based on last Thursday’s poll would be Tories 130; Liberals 102; NDP 26; Bloc 50.

Note that at these numbers, the Tories still fall short of their results last year; the Liberals lose the election but improve their standing considerably; and the NDP suffers a serious drop.

Paul Adams teach journalism and is executive director of EKOS Research Associates

SEP 2009

Magic Number

Posted by padams under All, Media Commentary, Political Strategy

Paul Adams

Today’s EKOS Poll for the CBC shows the Liberals tied to the decimal point on national vote intention. Naturally, this slight closing of the race from last week means a slight change in the seat projection for the front runners from my last post. (Last week’s projection in brackets)

Liberals           119 (111)

Conservatives 113 (119)

BQ                    41  (49)

NDP                  35  (29)

Perhaps the most startling element of these relatively small changes is at the back of the pack.

The BQ has slipped because of a Liberal surge in Quebec — something people are not yet paying attention to in the media, even though Michael Marzolini’s leaked Liberal poll earlier this week suggested a similar trend. If this keeps up, it might have a substantial effect on the BQ’s willingness to go to an election.

In addition, the NDP has jumped substantially — back nearly to the level they enjoyed in the last election. This is likely more to do with close “splits” between the two largest parties rather than any gain in support for the NDP which poll-to-poll was infinitesimal.

Why do I find these numbers interesting? Well, add the Liberal number to the NDP number, and what do you get? 154.

And what is 154? Exactly half of 308.

Get my drift?

Paul Adams teaches journalism at Carleton and works with EKOS Research on its political polling.

SEP 2009

Some recent polls…

Posted by padams under Media Commentary, Political Strategy

Paul Adams

Sometimes when a journalist wants to make a point, he or she refers to “the polls” as if they were a single entity. Of course, there are often times when a number of polls — even with different survey dates, and different questions — show similar trends. Indeed, when this happens, the polls do reinforce one another, and give us greater confidence that the trend they express is real.

But that isn’t always the case. Every once in a while, a poll comes along that tells a very different story than others conducted in a similar time-period. This is what happened last week when a poll by Ipsos Reid showed the Conservatives with an 11-point lead over the Liberals. Other polls by Harris-Decima, Nanos, and EKOS Research (with which I am associated), in contrast, showed a close race, as they have through most of the summer.

I’ve seen this phenomenon of the off-trend poll from the inside as both a journalist and later as a pollster (now with EKOS Research), and it isn’t always easy to know what to do, when you have one sitting in your hands. A poll like that can be the herald of a new trend — exactly what pollsters and journalists are looking for in their polling — or it could be the notorious “twentieth out of twenty” polls: the one that falls outside the margin of error, usually described as plus or minus a certain figure nineteen times out of twenty. Of course, polls may also be wrong because of non-statistical error, which is all that the margin-of-error concept captures.

In the 1993 election campaign, many observers were surprised that Kim Campbell’s Progressive Conservatives held up so well early in the campaign — retaining a lead over Jean Chrétien’s Liberals — despite what seemed like a terrible campaign. Then, a Toronto Star poll came along saying the Liberals had vaulted into the lead. That made intuitive sense, but no one was quite sure until a CBC poll that I was involved with came out a few days later confirming the trend. The Star had the better story because it was first with the news, but believe you me, we had more confidence in what our poll said because it confirmed what the Star’s had already reported.

In the 2006 election campaign, at EKOS, we had a surprisingly high number for the Liberals in a smallish (under a 1000) sample taken on a weekend. And weekends, for whatever reason, often produce off-trend results. It would have made a great story — if it were true. If not, it would all turn into a embarrassment within days. We decided to sit on the result to see what Monday’s numbers brought. We and the Star were criticized by some, and even accused of manipulation, but the next night’s results settled back on-trend, and we were glad we had made the decision we had.

At the same time, I am not sure I would argue for that same decision today if I were confronted with it again. People sometimes complain about all the polls being taken nowadays, but the fact that we get so much data nowadays helps us weed out what might be misleading results. In 2004 and 2006, only Nanos had a daily tracking number throughout the election campaign. In last year’s election, Nanos was joined by Harris Decima and EKOS. Because Nanos had increased its sample sizes from the early years, and because EKOS was using a new methodology called IVR which enables much larger sample sizes, the number of Canadians being sampled each night by major national pollsters had increased by many multiples.

The result is that an off-track results gets identified quite quickly. With so many polls in the field, and In the internet age, with information circulating so quickly, I am inclined to think that pollsters should put their polls out, and take their lumps (as they surely will within a very short time) when their poll sounds an off-key note.

In fact, just a matter of hours after the Ipsos Reid poll showed an 11-point lead for the Tories last week, Harris Decima showed the same close race everyone else had been seeing all summer, and a few days lateran EKOS poll said something similar.

There was no fault in putting the Ipsos poll out, I am now inclined to think. The mistake was in trumpeting it as strongly as some newspapers did, and Ipsos did in its own release.

Unfortunately, this poll, unsupported by any other has become something of a “factoid”; witness a line in this morning’s Ottawa Citizen which states that, “some recent polls show a summer swoon for Ignatieff’s Liberals”.

Not some, but one; and all the others tell a different story.

By the way, here’s a seat projection based on the latest EKOS poll, illustrating the close race that most pollsters are seeing at the moment: it suggests that the Tories would win 119 seats, the Liberals 111, the Bloc 49 and the NDP 29.

Paul Adams teaches journalism at Carleton


Lessons from lotteries

Posted by cwaddell under All, Media Commentary, Political Strategy

Christopher Waddell

The recent controversies in Ontario surrounding the expenditures of executives of eHealth and now the Ontario Lottery Corporation raise a couple of important issues beyond expensing the cost of a cup of coffee that would benefit from investigation by both the media and parliamentary or legislative committees.

First, how did the belief emerge that senior management of quasi-government agencies need to be compensated as if they were working in the private sector and how can it be justified? The argument was that’s the way to attract top talent in senior management posts. Yet private sector compensation is designed to reflect the degree of risk that rests on the shoulders of senior management. Their decisions will determine whether the enterprise competes successfully in the market, whether it grows or shrink, lives or dies. By contrast, for example what are the corporate risks faced by the senior management of the Ontario Lottery Corporation and the decisions managers must make that will determine whether the lottery corporation, as a government-mandated monopoly, will prosper or fail that justify senior management compensation equivalent to that in the private sector ?

Second, to an extent the public doesn’t realize, government now contracts out an enormous range of services – everything from opinion polling and communications advice to speech and report-writing, the delivery of programs, IT support, economic and issue analysis and options, strategic advice and external oversight of government-funded activities. With governments facing large deficits yet also paying for so many external consultants and services, sooner or later someone will start asking exactly what do all the people who work for government actually do?

While media coverage will properly ridicule expense account excesses and raise legitimate questions of whether taxpayers are getting value for money for the contracts let by government, there’s an underlying issue that also deserves attention but may not get it. Both situations reflect the failure of elected officials in both the government and opposition to carry out one of their prime responsibilities as members of a parliament or legislature – overseeing and questioning how public money is spent.

Christopher Waddell is acting director of the School of Journalism and Communication at Carleton University. He is a former reporter, Ottawa bureau chief, national editor and associate editor of the Globe and Mail and a former CBC-TV parliamentary bureau chief and executive producer-news specials for CBC TV News.

JUL 2009

Plug-in backscratching

Posted by cwaddell under All, Political Strategy

Christopher Waddell

Had there been any debate in Parliament about the wisdom of spending $13 billion to keep General Motors and Chrysler alive surely one of the questions an effective opposition would have raised would be will government discriminate in its policies on the auto sector to favour the companies it owns?

Ontario provided an answer yesterday with a subsidy of up to $10,000 for electric vehicles, announced by Premier Dalton McGuinty at a General Motors dealership in Toronto. The only beneficiary on the immediate horizon will be the Chevrolet Volt, a plug-in car supposed to begin production in late 2010.

With a  predicted price tag of about $40,000 US – the Volt will be at least $10,000 more expensive in Canada than popular hybrid competitors such as the Toyota Prius and Honda Insight – neither of which would be eligible for the subsidy as they aren’t plug-ins. Not surprisingly Honda and Toyota are unimpressed and being uncharacteristically vocal about it, as stories in today’s Globe and Mail and National Post highlight.

Two years ago Honda engaged in a battle with the federal Conservative government when it introduced a subsidy for fuel efficient vehicles with an arbitrary mileage cutoff that just excluded some Honda vehicles. That program was a failure but not before it alienated Honda which builds almost 400,000 vehicles annually in Ontario.

The length of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s meeting with Governor General Michaelle Jean last December to discuss proroguing Parliament meant he missed the official opening of a new Toyota plant in Woodstock, Ont. – the only new auto assembly plant built in the province in the last decade.

The debate might have also asked if governments introduce policies that directly undercut the interests of companies that have invested and expanded in Ontario to favour those that have cut back and closed plants, how tough will it be in future to persuade Honda and Toyota to continue to choose Canada over the United States for future investments?

Christopher Waddell is acting director of the School of Journalism and Communication at Carleton University. He is a former reporter, Ottawa bureau chief, national editor and associate editor of the Globe and Mail and a former CBC-TV parliamentary bureau chief and executive producer-news specials for CBC TV News.

JUN 2009

Libs grip slipping?

Posted by padams under All, Media Commentary, Political Strategy

Paul Adams

The Liberals have enjoyed an edge in the polls throughout the late winter and spring, and that advantage has been even more marked when you project the poll results onto seats, largely because the Liberals have been gaining in Ontario and Quebec since the last election, where every vote may count towards winning more seats, while the Conservatives have been increasing their stranglehold on Alberta and parts of the rural West to no additional advantage, since they already own these regions.

However, the race is tightening.

This morning EKOS Research (with which I have an association) released a new seat projection based on its most recent weekly poll. It shows the Liberals leading with 123 seats, but the Conservatives only a smidgen behind with 111 seats. The NDP have 30 and the Bloc 44.

If you look at the THREEHUNDREDEIGHT website — a site whose name is an homage to the legendary American polling site FiveThirtyEight — which does projections based on a number of polls, they have the race even tighter.

Now, here’s the thing. The Liberals nose-dived on the last night of EKOS‘ weekly poll, which was Tuesday, presumably on the news that the Liberals were prepared to force an election if certain demands weren’t met.

The Liberal-created crisis received huge publicity — in the teasers on The National, for example, and on the front pages of newspapers. The resolution of the crisis on Wednesday received no such attention. It played prominently on the news channels, but if you wanted to watch the story on The National, you had to wait (until after the first commercial break if I recall correctly), and it was buried in the front section of the Globe and Mail.

This could meant that the Liberal loss from the election threat will endure past the resolution of the crisis and the end of the parliamentary session today.

Even if the Liberals do rebound from their slump, it is an indication of how tenuous their grasp is on their current support. Right now it appears to be based more or less exclusively on hostility to Harper and economic uncertainty. We know that some of the higher income groups (which the Liberals have been successful at wooing from the Tories lately) are influenced in their economic perception more by the stock market and broad measures of economic growth. These are the economic indicators most likely to improve first (indeed the stock market has already rebounded very substantially since the beginning of the year).

For many Canadians the real measure of economic recovery, however, will be a falling unemployment rate, which isn’t likely to come for quite a while, and so far the Liberals have not had the traction they need among the economically vulnerable middle and lower classes, and the youth.

If one strong puff of wind can blow the Liberals off their perch, as it did, at least momentarily earlier this week, they do not yet have the grip they need to win in the long run.

This could be a tough summer for the Liberals. The absence of an election allows the Conservatives to use their huge advantage in money and organization. And there are all those infrastructure projects to announce (and re-announce and re-announce). This forces a strategic dilemma on the Liberals: do they respond with short-term expenditures on advertising, for example, to meet the challenge? If they do so, it will slow down their efforts to re-invest in their fund-raising and organization — crucial elements in their longer term success.

Canadians may not have wanted an election this summer, but they are going to get a campaign anyway, and it is one in which the government party has a definite edge.

Paul Adams teaches journalism at Carleton. He is also executive director of EKOS Research Associates.