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

OCT 2008

That majority question

Posted by cwaddell under Election 2008, Election 2008 Campaign strategy, Election 2008 Faculty links

Andrew Cohen

Among the blizzard of polls appearing every day of this campaign, the most intriguing may be this one: 52 percent of Canadians worry about giving the Conservatives a majority.

They appear to be concerned about handing the government carte blanche, or four or five more years of unfettered, unchecked government.

In other words, the Conservatives unbound. Stephen Harper unplugged. Any leader’s fantasy.

If this kind of anxiety exists in Canada, it’s because that 52 per cent of Canadians think that the Conservatives would surprise or disappoint them with what they would do with a majority. That might mean cutting funding to the CBC or re-visiting abortion or capital punishment, which social conservatives oppose.

But if the second part of this poll is right, the anxiety of Canadians doesn’t mean much. Asked whether they would change their vote to stop a Conservative majority, 81 per cent said no.

The prospect of a Conservative majority apparently doesn’t unnerve Canadians as deeply as it did in 2006, when the Conservatives were held to a minority, or in 2004, when they lost. Both times the Liberals argued that the Conservatives had “a secret agenda” and couldn’t be trusted with a majority.

Now, if it it is true that half of Canadians “worry” about a majority but four-fifths will do nothing to prevent it — such as strategic voting — the dynamic of this campaign may have decisively shifted.

It may explain why the Conservatives began the campaign predicting that they would win only a minority, afraid to raise the prospect of a majority. Worried about driving frightened voters to the Liberals, they sought to lower expectations and hope that a polarized electorate would deliver their majority on October 14.

But they’re less shy now. Harper may still be wary of using the “M” word too much, but he is asking for a stronger “mandate” to free his government from the scrutiny of those left-of-centre parties in Parliament.

He has reason to be confident. While no polls shows him winning more than 40 percent of the vote, the level of support necessary for a majority in Parliament, he still remains at least 10 points ahead of the Liberals.

Deep down, Canadians may not like Stephen Harper very much and even may not trust him with a majority, which is why he can’t crack 40 per cent. But because they like other parties more than they fear his, they may give him his wish anyway.


This column originally appeared in the Metro newspapers.

Andrew Cohen, a professor of journalism and international affairs at Carleton University, is the author of Extraordinary Canadians: Lester B. Pearson.




The economy and the debates

Posted by cwaddell under Election 2008, Election 2008 Campaign strategy, Election 2008 Faculty links

Christopher Waddell

Here are some questions that should be asked at this week’s debates but likely won’t be answered.


Christopher Waddell is associate director of the School of Journalism and Communication at Carleton University and a former Globe and Mail Ottawa bureau chief, former CBC-TV parliamentary bureau chief and election night executive producer for CBC TV News.


National parties all short of goals as debates start

Posted by padams under Election 2008, Election 2008 Campaign strategy

Paul Adams

I wrote this piece for the EKOS election website this morning. Our daily tracking poll results for today were:

Conservatives   34%

Liberals           25%

NDP                20%

Greens            11%

BQ                  10%


As the party leaders prepare for their debates, in French tonight and English tomorrow night, only Gilles Duceppe can claim to have met his objectives in the campaign so far.

The Conservatives – Stephen Harper’s Conservatives established an early lead and have held it, often at wide margins over the second-place Liberals, but while a majority seemed tantalizingly close at times, it is once again seemingly slipping away. Harper needs to revive his party’s standing in Quebec – so strong at the beginning of the campaign; the Tories are now in a dogfight with the Liberals for a weak second place in the province. Meanwhile in Ontario, the party has lost the edge it has enjoyed at times over the Liberals, and even in British Columbia, its commanding lead is looking less formidable than it did just two weeks ago.

The Liberals – Stéphane Dion’s first job was to save the furniture and at best he has saved some of it.  The Liberal vote has stabilized and crept up a bit. In Ontario, the Liberal Party is giving the Conservatives a race, but no better, in its traditional heartland. In Quebec, the Liberals are fighting it out with the Conservatives for second place (though still well behind the BQ). Even in B.C. and the West, the party is creeping back up behind the NDP. However, the party remains well short of being a real competitor with the Conservatives to win the election, and shockingly short of what would have been considered its core support just a few years (months?)  ago.

The New Democrats – Jack Layton has lifted his party up to the top of its traditional range of support. But it is not yet in Broadbent territory. The party is running very well in British Columbia, particularly in Vancouver, and continues to benefit in Ontario not only from healthy support, but also from a three-way fight in that province. But the New Democrats have yet to break through to become a contender for power – their stated aim – or even to displace the Liberals as the natural alternative to the Conservatives, which many regard as their real strategic goal.

The Greens – Elizabeth May has led the Greens on an exceptionally successful campaign by their historical standards. They are at more than twice the level of support they enjoyed in the last election, and have at times peaked near triple their support in 2006. However, that support is broad but thin, and in many parts of the country they will have trouble mounting an on-the-ground campaign that is competitive. May accomplished a major interim objective getting included in the debate. But even at the party’s peak, in the second week of the campaign, it probably would not have won a single seat. A lot rides now on May’s debate performance.

The Bloc Québécois – Gilles Duceppe started the campaign confronted with a widespread impression that the sovereigntist movement in Quebec was dead or dying, and that whatever support had not already been lost to the Tories might start bleeding to the national parties on the left. Publicly, Duceppe framed his campaign as a crusade to deny Stephen Harper a majority. So far, so good. The Bloc revival in Quebec since the campaign began, mostly at the Tories’ expense, has put the BQ back on track to win the majority of seats in Quebec, and that in itself is one very good reason why the Tories now seem to be tracking short of majority territory.

Paul Adams is a former political reporter with the CBC and the Globe and Mail, and is now a member of Carleton’s journalism faculty, and executive director of EKOS Research Associates.


SEP 2008

The Conservative campaign

Posted by cwaddell under Election 2008, Election 2008 Campaign strategy

Christopher Waddell

Two thoughts about the Conservative campaign to date as things slow down for the leaders’ debates tomorrow and Thursday evenings.

First, Stephen Harper’s goal is to realign fundamentally politics in Canada so that the Conservatives replace the Liberals as Canada’s naturally governing party. He’s well on his way to doing that in remarkably short time. Within the space of five years he has displaced the Liberals in making the Conservatives the only political party competitive in every region of the country. Whether he gets a majority or not, if he can make the realignment underway in this campaign stick, he will have altered the political dynamics of Canada for years to come.

Second, in this campaign Mr. Harper got there by relying on the politics of polarization and some of those who practiced it successfully for the Mike Harris Conservatives in Ontario in the late 1990s. Attacks on culture as the subsidized preserve of an elite and calls for long prison sentences for 14 year olds who commit serious crimes are designed to separate Conservative supporters from everyone else. That worked in Ontario but the ex-Harris group in the Harper campaign didn’t understand that Canada is more than Ontario.  What polarizes voters there to Conservative benefit, offends voters in Quebec to the advantage of the Bloc Quebecois. Two weeks from tonight that misreading of the complex nature of the country may be what prevents Mr. Harper from getting his majority.

Christopher Waddell is associate director of the School of Journalism and Communication at Carleton University and a former Globe and Mail Ottawa bureau chief, former CBC-TV parliamentary bureau chief and election night executive producer for CBC TV News.

SEP 2008

Butterfly effect and the future of Canada

Posted by padams under Election 2008, Election 2008 Campaign strategy, Election 2008 Media commentary

Paul Adams

The term “butterfly effect” refers to a feature of chaos theory in mathematics in which a small event — like a butterfly flapping its wings and creating a miniscule change in the atmosphere — might reverberate through an entire system —  changing the direction of some great storm, for example.

It is easy to think of everyday human examples: If I hadn’t been late for the bus that day, I never would have met my spouse, and we wouldn’t have had twelve kids, and I wouldn’t have lost my job when she hit my boss with the butt-end of the shotgun her father gave her, and we wouldn’t be living in this trailer park. (Part of this story is made up, by the way.)

Anyway, my colleague at EKOS, Frank Graves had this intriguing blog in the Globe and Mail on the weekend, in which he points out that with a single vote change at the Liberals’ last leadership convention, the dynamics on subsequent ballots could have changed, resulting in a leader other than Stephan Dion, with a possibly superior result for the Liberals in this election, and potentially tectonic implications on the long-term prospects of the Liberal Party and of the Canadian party system.

So the whole future history of Canada may come down to one delegate who spent too much time in the hospitality suites. If you could track the guy down, it would make an interesting interview.

Paul Adams is a former political reporter with the CBC and the Globe and Mail, and is now a member of Carleton’s journalism faculty, and executive director of EKOS Research Associates.

SEP 2008

9/11 Nonsense and the Liberal candidate

Posted by padams under Election 2008, Election 2008 Campaign strategy, Election 2008 Media commentary

Paul Adams

A couple of weeks after 9/11, I was in Cairo, trying to connect with the father of Mohamed Atta, the leader of the attack squad. I was a little late because, wise to the Western media by the time I got there, he was demanding thousands of dollars for an interview, and I had to make do with screening tape shot by NBC immediately after the attack to get what I needed.

I remember vividly that already at that point, it seemed that every cab-driver in Cairo could tell you with great confidence that all the Jews in the World Trade Center had been warned not to show up on the fateful day: evidence that the whole thing had been got up by Mossad to sucker the Americans into the Middle East to fight Israel’s enemies. Asked where they got the story, they would say they “heard it on the news”, or as one student told me outside the American University of Cairo, that he had read it in Time magazine!

Slate later had a pretty good timeline of how this cockamamie story got its start.

According to Slate, the story originated with the Hezbollah’s television network Al-Manar. Tracking it down in the internet, at the time, I found references on many Arab websites to a mysterious retired Pakistani general from the intelligence service, who apparently had the goods on Mossad. From his perch in Karachi? You had to think that Pakistani intelligence has deeper roots in Al Qaeda than in Mossad, but never mind: this stuff works by playing on credulity, not by confronting skepticism.

The Globe wasn’t interested in the news of the conspiracy story at the time, despite my pitch that it said a lot about the “Arab street” — something Westerners were obsessing about in those early weeks. Whether it was that my editors didn’t want to give the theory legitimacy unintentionally by putting it in print, or because they were worried about fueling an anti-Arab backlash in Canada (a real concern in those first days), I do not know.

Anyone who has spent time in the Arab world will tell you that theories like the one about 9/11 — often preposterous, and almost all of them conspiratorial — pop up regularly in popular discourse. One of my favourites was the story that sprouted among Palestinians whenever Yasser Arafat was doing something they didn’t like, that the Israelis had swapped him him with a Mossad doppelganger when his plane crashed along the Egyptian-Libyan border in 1992. Man, I thought: you had to be one hard-bitten Mossad guy to do that job for thirteen years.

It is sad in a way, that so many of these myths speak to a self-image among Arabs as being collective weaklings, and invest mystical powers in the Israelis. In fact, at the time, it was not unusual to hear Egyptians, Palestinians and Lebanese say that the 9/11 plot was too sophisticated to have been pulled off by Arabs. So the story struck currents of self-loathing as well.

There may be a pleasant irony in the fact that Americans share something of the Arab taste for exotic conspiracy theories. Various polls have suggested more than a third of Americans disbelieve the official story of 9/11 as they do of the Kennedy assassinations and Elvis’ death. I am told that some still think there really were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

All of this brings us back to Lesley Hughes, the Winnipeg journalist and sometime university lecturer running for the Liberals in Winnipeg, who was informed by a CBC reporter of her unceremonious dumping from the Liberal team by Stephane Dion yesterday. Those of us with Winnipeg roots know Lesley Hughes best as the slightly flaky, a-little-too-openly-opinionated, lefty morning show host on CBC radio in the 1980s and 1990s. Harmless, well-intentioned even, but a little irritating some days when you were shaving and the news just kept coming with an dollops of often quite spectacularly un-self-critical political viewpoint from Ms. Hughes.

It was painful to see her yesterday distancing herself from the 9/11 conspiracy theory, which in context, she plainly gave credence in the offending article, written soon after the September 11 attacks, but re-surfacing this week. Here is a larger chunk of what she wrote than has appeared in most media:

Truth may have been the casualty of war in former ages, but this war is different. While major media busy themselves waving flags, a global network of independent journalists, who have no interests to protect, no secrets to hide, are tracking and documenting its development on a daily basis.

Among the best: the Web site The Emperor’s New Clothes (www.tenc.net) and Mike Ruppert, editor and publisher of From the Wilderness newsletter out of California (www.copvcia.com) .

Using and sharing only published and sourced news stories from world media, and official documents of various governments either leaked or available under freedom of information acts, these journalists have assembled a disturbing picture, which suggests CIA foreknowledge and complicity of highly placed officials in the U.S. government around the attacks on the World Trade Center Sept. 11.

Many official sources are claiming to have warned the American intelligence community, which spends $30 billion a year gathering information, about the attacks on the twin towers on that heartbreaking day.

German Intelligence (BND) claims to have warned the U.S. last June, the Israeli Mossad and Russian Intelligence in August. Israeli businesses, which had offices in the Towers, vacated the premises a week before the attacks, breaking their lease to do it. About 3000 Americans working there were not so lucky.

Ironically, the stock market was also warning anyone who cared to notice that something peculiar was afoot: in the week prior to Sept. 11, unknown speculator(s) were suddenly betting that the stocks of United Airlines and American Airlines were going to fall in value; the trades were placed through Deutschebank/AB Brown, a firm formerly managed by Buzzy-Krongard, now executive director of the CIA.

You can check out the websites she cites. They are the home of no end of conspiracy theories, involving the CIA, Mossad, the Vatican and so on. They seem to mark the precise point in American cyberspace where loony meets lefty.

When the she was dumped by Dion on Friday, best documented in a story here by CBC Winnipeg, Hughes reacted with variations on the ‘it was taken out of context” and “some of my best friends are Jewish” tropes: 

“It’s a major shock to my faith in the party and the whole system,” said Hughes, who defended her track record by citing her biography about a leading figure of the Jewish community and the Holocaust education that she taught in classes at the University of Winnipeg for more than a decade.

“It’s the theatre of the absurd,” said Hughes.

“I have no time for conspiracy theories about the Jewish population whatever,” she said. “The article that I wrote — for anyone who reads it carefully — is very clearly innocent of any kind of anti-Semitic feeling. I am just absolutely stunned by this.

“I guess that’s how soldiers die in the trenches. This is how it must feel.”

Looking at her original remarks in context, you can only see this defence as  either disingenuous or utterly self-aware. I suspect the latter, but of course, cannot know.

The problem, in my view, with the kind of nonsense Hughes was trading in, is not that the American and Israeli governments (as well as the Vatican, for that matter) don’t have lots to answer for. It is that the ideas she was retailing, in the guise of journalism, replace verification and questioning — which should be the journalist’s stock in trade — with credulity and speculation.

This does not make it any easier for people writing about the Middle East to do their jobs. In fact, it understandably raises questions about whether anti-semitism lurks behind every critical question, which it does not and should not. 

It makes me tear my hair out.

Paul Adams is a former political reporter with the CBC and the Globe and Mail, and is now a member of Carleton’s journalism faculty, and executive director of EKOS Research Associates.




SEP 2008

Well, I think it’s interesting

Posted by padams under Election 2008, Election 2008 Campaign strategy, Election 2008 Media commentary

Paul Adams

I know, I know: you think that there are all these polls around, even three published daily now, and nothing has changed: after three weeks, the Tories are still in front but don’t know whether they’ll get a majority; the Liberals are still far behind; the NDP is doing well, but not well enough to displace the Liberals; and we don’t know yet what will really happen with the Greens.

OK, all this is true. (Though, I would remind you: how would you know any of this without the polls?)

But for those of us following the numbers day-to-day, there have been some fascinating dynamics in this campaign so far, and some amazing possibilities ahead.

Below, I’ve put a seat projection based on EKOS latest daily tracking numbers (conflict alert), which I share with all the usual caveats about seat projections. To me, it suggests some fascinating possibilities. (Don’t get vertigo reading this table, which I had trouble dropping in — hey! only been blogging 3 weeks.)


                     Liberal   C.P.C.   NDP     Bloc    Green   Other   Total 
CANADA             66      148       38       55         0          1       308 
Atlantic               7         21         4        0         0          0         32 
Quebec              10          7         2      55         0          1         75 
Ontario              40        46        20        0         0          0       106 
Man.                   2          9         3         0         0          0         14 
Sask                   1         13         0         0         0          0         14 
Alta.                   1         27         0         0         0          0         28 
B.C.                    4         24         8         0         0          0         36 
Yk/Terr                1           1         1         0         0          0          3 
                          66      148       38       55         0          1       308

First of all, it suggests that the rumours of the Bloc’s demise were highly exaggerated. The culture debate has helped the Bloc in recent days, but they have actually been on the rise for a couple of weeks now. The Tories’ hopes of a breakthrough much beyond what they accomplished in the last election are disappearing before their eyes. And look at the NDP in Quebec — can they maybe, just maybe, increase their foothold in the province?

And here’s a thought: Gilles Duceppe, Leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition. Lucien Bouchard held that title for a while too, after the ’93 election. If the Liberals lost 12 more seats, on this projection, Duceppe would get the job — even if the NDP picked up every single one of the lost Liberal ridings. Not that I’m saying that’s going to happen. It couldn’t, could it?

As a matter of fact, the race for Leader of the Opposition is looking awfully close at the moment: Duceppe, Dion and Layton could all imagine getting the job under plausible scenarios for the second half of the campaign.

Now, look at Ontario. This may be Dion’s best hope of hanging on to his current job (at least until his own party gives him the heave-ho.) The Liberals have crept back into the race in Ontario. Just ten days ago, using this same model, the Tories would have had 58 seats in Ontario, to 31 for the Liberals and 17 for the NDP. Now it’s 46 Tories, 40 Libs and 20 NDP. 

There remains a lot at stake in this election. There is a big difference between a minority government and a majority — especially when on many significant social and economic issues there is arguably a consensus of 60% or more among supporters of the other parties in opposition to the Tories’ position.

I also believe that the survival of the Liberal Party may be at stake in this election — certainly, if it does not retain at least second-party status. And tied to that, of course, is the potential future of the NDP, which could replace it as the alternative to the governing party.  

And what about the Greens? At the moment, they have captured the support of more than a tenth of the public, yet could quite possibly end up without a seat. The party represents a strong current with regard to the environment, and a strong current of frustration with the youngest cohort of Canadian voters. What does it mean to our democracy if the Greens breakthrough? What does it mean if they don’t?

Personally, I agree completely that the media is overly concerned with the polls — not so much in reporting them, because they provide information useful to voters in making up their own minds — but in allowing them to frame their coverage of the election, muting some legitimate voices, while amplifying others, obsessing on strategy and neglecting the issues of jobs, the economy, the health care system, Afghanistan and the environment that voters care about — or might if the media helped them to understand them better.

But at the end of the day, an election is an exercise is statistics and the numbers will determine in considerable degree what kind of country we end up living in.

Paul Adams is a former political reporter with the CBC and the Globe and Mail, and is now a member of Carleton’s journalism faculty, and executive director of EKOS Research Associates.

SEP 2008

Cultural polarization

Posted by cwaddell under Election 2008, Election 2008 Campaign strategy, Election 2008 Faculty links

Andrew Cohen

So Stephen Harper is now training his artillery on artists, actors, writers and poets. He sees votes in beating up the country’s cultural elite.

“I think when ordinary working people come home, turn on the TV and see a bunch of people, you know, at a rich gala all subsidized by taxpayers, claiming their subsidies are not high enough … I’m not sure that’s something that resonates with ordinary people,” he said on Tuesday this week.

A rich gala. Subsidies. Ordinary people. Here is a populist’s lament. Mr. Harper didn’t use the word “elite”. He didn’t have to.

He wants the people to know that he doesn’t like this pretentious crowd, which is why you won’t find him at those fancy fundraisers at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa. He sends his wife instead.

Here’s the spirit of George Wallace, the scrappy, segregationist governor of Alabama, who gleefully painted his enemies as “pointy-headed intellectuals.” When Mr. Wallace poured out his invective, you could see the dirt under his fingernails and the sweat on his brow.

Mr. Harper is no George Wallace, but his broadside shouldn’t surprise anyone in a targeted campaign pitched to specific voters. The point is to create differences between us (the people) and them (the snobs), playing off one against each other, appealing to that deep well of resentment in the land of the Tall Poppy.

This is a strategy. It is the same reason that Mr. Harper proposes cracking down on juvenile crime, even as criminologists tell him crime isn’t rising and his punishments won’t work. No matter; tough talk sells among rock-hard conservatives.

Ironically, the Prime Minister has spent the campaign trying to show his soft side – wearing a sweater, kissing babies, playing the piano. Now he’s showing off his folksiness. Soon Mr. Harper, who has an MA in economics, will start droppin’ his “g’s.”

But culture matters. While Mr. Harper’s $45-million in cuts to the arts may have little “resonance” in English-speaking Canada, they are an issue in Quebec, where both Stéphane Dion and Jack Layton are exploiting the issue. Mr. Dion even announced his promise to increase spending on the arts last weekend in Place des Arts in Montreal.

Mr. Harper knows this, which is why he isn’t pushing the anti-cultural line in Quebec, where he sees his majority. When he was asked to repeat his “gala” comment in French, he shrewdly refused.

 (This column originally appeared in the Metro newspapers.)

Andrew Cohen is a member of the faculty of the School of Journalism and COmmunication at Carleton University and most recently the author of Extraordinary Canadians: Lester B. Pearson.

SEP 2008

It’s all in how you ask the question

Posted by padams under Election 2008, Election 2008 Campaign strategy, Election 2008 Media commentary

Paul Adams

People often ask why polls released on the same day produce somewhat different results. Of course, some of this may just be the result of statistical error. That is, the differences between two polls may be within the margins of error of the polls. On other occasions, if you look closely, you can see that one poll was actually conducted on different dates, or over a different period than another, even if they are released the same day. This has been true, for example of the EKOS (conflict alert), Nanos and Harris-Decima daily tracking polls.

At EKOS, we think we have been a little ahead of other pollsters because the large sample sizes we get using a new methodology called interactive voice recognition (IVR) — a kind of robotic pollster. Of course, don’t expect other pollsters to agree with this, and quite rightly some people are asking how much we should trust this new technology. But that’s another story.

Sometimes, though, the effect of methodological differences in gathering poll data are perfectly clear. This has showed up in Nik Nanos’ daily tracking polls, which have consistently shown the Liberals running more strongly than other polls have, and have tracked the Green Party at significantly lower levels. 

This is important, of course. If Nanos is right, the Liberals are much more in contention in this election than the media and punditariat have given them credit for. And the attention to the Greens is disproportionate to their actual strength. Clearly, the media have taken their cue in framing this election from the consensus in the other polls that the Liberals are well behind the Conservatives, and dismissed the Nanos polls, in this respect, as an anomaly.

These media orientations may be crucial to the prospects of the parties, so it is important to understand why Nanos is so different. After all if he is right, and the rest of us pollsters are wrong, the media are missing the story.  

The difference in the Nanos numbers and those of other polling companies was explained quite well yesterday in an article by Glen McGregor appearing here in Ottawa in the Ottawa Citizen.

Unlike most other pollsters, Nanos is using an “open” question when asking respondents about their voting intention. What that means is that his phone operators ask people how they plan to vote, but don’t present them with a list of the parties from which to choose.

“If they don’t get the list, you get the cleanest read because they have to articulate their support,” Nanos told MacGregor.

This is an old debate in polling circles, and has merit on both sides.

I first encountered it in the early 1990s when I was working with Elly Alboim and Christopher Waddell among others on what was then the CBC-Globe and Mail poll. (I mention them because we are now all on staff at the Carleton J-School).

We published a national poll the same day as La Presse published one of their own focusing on Quebec. The La Presse poll showed the relatively newly-formed Bloc Quebecois running much more strongly than ours did, which led to accusations that the CBC, as a federal institution, was trying to deprecate the separatist BQ.

Of course, there was nothing to that accusation. We wondered however, whether the difference between our poll and La Presse’s could be explained by the fact that at the time we were using an open-ended question, without prompting respondents about the names of the parties. Perhaps without a menu to choose from people were “forgetting” that the BQ was an option; and the same might hold for the newish Reform Party in English Canada.

So in the next poll we did, we split the sample — asking half the respondents an open question, and half a closed question. Bingo! The closed question, in which all the parties were named, registered much higher support for both the BQ and Reform than the open question. Since these parties were going to be on the ballot, we decided to go with the closed question in future.

Similarly, at EKOS a few years ago, we decided to replace our old open question with a closed question — this time because of the emergence of the Greens. Sure enough, Green support popped up when we did that. And our results using the closed question actually tracked quite well to the final result.

Of course, none of this is to deny that there is an argument on the other side. After all, if you can’t even remember that a party is in the race without an operator reading its name out to you, how deep can your support for it be? 

What may be happening in this election is that many faint-hearted Liberals tell Nanos they are voting that way, but when presented with the Green option in other polls, they flip the other way. On election day, of course, they need to make a decision. And it may also be that as election day approaches, and people’s decisions become more firmly grounded, the difference in the methodology will start to wash out.

So what to make of all this, journalistically? I think it is wrong to reject the polls as meaningless, as some claim they do. I don’t think they actually do anyway. The polls agree on the ordering of the parties, at least at the top of the race: Tories first, Liberals second, NDP third. Moreover, all of them suggest that the Conservatives are in sight of a majority, but don’t have it in the bag.

Those are important issues for the media, and for voters who may choose to vote tactically.

But what journalists should do is look carefully at the differences among polls and why they exist, and not rely heavily on any single one. A couple of weekends ago, the Globe put great weight on its front page on a poll showing the Tories had had a strong first week. By Monday, the same pollster was saying there had been a softening in Tory support.

Polls provide interesting information bound by statistical and methodological limits. We don’t know which one will be closest till after the election is held. A record of success (or of past failure) by a pollster is worth bearing in mind, but even past success doesn’t guarantee the best results next time. 

Paul Adams is a former political reporter with the CBC and the Globe and Mail, and is now a member of Carleton’s journalism faculty, and executive director of EKOS Research Associates.


Culture en péril? Gone viral

Posted by jsallot under Election 2008, Election 2008 Campaign strategy, Election 2008 Media commentary


New media in the form of a hilarious YouTube video could make life difficult for Conservatives in Quebec.

The video, titled Culture en péril,  has gone viral with more than a half-million viewers in the last five days.

It depicts Quebec singer-songwriter Michel Rivard appealing before a board of clueless federal bureaucrats for a small cultural grant for a folk festival.

The board consists of a bunch of Anglophones who clearly do not understand what Rivard is talking about. They become alarmed when they think he’s using the old anglo-saxon F-word when in fact he is using the French word phoque. It gets even funnier after that.

The bureaucrats are seated in front of a Big Brotherish portrait of Stephen Harper. The back drop to the portrait is an American flag.

The message is clear. You can’t count on Tories to protect Quebec culture.

But I wonder if the fact that the French-language video has been viewed so often in such a short span might undercut the claim that Quebec culture is in peril?