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

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

CBC and product placement

Posted by cwaddell under All, Media Commentary

Christopher Waddell

The commercialization of public broadcasting continues this time though through product placement of TD Canada Trust bank branches and signs in CBC dramatic and comedy series. Read all about it here.

As the news release states:

“In the hit comedy series Being Erica, Erica’s (Erin Karpluk) GF’s BF Anthony (Mark Taylor) manages a TD CanadaTrust branch and speaks at a TD corporate function. And on Little Mosque on the Prairie, William Thorn (Brandon Firla) blows into town as the new reverend and visits the local branch in Mercy to determine whether the church has enough funds to throw a bash for the townspeople. On the family drama Heartland, the bank makes cameo appearances in three episodes.”

And what are the differences and distinctions between public and private broadcasting in Canada?

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.


When the poll fits the story….

Posted by padams under All, Media Commentary

Paul Adams

We’ve all done it, but that doesn’t make it right…Cherry pick the facts, that is, to make them fit a smooth journalistic narrative.

Talking of the NDP, this morning, an article in the Globe and Mail comments that, the party has “slipped to 12 per cent in the polls, according to one recent opinion survey…”

Well that doesn’t even make sense. Slipped in the polls, plural, according to one survey?

Many reporters are having trouble understanding the exact motivation for the NDP’s lack of enthusiasm for an election, so they have seized on one poll, that produced by Ipsos Reid this week, which shows the NDP at just 12%, a whopping one-third below their support in the last election.

However, every other recent poll  — and there have been lots of them — put the NDP in the 15-17% range, only slightly below their 2008 performance.

Of course, Ipsos may be right. Generally speaking, the consensus of polls is a more reliable indicator of what is happening in the real world than one outlier, though it is undoubtedly true that occasionally outliers prove to be more accurate than the consensus.

What we can say for sure, however, is that one poll can’t be many, just for the sake of bolstering a journalistic narrative.

A good rule of thumb: if your sentence doesn’t make literal sense, give it a re-think.

Paul Adams teaches journalism at Carleton and is executive director of EKOS Research Associates, a polling firm.

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.