09 December 2008

Poll goosing harder than ever

CRA The provincial government's pollster released the results of its most recent work on Tuesday. The graph with the orange line shows the party support numbers for the Provincial Conservatives for the past year and a bit as reported by Corporate Research Associates.

Interestingly enough the polling period included a bunch of hype at the front end about aluminum smelters in Labrador in addition to the usual poll goosing goodies.

The Premier rushed out the story of "Have" province status a couple of days before the surveying started.  There was more than a bit of media coverage for that and the associated video and the great party he was planning.

Of course, he knew at the time that the province might opt for the O'Brien Equalization formula and thereby become a "have Not" province again before the fiscal year was out, but that never stood in the way of a good goose.

Odd that he rushed that story out there wasn't it?  Almost like he knew the pollster was about to start calling people.

The polling period cut off before AbitibiBowater made its announcement.

In any event, it's interest to look at the party support numbers, adjusted as a percentage of all respondents.

That's very different from giving it as a percentage of decideds.  That number fluctuates a bit.  When you report as a percentage of decideds you inflate the apparent level of support for one option or another.  Like in this case:  the Provincial Conservatives have these wildly stratospheric numbers which feed into the myth of political infallibility and invincibility.

real provincial conservativeSo hang on a second now.  In the blue graph, we have the same figures adjusted to take into account the undecideds. 

You still wind up with the climb at the front and the drop in the past quarter.  In between, though, you don't have the same steady state.  Instead you get a gradual decline.

But then there's that bit at the end.  A drop of 11 points since this time last year, six of which came in the past three months. That's an oil-price-like decline.

The numbers themselves aren't all that stratospheric.  In fact,  one suspects that people might have an easier time accepting the blue numbers these days given the state of the economy and the recent troubles in public sector bargaining.

Either way there's a precipitous decline over the last quarter that is surely causing a few people to sit up and take notice.  Consider the amount of fairly obviously orchestrated poll goosing that went on - including the smelter and the "Have" province crap - all of which still added up to a decline.

Now given the huge gap between the Conservatives and the other two parties, it's not like people around here are going to start seizing airports or anything.  They aren't migrating across the border to find water and medical care. 

Still, though, if local media are going to report poll results - even as sparsely as some did on Tuesday - they should apply a little analysis.  Episodes like the "Have province" should be put in a context that is, to be brutally frank about it, so damned obvious after four years of relentless poll goosing that it's pretty hard to miss it.

The government may have put has happy a face on the financial situation as possible but it certainly looks like something is changing in the political landscape.  Let's see what the next couple of quarters bring.