06 September 2011

What you can see at the horse race…

Horse race polls are the heights of political journalism* in some circles despite the fact they tell very little about what is happening in voters’ heads.

But since this is all there is, let’s look at the latest Corporate Research Associates poll and see what it tells us.

The provincial Conservatives are at 40% of respondents down from 44% in May.  The New Democrats are at 18%, up from 15% and the Liberals remain at 16%.  Undecideds are up to 26% from 23% in May.

The Liberals and NDP have swapped places but all of the changes are well within the polls horrendous margin of error of plus or minus 4.9%.

For those unfamiliar with the numbers, what you just got was the CRA numbers adjusted as a percentage of poll respondents, not as the very misleading percentage of decideds that CRA uses.

Let’s try some observations:

  • All that Tory poll goosing – unprecedented in volume and timed to match CRA’s polling exactly – was a complete waste of time.
  • You can also put the jack boots to any suggestion that the NDP had a Jack Boost and are on their way to replacing the Liberals as the official opposition. The Dipper torque machine will be in hyper drive but this is really nothing to write home about…yet.  The local NDP still have not produced the kinds of polling numbers you’d need to see in order to confirm any switching to the Orange as the leading opposition party.
  • The Liberals experienced no change despite having a new leader for the entire polling period and attracting consistent news coverage for a week or so beforehand.  This poll should be a massive wake-up call for them. The only question at this point is whether or not they will hit the snooze button.

Now let’s try something a bit more complicated.

Even if you accept CRA polls, we know that there’s been a fairly steady slide away from the Tories for most of past 18 months.  Since Danny left, the slide stopped, reversed course and carried on downward again. 

We also know that CRA polling seems to pick up about 15 to 20 percentage points for the Tories that doesn’t show up at the polls.  Their Liberal and NDP numbers seem to be spot on or close enough for government work.

So here’s where the fun can start.  Shave 15 to 20 points off the stated Conservative number in the adjusted CRA poll results and you start to see Tory support down around 25% in May and 20% in August.

You can tell the Conservatives are edgy because of the orgy of politicking with public money they’ve all been doing.  Kathy Dunderdale has been campaigning already in areas where the Tories are perceived as being weak, namely the Burin Peninsula and central Newfoundland.  The Tories don’t have a lock on things in several places in the province and they know it.

So just for the heck of it, let’s imagine what might happen if the CRA results we see in August are pretty much what turns out in October.

Here’s one scenario run through an amazing, colossal supercomputing vote-a-tron machine kept hidden at a secret location, and offered here purely for entertainment purposes.

Using these most recent, corrected CRA results, you could still have the Tories forming a comfortable majority of more than 34 seats and as many as 37.  The Liberals would pick up seven or eight and the NDP could win as many as three or four.

Bay of Islands, Humber Valley, Isles of Notre Dame and Torngat Mountains would swing Liberal in that scenario.  The NDP could pick up Burin-Placentia West and Labrador West.

There could be close races in Grand Falls/Windsor-Buchans, Lake Melville, Placentia and St. Mary’s, St. Barbe and St. John’s East.

There’s still a long way to go before polling day and lots can change between now and then.  Voters appear to be ripe for a significant change.  Too bad none of the parties are offering one.

Just remember:  in the scenario we just walked through, the number of people staying home rather than voting would be at a historic high level.  No political party in Newfoundland and Labrador could crow about that.

Horse race polls - as they are normally used -  are no fun.

But if you look beyond the normal, all sorts of amusing things suddenly appear.

- srbp -

Ya gotta chuckle update: CBC’s lede is classic:

The governing Tories are holding a strong lead heading into October's election, while the NDP is challenging the Liberals for second place, a new poll shows.

Gal-o-war is way out in front and Townie Pride is nose and nose with Western Boy for second.

Total crap, of course.

Like this line later on that adds more turds to the total crap offered up front:

The fact that the NDP, not the Liberals, are in second place appears to set the stage for a competition for the Opposition.

That would be true if it wasn’t for the fact that it is false.  The only way such a proposition floats is if having the second biggest number of decided respondents to a CRA poll question actually translates into seats.

It doesn’t, but that obviously isn’t important.  Twenty-four is bigger than 22 so the NDP must be in second and challenging for official opposition status.

To make matters much worse, CBC misrepresents CRA’s quarterly advertising poll as a tracking poll.  It isn’t. Tracking polls are repeated much more frequently than once every three months.  They are averaged over time to give a moving picture of trends.  As that 1998 link to a CNN piece notes, a daily tracker will show fluctuations for specific events on a daily basis.  A weekly tracking poll will wipe out some of those daily blips to show longer trending.

CRA’s poll once every three months, with only three questions and with a margin of error that borders on the laughable tells you very little worthwhile. In 2007, CRA missed the vote result for the Conservatives by more than 20 percentage points.

- srbp -