26 July 2012

Gander at the goosing #nlpoli

Apparently, your humble e-scribbler got on Steve Kent’s nerves.

The Conservative politician and his friends have been bombarding Twitter and Open Line shows since the middle of July will all sorts of their old poll-goosing tactics.  So yours truly has been re-tweeting some of the little comments with an added remark like “Gee, you’d swear a poll was coming.”

Small stuff.

But apparently enough to go right up Kent’s nose in a bad way.

He replied on Wednesday:



The fact he commented at all is a gigantic tell:  if the poll comments were wrong, he could just ignore them and laugh.  The re-tweets got on his nerves so badly that Kent’s only reply was to say something that was really – obviously  - ridiculous.

Then again, Steve was just repeating the same silly denials his boss did last year when reporters asked about the flurry of money releases.  That doesn’t make Steve’s comments less ridiculous:  it just goes to show the extent to which all the people involved only have one stock response and just use it over and over again.

First,  governing political parties – especially successful ones like Kent’s  -  guide themselves by public opinion.  Polls are one of the ways they gauge that opinion.  D’uh.

Second, we already know that what Kent claimed just isn’t true. It’s a matter of public record.  Remember that flag ripping down thing in 2004?  Kent does because, as mayor of Mount Pearl at the time, he took part in the political abuse of a national symbol. Well, it’s no accident that Danny Williams put the flags back to the top of the pole when the Tories got polling that showed it went over with the public like the proverbial fart in church.

Third, it’s also a matter of public record that Kent’s party used to co-ordinate news releases and the open line assaults to coincide with the four times in the year when they knew the government pollster was in the field.  This is not a matter of opinion:  there’s research to back it up.  Political scientists Alex Marland and Matthew Kerby studied the way provincial politicians have been using talk radio.  They found, among other things, that:

The manipulation of talk radio follows a distinct timing pattern in Newfoundland and Labrador. The political parties intensify their jostling for public support over a two-week window every quarter. This coincides with the only publicly released opinion poll results that are widely reported across the province.

The Tories don’t use CRA polls to test public opinion, though.  They’ve used CRA polls as justification for whatever they happen to be doing:  we are right because we are popular, sez them, and popular because we are right.  All the effort they put into manipulating the polls used to pay off in that it let them excuse whatever they did because they looked like they were popular.  Note the word:  “looked”.  The whole thing was about appearances.

As everyone knows by now the Tories have been plunging in the polls.  Part of that is because the Tories under Kathy Dunderdale have stopped or have had difficulty organizing their quarterly poll goosing. Another part has been the introduction of polls, like Environics’ recent effort, that come when the Tories aren’t goosing any way.

The drop in popular support isn’t an illusion, though. The Tories lost huge swaths of their usual base in metro St. John’s to the New Democrats.  Environics’ recent poll fits with the trend that shows even more Tory support bleeding away since last October.

The Tories are trying to win back some of that support, even if only in appearance.  Since CRA is back in the field in August, the Tories started a full court press of HappyNews two full weeks in advance in an effort to counteract the news reports from the disastrous spring sitting of the legislature.  They’ll likely carry on well into August.

Time will tell if the Tory barrage works.  One difficulty they might find is that the provincial Conservatives aren’t the only ones working the crowd any more. The Liberals are basically out of it, just like they have been for years.

The New Democrats, though,  have been campaigning hard across the province since the legislature closed. That will help to cement their support and potentially draw new supporters.  No one should be surprised if a few other things happened during August to make sure the Conservatives don’t have the opinion field all to themselves.

The fear of declining public support is driving the Tory poll-goosing mania these past few weeks.  After a half dozen years of it or more, that much is obvious by now.

And the fear of declining public opinion is why Kent and his pals are really touchy when someone points out that they are still up to the same old schtick.

Not guided by opinion polls, Steve?  Pull the other one it’s got bells on it.