01 November 2013

One poll to rule them all… #nlpoli

The way things go in Newfoundland and Labrador, you can sometimes think that some things only go on here. 

Not so. 

Take a short trip, if you can spare a second,  to Manitoba and the riding of Brandon-Souris.  The editor of the Brandon Sun published an e-mail last week that went from a federal Conservative political staffer out to thousands of people on a series of distribution lists.

The e-mail asked the recipients to visit the Brandon Sun’s website and goose a poll involving the Conservative candidate in the by-election that will take place in the federal riding late in November.  As the editor notes, many of the people receiving the e-mail would have received it while they were supposed to be doing public business, not partisan work. 

The local tie-in to the e-mail will be obvious to anyone familiar with the penchant of the provincial Conservatives in this province to goose online media polls.

And since we are talking about polls, those of you following the ongoing leadership crisis in the New Democratic Party will be interested in the way some current and future politicians keyed on the same things.

Lorraine Michael and her supporters initially made a big deal out of her standing in public opinion polls.  She’s turned up as the most popular opposition leader both locally and nationally over the past year.

And in the darkness…

That reference to polls didn’t escape the notice of former Conservative cabinet minister Trevor Taylor.  In his Tuesday column at the Telegram, Taylor made a curious observation

Again, you can only come to one conclusion after the NDP caucus actions of the past week: they don’t believe the polls reflect the electorate’s true feelings about who they want to lead the province. They obviously see, as I have said before, Ms. Michael as a pretty good deckhand, but not the next skipper.

The New Democratic caucus turned on Lorraine, according to Trevor,  because they knew the polls were wrong.  The caucus doesn’t “believe the polls reflect the electorate’s true feelings.”

Now to normal people that’s as ridiculous as paying people to spend hours goosing VOCM’s question of the day. To Conservatives like Taylor, however, they are not only obsessed with polls, they have obviously been having a hard time figuring out why the polls have turned against them.

“Not real” seems to be the conclusion they’ve reached.  There’s no evidence to support that belief. Taylor is just rationalising like people tend to do when reality doesn’t match their beliefs. It is actually a lot less stressful for people to imagine all sorts of ridiculous things to explain the discrepancy than it is to change their beliefs and their behaviour. 

Trevor relied on a few other cherished Conservative rationalisations  in the column, as well.  The most blatant one is the claim that the 2011 NDP wins in St. John’s were just a matter of riding on Jack Layton’s coat-tails.   That would be true except for the fact that the New Democrats soared in the polls long after Layton was cold and in the ground.  In 2012, for example, the NDP in this provide hit 45% in the MQO monthly survey. They stayed well above the Conservatives for months. Jack had nothing to do with it.

True Feelings

As someone who actively participated in manipulating public opinion polls and deceive the public, Trevor is not one to talk credibly about polls and the true feeling of the electorate.

If you look at the most recent polls, though you can see something that the Conservatives like Shawn Skinner and Trevor Taylor evidently couldn’t see. 

It doesn’t matter whether you look at the most recent Environics leader poll,  the CRA quarterly polls, or the NTV/MQO poll released this week.  They all tell much the same story.  Lorraine Michael is personally popular. 

Over the past six or eight months, though, the New Democratic Party isn’t faring as well.  In fact, they’ve stagnated.  Here’s the trending for the CRA polls over the past year or so, including the most recent result from August 2013.

If anything, what the New Democratic caucus was looking at wasn’t Lorraine’s polling numbers, but the party’s.  Someone whose time in politics was characterised by an unprecedented program of  manipulation and deception entirely at public expense could never really be expected to understand what truth public opinion polls really can show.