19 February 2015

Stragedy and Polls: Chop House version #nlpoli

Public opinion polls are a really useful thing in politics.

The Liberals did a poll the weekend before the Liberals and Conservatives voted to slash public representation in the legislature.  They bought into the scheme in largest part because it looked hugely popular.

The problem with the poll results is that they didn’t tell the Liberals anything useful. You can see the same fundamental problem in the poll commissioned by NTV from MQO.

Neither poll  - apparently  - asked how important membership in the House was to them.

If you asked people to rank their top three public issues at the moment, chopping seats in the House wouldn’t be among them. Go crazy and ask people for their top 10 list.  No cuts to the House.

Spend hours with people in the province talking about the things on their mind and you will not find too many who put cutting seats in the House of Assembly on their list, let alone at the top of it.

People don;t think much of politicians at the best of times.  With a big financial problem in government, they still wouldn’t put cuts to the House near the top of their list.

But if you prompt them by asking a question like “do you think the government should cut seats in the House of Assembly?”  odds are good you’ll get a bunch who will say yes.

The Liberals found that out, apparently, although your humble e-scribbler has never seen the poll results or even seen or heard any numbers in it.  And NTV got the same result earlier this month when they sent MQO into the field.

NTV got 51% in favour of the cuts, 36% against it, and 13% who had no opinion.

Here’s how you know people aren’t really big on this cuts thing.  When NTV asked if they supported being in a larger district, the numbers flipped.  Fifty-one percent didn’t like it.  There’s no way of knowing for sure – without asking people – but those results suggest that people don’t really understand what cutting seats in the House means. You can’t cut the number of seats in the House and not put everyone in a bigger district.  Fewer seats means less representation and bigger districts.


Earle McCurdy is already out there trying to spin this as the portent of doom for the “unholy alliance” of the Liberals and Conservatives.  Once all those people in rural Newfoundland realise they are going to get shafted by this cuts thing, they’ll rebel.

While that makes a colourful tweet,  and an inviting image for people who love political carnage,  the reality is we can’t tell how those 51% of respondents against big districts lay out geographically.  Odds are they are laid out equally around the province. Until someone does another poll that shows how those views lay out by age, sex,  geography and so on, we can;t be sure if this result is popular in one part of the province or another.

Imagine for a second that all the people who love the idea are in and around St. John’s and all the people who don’t like it because it makes for bigger districts are all in rural Newfoundland.  Just imagine.

It won’t matter a pinch of proverbial rat crap. Earle’s evocative language is irrelevant. That’s because people don’t really care about this issue.

Chopping the House is not one of their biggies.

Not a vote driver.

People will see the district maps sometime after the House is closed in June. They will have other things on their mind. If things turn out half as bad as they look, the layoffs and program cuts will be way more important than the few lost members of the House of Assembly.they’ve lost.

With all that information, now go back to the beginning of January.  You are sitting in the Liberal office and you have a poll that shows people like this idea of cuts to the House but it isn’t important to them.  Something else is. 

What would you have done:  sided with the government or focused on that thing people are more concerned about?

Polls are really useful things in politics.  But only if you ask the right questions.