22 October 2015

Polls, St. John’s East, and the coming provincial election #nlpoli

SRBP told you on Tuesday morning that the federal election did not bode well for the New Democrats and Conservatives in the province.

The Liberals are just better organized than the other parties.  They can identify their voters,  keep in touch with them, and get them to the polls far better than the New Democrats or the Conservatives.  That’s how you win elections.  And when you are that much better at it than all the others, the odds go up exponentially that you will get more and more seats than people might expect. 

There’s way more to it than just the idea that the Liberals have a computer program that does today what we used to do on index cards.  Campaigns converted to Excel and other spreadsheet programs back when personal computers first appeared.

Organization is also about how the parties collect information and what they do with it. The Liberals are light years ahead of the competition, as Monday’s results showed.

There was a tidbit of hard information in David Cochrane’s column on Wednesday that really tell a much larger story.  Both in St. John’s East and St. John’s South- Mount Pearl,  the NDP campaigns thought their candidates were ahead of the Liberals by double digits.  Cochrane refers to then as “internal” polls. 

Hang on a sec.

There’s polls and then there’s polls

What the media like to call “internal” polls seems to mean the result of telephone and door-to-door canvassing by candidates and their campaign volunteers.  That’s a notoriously unreliable source of information not because voters lie as Charlene Johnson would have it – but that they speak in code. The campaign workers have to be able to interpret the coded language of voters accurately in order to get it right. 

Think of it this way.  If the voters will vote for you,  then they will tell you. Otherwise, they might be brazen enough to say they are voting for the other guy.  More often than not they will say things like “I am still making up my mind.”  That might be true and it might be a bit of code.   other folks won;t even tell you what they plan to do, insisting that it is none of anyone’s business how they plan to vote on a secret ballot.

So how do you figure it out?  Well, you have to pull together all sorts of information from all sorts of sources.  Some campaigns even use outside research companies to do detailed voter research to help them identify supporters, to test how the voters are responding to their candidates or to find out what issues voters are concerned about.  That happens mostly at the national level but these days it happens much closer to the individual district level.


The NDP problem wasn’t confined to this province. On election night, CTV’s Bob Fife gave three no-shit estimates he’d gotten from anonymous sources within all three major parties. Party folks do that sometimes.  In fact, party folks are less likely to lie about poll results because it destroys their credibility with the media and everyone else.   A fake poll – as some claimed the Liberal numbers last weekend were – just isn’t the way experienced politicians do business. 

Anyway, Fife’s no-duff estimates went like this:

  • Liberals forecast they get between 160 and 190 seats.  They got 184.
  • The Conservatives said they expected to win 100.  They got 99.
  • The NDP expected to win in the 60s, according to Fife, and wound up in the 40s. 

In other words, the NDP expected to get 50% more than they did. That’s a huge margin of error. That sort of fundamental disconnect between the campaign and reality is also reflected in the NDP insistence right to the end that they were a mere 35 seats away from a majority government. 

Bear in mind that the publicly available polls all had the NDP in third place at that point.  So too did all the sorts of polls done by the Liberals and federal Conservatives that they didn’t share with the public or, in the case of St. John’s East, don’t typically share.  The  Grits and the federal Tories have insights into the electorate you just don’t get in the conventional media and – apparently – that the NDP doesn’t have either. That insight comes from a sophisticated approach to managing information.

That little tidbit of information the NDP gave David Cochrane revealed a huge amount of detail about the inner workings of the NDP political machine in Newfoundland and Labrador.


Then there is another problem the NDP has.  It’s unique to them because hard core NDP supporters seem to believe that their excrement has been magically rendered devoid of all odour.

You can see that in this absolutely glorious quote that  Jack Harris gave on election night.  It turned up in a series of quotes in a CBC story by Laura Howells and she was right to pick it out.

“Someone said a long time ago that people have the right to be wrong. I think the logic would be to continue to have an NDP representative because that's who's there and that's who's doing the job that people tell me that they like, but that's not always — the logic doesn't always play a big role in politics."

If that doesn’t smack of arrogance, entitlement, and a fundamental disdain for democracy and voters,  then nothing does.

That sort of arrogance tends to breed another problem among New Democrats and that was evident as well in the two St, John’s ridings.  It’s laziness.

The NDP in St. John;’s East just didn’t work very hard. They rested on their tattered laurels.   Ryan Cleary wasn’t too stressed early in his campaign, either.  In fact,  neither of them seemed to pay much attention to what was going on since even toward the end of the campaign, you’d see Ryan Cleary talking about how they only needed 35 more seats to win.  The NDP assumed they were safe and didn’t have to work.

When confronted with signs that things weren’t going well, the NDP first response was to claim the whole thing was just a dirty Liberal trick.  Remember their response to the storm of controversy surrounding the Mulcair “Newfie” comment?  Well, at the end of the campaign they ignored the public polls showing NDP support was dwindling, apparently.  Then they dismissed the polls the Liberals released in the East as just a dirty lie.

Some trick.

Some lie.

The provincial reflection of the federal result

The provincial NDP and federal NDP are virtually indistinguishable.  So if they performed poorly federally, there’s no reason to believe they will be any better on the ground come the end of November.  The NDP have serious problems. The party split in 2013 was about this lack of election preparation:  forget all the bullshit from Lorraine and her crowd. The real problem was a deep division about the fact that Lorraine and the rest of the NDP leadership team weren’t doing anything to get ready for the 2015 election.

Meanwhile, the provincial Conservatives are in the same fundamental place as the NDP  but for different reasons.  The 2008 feud destroyed the provincial Conservatives’ access to modern campaign techniques.  Danny Williams and his crowd did nothing to build a local version of what modern parties do in elections.  The result, coming on November 30, is going to be ugly.

Meanwhile, the Conservatives are no less delusional than the New Democrats. Check comments by deputy premier Steve Kent of Twitter on election night.  Tweet after tweet Monday night about how he was looking forward to working with the new federal government.  Or Paul Davis,  like Kathy Dunderdale, looking at the Liberal come-from-behind as proof the local Conservatives might be spared from The Pit.  There’s reality.  There’s where the provincial Conservatives’ heads are.  You cannot even see the one place from the other.

The race is already on

The provincial election is already on.  Liberals were all over the province on Wednesday putting up signs. The NDP,  still reeling from the disaster have theirs littered all over St. John’s.  That’s a sign of their internal problems.

Liberals have been campaigning for longer. On October 13, they were set to help constituents file special ballots for the November election. That’s the day – as SRBP told you – that the provincial electoral office started accepting votes.  It’s highly unlikely that the NDP or the Conservatives are doing the same. Neither party has a candidate in most districts.  And while the Tories aren’t nursing any wounds this week, the NDP are still sooking.

Monday might produce another unwelcome problem for the provincial NDP.  If there’s any fear of getting wiped out in November, expect the hard core Dippers to focus every ounce of their effort on Lorraine in St. John’s East. Everyone else is expendable, as George Murphy learned. Earle might well learn the same hard lesson.

If that wasn’t bad enough,  Earle should worry that that lean and hungry Ryan Cleary has nothing to do these days.

Nothing to do that is, except look around for a job.