Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Voter Turnout in British Columbia

{P.S. Since I first wrote this blog two interesting facts have come to light:
1. High turnout in the  absentee and advance polls: According to Elections BC, the number of absentee ballots cast (180,000) this election is double that of 2009, and 380,741 votes were cast in advance polls at the 85 constituencies around B.C. --a jump of 28% over 2009, despite an overall drop in voter turnout.

2. Intensive polling by the Liberals was missing in the NDP campaign --The tweeting by Alison Redford and others about "what do pollsters know" misses the point that in fact it was better inside polling that won the day--"Without polling in key swing ridings -- while the BC Liberals were reportedly canvassing 25 seats every day -- and with province-wide public polling showing a substantial if expected narrowing of their lead, the BC NDP was flying blind."--Bill Tieleman, The Tyee.}

The two biggest trends in elections in recent years have been increasing volatility of the electorate and declining voter turnout.  The real lesson of the B.C. election for all future campaigns is how the BC Liberals, through a combination of aggressive negative advertising,  carefully targeted polling, and a bit of luck, were able to make those two trends work to their advantage rather than to their disadvantage.   (In her victory speech on election night, premier Clark even mentioned the good people "who don't normally think about politics" --perhaps revealing something about who she had successfully targeted in the campaign. Very sobering for enthusiasts of deliberative democracy!)

The numbers from BC are quite underwhelming: Greens fell by 4,000; Libs lost 28,000 votes, and the NDP fell by 48,000. Clearly, people who actually vote are dying off rapidly:
The Green Party:
 2001 197,231 votes
2005 161,849
2009 134,570
2013 130,471

At this rate, the Greens should disappear completely by 2037.

2001 343,156 votes
2005 731,719
2009 691,564
2013 643,399
Thank you, Adrian , for an inspiring campaign.

2001 916,888 votes
2005 807,118
2009 751,661
2013 723,618

Great campaign, Christy. But was it really that great?

 All in all, NDP have lost about 88,000 since their high water mark in 2005 and the Liberals are down almost 200,000 since theirs in 2001.


Voter turnouts  in the vicinity of 50% ; constant electioneering and increasing resort to personal attack ads that are effective in gaining a share of the vote but have a dampening effect on turnout because they turn people off. Does this sound like another country that I could mention?  Partly it is a reflection of the personalities and ideologies of our national leaders in recent years, but it may also be an unintended consequence of fixed election dates, just as the increased centralization of power in the prime minister's office and in the leader's office was an unintended consequence of having leaders chosen by party members instead of MPs and MLAs.  Maybe we should consider a return to the first principles of parliamentary government?

I have been reluctant to endorse mandatory voting as a substitute for real electoral reform (i.e. partial proportional representation or an alternative ballot). It has been said that not voting makes a statement. Nevertheless, the citizens of B.C. should get out and vote, and a mandatory voting law would now get my support.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Synopsis of BC Election Result: We Should Have Known

{The following has been submitted for publication in the Omineca Express and Anahim-Nimpo Messenger--MC}

I accept my share of humble pie for not predicting the re- election of the B.C. Liberals on May 17, 2013.  While I saw the narrowing gap in the polls as the day of decision approached, I told myself that polls  often narrow at that moment, and that the NDP should still be able to hang on to a 5% lead and with that receive a healthy majority of seats in the Legislature. But we should have known: the Conservative vote had collapsed, and the Green vote hadn’t—a sure fire sign that the Free Enterprise coalition was back together again, and when truly united they have never fallen.

Ironically, the huge lead that the NDP  had  long enjoyed had the effect of dissolving Conservative support while encouraging Greens to demand more—splitting the progressive vote.  Meanwhile, Clark herself—rightly criticized for being more comfortable with the media spotlight than she is with the nuances of policy or the details of administration---came into her own during the campaign. She stayed "on message", always equating the Liberals with a good economy, and the NDP with the “bad economy” of the 90's.

This myth-making was silly and intentionally misleading, at best.  The truth is that the economy on the whole was not made worse by the NDP in the 1990s: if it was difficult to compensate for the effects of  the Asian financial crisis, it was because of softwood lumber quotas which made it difficult to switch production  to the US market, and not because of anything the NDP did wrong. Conversely, the economy was not made much better by the Liberals since 2001: if B.C.  was able to compensate for the bottom falling out of the U.S. housing market in 2007-2008, it was because of the huge surge in demand from a very different Asian economy, and not because Gordon Campbell shifted the tax burden away from business and wealthy people with his carbon tax and HST.

So why couldn’t the NDP effectively fight back?  Dix must have been blinded, as we all were, by the poll numbers.  But he  also made a clear mistake. Once he had unequivocally rejected the planned Northern Gateway pipeline and had endorsed the implementation of Justice Cohen’s Report on fish farming, he should have stopped trying to satisfy the greens and endorsed both Kinder Morgan and the idea of gaining revenue from Liquified Natural Gas.  The best policies of the 1990s came from just such a balancing act between environmental and economic interests: think of the CORE process, the Land Use Plans, Forest Renewal and the Treaty Process.  (Yes, Virginia, there were some good policies in the 1990s.)  When Dix lost that balance, thereby lending credence to his opponent, he lost the election.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Nigel Wright, Adrian Dix are this Week's Unexpected Losers

Nigel Wright and Adrian Dix are both people that I have written about, in a generally critical vein. But neither of them are people who I expected to flame out spectacularly in the ways that they did during this past week.

Never heard of Nigel Wright? I first wrote about him in an article that I did for The Mark News back in September 2010. (An abridged version of that article also appeared here, on this blog. ) That he represents a conduit between Stephen Harper and Gerry Schwartz was, and is, of utmost significance. While some people may think that it is amazing that somebody this smart and successful would be so foolish as to write a $90,000 cheque to Mike Duffy, you have to remember that  he is wealthy for the same reason that Gerry Schwartz and Mitt Romney are--because of his role in a few successful leveraged buy-outs.  That $90,000 cheque was a classic private-sector solution to a public sector problem, and a classic illustration of why that doesn't always work.  (Besides,  was hired because of his connections as much as for his genius. )

As for Adrian Dix, I have frequently criticized him and strongly opposed his challenge for the leadership. Partly this was due to a personal preference on my part: I am suspicious of professional politicians and prefer people who have accomplished something else in life.  I saw his successes in Opposition as the flipside of a losing proposition: http://www.blogger.com/blogger.g?blogID=13194839#editor/target=post;postID=1004746570863285659;onPublishedMenu=allposts;onClosedMenu=allposts;postNum=6;src=postname

I also reasoned that Carole James would have nearly as good a chance to win in 2013, and that there would be a further downside to Dix, win or lose: that he could prevent moderate and progressive forces from coalescing behind Gregor Robertson in 2017:   http://www.blogger.com/blogger.g?blogID=13194839#editor/target=post;postID=6251725563572598562;onPublishedMenu=allposts;onClosedMenu=allposts;postNum=11;src=postname

Now, I am more optimistic that Dix can be convinced to clear the way when Robertson's term of office in the Vancouver mayor's chair ends in the fall of 2014.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Pipelines and Politics

If the election of the B.C. Liberals leads to a doubling of the Kinder Morgan line, and maybe even the building of the Northern gateway, and Andrew Weaver is leading the fight in the Legislature, that could swell the ranks of the Greens, thereby once again splitting the vote. Remember, THE LIBERAL PARTY ACTUALLY TOOK OUT ADS FOR JANE STERK, because they were banking on a  split vote there.


Four Factors explain Declining Reliability of Election Polls

(1)Growing voter volatility means, other things equal, there is a greater margin of error; (2)lower turnout means you have to determine whether voters surveyed intend to vote; and (3) changing technology means that land lines are either harder to access or less representative as a sample when they are reached.

It is (4) the fourth factor, explained in this article in the Vancouver Sun by Jooan Bryden, that is perhaps least well known or understood; that is the discrepancy between more sophisticated and fine-tuned survey techniques and more standardized methodologies that public opinion conducted for media organizations tend to believe in.  What fooled me in last Tuesday's election was that I had been reassured because I had heard that pollsters were doing online surveys that were confirming their other data; Tom Barrett's article  in The Tyee explains the difficulty with online polling , in terms of self-selection and representativeness. 

What is needed is some kind of methodology for integrating online, cell  and land line so that they compensate for each others' weaknesses. Easier said than done.  But more to the point, media and NDP will need to match the more well-heeled Liberal and Conservative campaigns  in conducting intensive, non standardized interviews and other methods. The simple fact is that, like weather forecasting,  standard polling is becoming less accurate rather than more so, due to very large structural factors that are difficult to fully comprehend and manage. But that doesn't mean that we should stop polling any more than it means that we should stop watching weather forecasts.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

The Tilted Pendulum

After last week's speculation about an "ideal" election result, it is perhaps time to come down to Earth and realize that  after a week of Christy Clark doing what she does best (hysterical economic drum-beating and mugging in front of cameras) the polls have narrowed to single-digit numbers and that we are about to have a normal B.C. election after all.

That the NDP never wins landslide elections  was evident even in 1991, when the Vander Zalm Socred government's  torch was passed to a hapless Rita Johnston and a large group of alienated swing voters went to...the Liberals. 

The irony is that Adrian Dix's cautious image is actually a pretty good indication of what he will be like in government: a cautious, control-and-spin incrementalist in the Stephen Harper mold.  In this he largely represents  the cohort of people who came as youngsters to Victoria in 1991 and who now have a decade of government as well as a decade of opposition under their belts.

Recklessness was a product of Glen Clark's youth  and predisposition, reinforced by his early successes.  Hesitancy and myopia was a product of Harcourt's decency and lack of experience in non-municipal government. Dix is not especially prone to either one of these flaws. What remains to be seen is whether someone who is so purely a political animal can actually make good public policy that isn't overly subordinated to communications strategy. That would be a pleasant surprise.

Sunday, May 05, 2013

The Ideal BC Election Result

Last year's provincial election in Alberta, and the 2011 federal election, show that the science of election polling is a bit like weather forecasting: something that is being knocked backwards by structural changes beyond anyone's control.  In addition to growing voter volatility, technological and demographic change has made the land-line bias in traditional telephone surveys a real problem that major polling organizations have been scrambling to overcome.

But here's the thing: any remaining land line bias in opinion surveys tends to under-estimate the youth vote. And in B.C. the youth vote will tend to be at least as supportive of the NDP or the Greens as the general population. Therefore, I don't expect the "land line" argument to help the Liberals in a big way.  There are some indications of a tighter race in the closing week, but that is to be expected as people start to critically look at the prospective NDP government.

No doubt I am influenced by wishful thinking, but the result I am predicting is also an ideal result for British Columbia:  a strong, new government with a good blend of experience and fresh blood; a strong Liberal Opposition with enough seats to man all committees and hold the new government to account; and room for independents, third parties to add more to the quality of public debate.

 I belong to a generation that remembers a government that had a couple of intellectual bright lights (Pat McGeer and Jack Davis) as well as a Legislature that contained a couple of independent third party MLAs (Gordon Gibson and Scott Wallace) who often made Question Period worth watching and Hansard worth reading. I am hoping that next week's election will see a return of those elements to the main stage of  B.C. politics.

  Hopefully, the two Andrews (Weaver and Wilkinson) will add intellectual distinction and professional achievement to the mix, while Vicky Huntington and Bob Simpson will guarantee independence of opinion and continuing momentum in the legislature for democratic reform:

NDP: 58
Liberals 20
Conservatives  4
Independents 2
Green 1