Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Three Wise Men

Yesterday, I attended an event organized by Canada 2020. Hosted by former CBC journalist Don Newman, the event featured Frank Graves of EKOS Research, Bruce Anderson of Harris-Decima, and Nik Nanos of Nanos Research. It was an extremely interesting 90 minute discussion, with presentations from the three pollsters preceding a panel discussion and a short question-and-answer period.

The first to present was Mr. Anderson. He brought a lot of numbers and many of them were very fascinating. He put up voting intention charts for Ontario, Quebec, and Canada as a whole, and from what I could see on the chart their last set of polling running up to October 3 or 4 put the Conservatives at 33% to the Liberals' 29%.

Mr. Anderson emphasised that urban and suburban women are the most politically significant demographic at the moment, as it is there that the Conservatives and Liberals have been fighting for support.

He also took a look at core vs. potential support. Harris-Decima's findings were that 18% of Canadians would only vote for the Conservatives. That represents their floor and their base. They also found that 50% of Canadians would consider voting Conservative. That would be their ceiling.

For the Liberals, the base or core support is made up of only 10% of Canadians, but 56% of Canadians would consider voting Liberal. While the Liberal floor is far lower than the Conservative floor, their ceiling is higher.

Harris-Decima also found that 11% of Canadians were on the fence between the Liberals and the Conservatives, the only two parties that they would consider supporting.

Mr. Anderson also hypothesized about a Canadian "Tea Party", finding that 19% of Canadians would consider joining such a party. While you might think that this group is made up entirely of the Conservative base, it isn't. The voting intention split of this group was more or less proportional to national voting intentions. I thought that to be incredibly interesting. He also found that on a divisive issue like the census, these "Tea Partiers" were split, indicating that it would be very difficult to form a Canadian Tea Party as its potential adherents aren't a monolithic block.

Next was Frank Graves, who embraced his new persona of a rabble-rouser, and was the comedian of the bunch. He also brought a lot of numbers, but most of them we've already seen in their weekly polls.

Mr. Graves was adamant that a majority government is not in the cards, but did say that he thought a Green Party seat could result from the next election.

With some numbers stretching back ten years, he argued that one of the most important changes in the Canadian political landscape of late has been that the concerns of Canadians have shifted strongly from social issues to economic ones. This seems to have happened primarily since the Liberals were defeated in 2006, and helps explain why the formerly "natural governing party" has been struggling.

Then it was Nik Nanos's turn. He didn't bring a Powerpoint slide but instead spoke about some of the new dynamics of Canadian politics. It was very interesting, and Susan Delacourt has a transcript of his remarks. Apparently I missed her, as I didn't see anyone I recognized in the crowd.

Mr. Nanos disagreed with Mr. Graves that a majority was impossible. He didn't argue that it was plausible, but just that it was still a possibility. He believes that the Conservatives are using a strategy of wedge politics to further their goals, focusing on pockets of voters rather than broad appeal. He said that the Conservative strategy seems to be as focused on getting their own supporters out to vote as urging the supporters of their opponents to stay home. Repelling voters in this way negatively effects how politics are done in the country.

While he has a point, this strategy can also backfire. I know several people who are so unhappy with this Conservative style of politics that they will be impelled to vote against the Conservatives, and for a Liberal Party that doesn't excite them whatsoever.

He spoke about how a Conservative majority without Quebec (which I believe to be virtually impossible) could radically change Canada's currently mild national unity debate. With the Parti Québécois poised to form the next government in Quebec beginning in 2012 or 2013, a Conservative majority elected in 2011 (and presumably surviving until 2015 or 2016) could mean dealing a strong hand to the sovereignty movement.

Mr. Nanos dismissed talk of a base or ceiling, such as the one featured in Mr. Anderson's presentation, as he said that a Gomery-type event can transform the political landscape. While I agree with him on that point, we really can only go on what is most likely to happen. We can't plan on such a thing happening, since you never know if it will or how it will benefit or punish a given party.

He spoke at length about how the internet has changed Canada's political discourse. Whereas before Canadians were more limited in how they got their information, and so were exposed to more differing views, the internet allows people to view only the kind of news or analysis that fits into their own worldview. What that does is group people together who share similar ideas but separates these groups from one another. It makes a more divided Canada.

All in all, it was a very interesting debate and set of presentations. Most of the time, you only get to see one pollster on TV for maybe eight minutes. But with three pollsters and 90 minutes, the audience was spoiled and, I think, better for the experience.