Thursday, February 16, 2017

The Pollcast: Behind the scenes of the Conservative leadership race

With 14 candidates in the running, more than a year of campaigning and over a dozen debates to be held before the votes are finally counted on May 27, the Conservative leadership campaign poses unique challenges to journalists.

How do we balance coverage when there are so many candidates vying for attention? Which events are the pivotal ones in the race? And how do we gauge how the actual decision makers — expected to be no more than 150,000 Conservative party members that are eligible to vote — plan to cast their ballots?

The CBC's Catherine Cullen, who has been covering the leadership race since its beginning, joins me to discuss these challenges and what she is hearing and seeing behind the scenes on the campaign trail.

You can listen to the podcast heresubscribe to future episodes here, and listen to past episodes here.


  1. I think any specific reporter has to pick who they want as Leader and then report what is going on with them and around them ?

  2. Obviously a good reporter has to report what's making the news; event that are important and meaningful, impactful. Otherwise you're just writing for yourself-which is just fine for some.

    I wonder how many of those people who got selfies with O'Leary will vote for him? I think Bernier's approach more likely to produce results.

    1. bede,

      I suppose it all comes down to does it take a Quebec francophone to beat another Quebec-BC francophone?

    2. Justin, despite what he says is not from B.C. It is insulting to all British Columbians that he considers himself one of us. When I visit Alberta, I'm not an Albertan and I am certain I have lived longer in Alberta than Justin has resided in beautiful British Columbia. His mother Margaret is from Whistler, but, that is as close as Justin comes to being a British Columbian. Perhaps if Justin owned a second home in B.C. that he frequently visited, he could have a very weak claim to be from here, generally speaking however, a British Columbian is someone who spends the majority of their time in B.C. Indeed, being a British Columbian or a Quebecker is based on residency. Justin does not qualify.

      Can only a Quebec Francophone defeat a Quebec francophone?

      Yes and no. If the NDP or Tories can break the Liberal hold on Quebec Justin's prospects for re-election become tenuous. Bernier or Blaney could win 20+ seats in Quebec is my feeling probably reducing Justin to a minority.

      If Justin is defeated or reduced to a minority the primary cause will be Justin Trudeau not whomever the Tories or Dippers choose as their next leaders. A francophone Tory/ Dipper leader may help but, it is no guarantee of victory.

    3. bede,

      I would say Blaney's biggest problem is his previous mouth, in both official languages.

  3. Given the polls, O'Leary will win easily, since even in a run-off system it's almost impossible to make up a 16 point lead in later rounds. Stephane Dion just barely made up a 12 point lead in 2006 in the most shocking come-from-behind win in Canadian history, and that's only because he had time to make deals between voting rounds at a delegated convention. The Conservatives have an instant runoff system by all party members so no between-vote negotiations will be possible.

    The only chance anyone else has is Bernier, because he has at least some money and name recognition. But only if the media start focusing on an O'Leary-Bernier race almost immediately, which means all of the other serious candidates dropping out. Otherwise, the current media narrative of "Too many candidates; only O'Leary sticks out" will carry on until voting day and O'Leary will win without any real comparison of platforms.

  4. Come from behind victories aren't all that uncommon. Joe Clark made up a nearly 12% Claude Wagner lead on the first ballot in 1976, Mulroney made up a 7 point deficit in 1983. Alexa McDonough pulled off a similar feat in 1995 When despite a 5% lead Svend Robinson withdrew his nomination.

    In any case it is a moot point because the system the Conservative use is not one member one vote or a delegated convention. Instead points are awarded based on constituency results. Much like the electoral college it is as much about the number of constituencies as it is about the popular vote totals.

    Never mind the methodological problems of finding a large enough random sample of Conservative members. The leadership polls give us only the most opaque outline where the leadership race stands. The Forum poll that gave O'Leary a 16% lead on Lisa raitt also found 38% of repondents preferred someone else 11% greater than O'Leary's 27%.

    O'Leary could pull it off though- you're right about that. We've seen a businessman win a leadership race before: 1983; when Conrad Black as he was then known famously bused in a horde of unilingual francophone Quebecois delegates who miraculously came to support Mulroney in his time of greatest need.

    I think the electoral system whereby 50% of a constituency vote whether big or small equals 50 points greatly favours candidates like Bernier who have long experience within the party and constituency organisations with their ever important membership lists.

    1. I think geography also benefits Bernier. Beyond the thin ridings in Quebec, Newfoundland, PEI, and Nova Scotia all had lower turnouts for the CPC (13.2%, 19.0%, 17.4%). Assuming each riding has a proportional number of voting members to general voters, then those with bases in Alberta and Ontario need much larger support to make equal gains.

      Average CPC vote * Average Riding Size for each province:

      Quebec 19,251; PEI 6,660; NL 9,703; NS 12,759; NB 19,080; ON 39,193; SK 30,186; MB 32,796; AB 53,579; BC 34,781; Canada 32,096

    2. Capilano,

      That was one of Connie's hidden talents, if accurate.

      Yeah, my dough is on Bernier.

  5. You are right that the 100-point-per-riding system adds some uncertainty, but it might be illusory. Like the NHL point-for-losing-in-overtime, it can give the impression of a race that is closer than it is, but is unlikely to be decisive.

    In 2004, Belinda Stronach boosted her points score 12% vs her popular vote total by concentrating on ridings that had no organization and almost no members. The Conservatives are much more organized across the country now; in 2017 there will be no ridings casting under 10 votes, of which there were many in 2004. A candidate could still concentrate on ridings with low member numbers, but it won't work nearly as effectively now as then, and with so many candidates, that effect will dissipate. Eg., even if only 7 votes were cast in Hochelaga, it's unlikely that all 100 points will go to the same candidate as they did in 2004.

    Indeed, the members in ridings with less organization will need to rely more on media coverage to make their decision, which will help the frontrunners.

  6. OK, I take back where I said that no ridings will have under 10 votes, since it was published today that 38 ridings in Quebec have under 30 members. That should help Bernier significantly, but it won't be enough to overcome the nearly 20-point deficit in the popular vote vs. O'Leary, as the Forum poll suggests.

    I take the point that the Forum poll isn't completely reliable due to the small sample sizes of Conservative members. But even a poll with a high margin of error shouldn't be ignored. Even if the poll was wrong by 7 or 8 points, O'Leary would still have a commanding lead in the first round of voting, which no one will be able to organize to counter due to the instant run-off rule.

    I kind of hate instant run-off elections for a single office because:(a) how much thought doess anyone really put into their 8th vs. 9th choice? and (b) it eliminates the chance to reflect on only the most likely winners. The old Canadian Alliance system, a.k.a. the French Presidential system (one-member, one vote with a run-off among the top two contenders no one gets 50%+1) is better.

    1. Goaltender Interference,

      I take your point and certainly popularity helps but, it may also be illusionary. 27% of Canadians want O'Leary to be the next Conservative leader, that is not the same as; 27% of Canadians would vote for O'Leary for next Conservative leader. Yes Stronach only made up 12% v. Harper because of the riding formula but, given how little we know about the race among the electorate and the large field of candidates. I err on the side of caution, which given politics over the last year, may be silly.

      Regarding sample size: If it was plus or minus 8% O'Leary and Bernier would be tied: O'Leary19(-8)-Bernier 19(+8). At the end of the day I don't think there are enough solid data points to give anybody an accurate snapshot of where the race really stands.


COMMENT MODERATION POLICY - Please be respectful when commenting. If choosing to remain anonymous, please sign your comment with some sort of pseudonym to avoid confusion. Please do not use any derogatory terms for fellow commenters, parties, or politicians. Inflammatory and overly partisan comments will not be posted. PLEASE KEEP DISCUSSION ON TOPIC.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.