In key ridings, NDP failed to improve on 2009 results

By Tom Barrett
May 15, 2013
TheTyee.ca

One big reason the new B.C. political map looks so much like the old one is the NDP’s inability to pick up ridings they almost won in 2009.

Four hours after the polls closed, votes were still being counted and several ridings were too close to call. Still, it was clear that the New Democrats failed to make any headway in the many ridings that were close in 2009.

There were 17 ridings that were decided by less than five percentage points in the last election; 11 of them went Liberal. The NDP needed to drag most of those into their win column to claim victory Tuesday.

Given the comfortable NDP lead suggested by the polls, that should have been an easy task. Instead, the Liberals managed to hang on to most of their near wins and even stole two ridings that the NDP had narrowly won in ’09.

In Saanich North and the Islands, which the Liberals won by less than one percentage point in 2009, the NDP was leading by an eyelash Tuesday night in what was essentially a three-way tie.

In Burnaby-Lougheed, which the Liberals won by less than four points in 2009, the NDP was up by three points Tuesday night.

The NDP also took Vancouver-Fairview, which the Liberals won by just under five points in 2009.

But the NDP couldn’t hang on to two ridings they won by narrow margins in 2009.

In Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows, where the NDP won by a little over one percentage point in 2009, the Liberals were ahead by three points Tuesday night.

The Liberals also took Cariboo North, which the NDP won by less than four points in 2009.

Find Tyee election reporting team member and contributing editor Tom Barrett’s previous Tyee articles here. Find him on Twitter or email him.

Did negative politics crush positive?

Or did Christy Clark just run a better campaign, period?
By Tom Barrett
May 15, 2013
TheTyee.ca

Premer Christy Clark. Photo by Carlos Tello.
Premer Christy Clark. Photo by Carlos Tello.

It won’t be hard to find people who will point to tonight’s Liberal victory and claim that negative politics beat positive campaigning.

But the answer may be that a good campaign beat a bad one.

The incumbent Liberals waged an aggressive battle that focused on raising fears about job losses and New Democrat leader Adrian Dix’s personal trustworthiness. The NDP, which had pledged a positive campaign, spent little time reminding voters of why the Liberals were so unpopular.

“It was a disastrous campaign and I felt that through most of the campaign,” political scientist Hamish Telford said of the New Democrats’ effort, which saw a 20-point lead in the polls turn into a five-point deficit when the ballots were counted.

“I thought the NDP was not campaigning effectively,” said Telford, head of the political science department at the University of the Fraser Valley. “I thought that Adrian Dix was quite lacklustre in both the debates. But I thought the campaign was going to be good enough to succeed.

“Evidently it wasn’t.”

Telford said much of the credit must go to Premier Christy Clark.

“A lot of people are going to focus on the negativity of the Liberals, that they ran a very negative campaign with a lot of attacks,” he said. “But I also believe it had a lot to do with the buoyant personality of Christy Clark. She’s always upbeat, positive and optimistic.”

Clark’s ability to project optimism while knocking down the NDP — combined with Dix’s “charisma deficit” — is what turned the tide, Telford said.

He said there will inevitably be a great deal of soul-searching within the NDP. The party caucus will be bitter and it won’t be easy for Dix to meet them, he said.

“I feel terrible for the man,” he said.

However, Telford said, “He didn’t pull it off and he’s going to have to carry the can for it.”

Going positive ‘right thing to do’: Dix

Dix insisted on election night that the positive pledge was no mistake.

“I believed and I still believe running a positive campaign was the right approach,” he said.

Saying he will have to accept the voters’ verdict, Dix said he had wanted to get young people interested in politics again.

“One way to address that is to stop attacking people personally,” he said. “I’m not naive about it. I think it was the right thing to do.”

Pollster Greg Lyle, managing director of the Innovative Research Group, said the NDP campaign “got very negative in the last week” of the campaign.

But the NDP defeat was not really about being positive or negative, he said.

“You’re taking a pretty big chance when you elect as leader of your party somebody who was fired for faking a memo,” Lyle said. “His record was just a scary record. At the end of the day I think some of that sunk in.”

When Dix came out against the Kinder Morgan pipeline, voters thought “maybe he’s not as safe as they thought he was,” said Lyle, who was Gordon Campbell’s campaign director in the 1996 B.C. election.

He said the Liberals won by turning the election from “a referendum on whether they were a perfect government into a referendum on whether or not Adrian Dix was a safe choice.”

Find Tyee election reporting team member and contributing editor Tom Barrett’s previous Tyee articles here. Find him on Twitter or email him. With files from Andrew MacLeod, The Tyee’s Legislative Bureau Chief.

For pollsters, an Alberta-sized mess

But maybe one way to look at it is that polls don’t drive democracy.
By Tom Barrett
May 15, 2013
TheTyee.ca

Fooled by prediction: NDP members hear from Adrian Dix on election night. Photo by Joshua Berson
Fooled by prediction: NDP members hear from Adrian Dix on election night. Photo by Joshua Berson

It was a lousy night to be a pollster and a great night to be someone who thinks polls undermine democracy.

The pollsters got it wrong Tuesday: spectacularly, Alberta-sized wrong.

Not one published poll in the months before the election gave the BC Liberals a lead over the New Democratic Party. Instead of the six-to-nine percentage point NDP victory suggested by the province’s big political pollsters, voters appear to have given the Liberals a comfortable five-point victory.

It was eerily similar to the result in Alberta a year ago, when the last polls put the Wildrose party ahead of the incumbent Progressive Conservatives by six to eight points. On election night, the PCs won by a 10-point margin.

B.C. pollsters were well aware that Alberta voters appear to have changed their minds at the last minute and were polling up until the day before the vote. It didn’t help.

The closest late-stage B.C. election poll was produced by Forum Research, which still had the NDP in the lead and overestimated the NDP share of the vote by more than the poll’s margin of error.

Pollster Greg Lyle, managing director of the Innovative Research Group, said online polling — used by Ipsos and Angus Reid, B.C.’s two best-known pollsters — appears to have failed.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that the online polls overestimated the NDP,” Lyle said. “They’re going to have to tear their panels apart and figure out what they got wrong.”

Lyle, who was Gordon Campbell’s campaign director in the 1996 B.C. election, said his firm did some private polling during the campaign and found a narrow gap between the Liberals and NDP.

“We thought our poll was wrong because all these other online polls were saying that there was this big gap,” he said. “But I think, hindsight being 20/20, that it’s pretty clear that it was never as bad as they said.”

There appear to be biases in the makeup of the panels of respondents to online polls that will need to be addressed, Lyle said.

“Everyone got burned,” he said.

Hamish Telford, head of the political science department at the University of the Fraser Valley, said there was a large undecided vote in the polls until the last week.

“Clearly, that undecided vote broke one way rather than the other,” he said.

Find Tyee election reporting team member and contributing editor Tom Barrett’s previous Tyee articles here. Find him on Twitter or email him.

The Premier who was a reporter’s ‘fantasy’

No one sprouted weird headlines like the Zalm. Last in our series.
By Tom Barrett
May 14, 2013
TheTyee.ca

Editor’s note: Alas, this is the last of “Some Honourable Members” — the addictive series by Tom Barrett and Tom Hawthorn reliving the most colourfully dubious moments in B.C. political history. Collect all 21 vignettes of shame here!

The Zalm
The Zalm

Bill Vander Zalm thought it would be nice if there were a quiet place in the legislature where folks could get together and pray. It didn’t stay quiet for long.

People complained that the so-called prayer room appeared to be reserved for Christian fundamentalists. Soon members of other faith groups began to show up.

During one lunch hour, a group of environmental protesters, including Muslims, pagans and a Sufi, dropped by and, in the words of Vancouver Sun reporter Keith Baldrey, sparked a “holy war.”

“Tolerance is ignorance!” declared a guitar-carrying fundamentalist.

“Peace is not always tranquility, sometimes it can be more exciting,” a woman replied.

“I heard something about Buddha here, and I didn’t like it,” said the guitar slinger.

“Buddha and Jesus were friends!” shouted a woman.

“Who says?” shouted another.

Wrote Baldrey: “A man watching the meeting from a hallway said between bites on his baloney sandwich, ‘It’s sure not like Sunday school.’”

For Baldrey and the other reporters covering the scene, it was just another day at the office. When Vander Zalm became premier in 1986, the surreal became the commonplace.

The Zalm lived in a castle in the middle of a biblical theme park called Fantasy Garden World. Whatever drifted through his head, it seemed, could pop out as a statement of government policy. And, like some giant weirdness magnet, he attracted strange people of all political types.

It was as if the 1986 election had punched a wormhole through the cosmos that dragged British Columbia into the eccentric orbit of Fantasy World.

Consider Vander Zalm’s trip to the Netherlands to shoot the movie “Sinterklaas Fantasy,” a semi-autobiographical production that, as Vancouver Sun reporter Gary Mason put it, saw the premier “riding a magical frozen rainbow across the world and landing in an Amsterdam canal.” (Well, he did say it was semi-autobiographical.)

Consider the anti-immigration activist and numerologist who claimed to be an economic advisor to the premier. Vander Zalm denied the story and said the paper that broke it should be banned.

Or consider the time Vander Zalm invited the Press Gallery to his office to watch him watch a video called Sex, Drugs and AIDS. The tape, part of a lesson on AIDS being considered by the Vancouver School Board, was a hot topic in the spring of 1987.

The 18-minute video explained how the virus spreads and showed interviews with HIV-positive men and women. Three young women talked about condoms.

Said Vander Zalm: “The part that troubled me most is the subtle message throughout the whole of it, starting from the very beginning, where it says ‘I want to have sex, but I don’t want to die.’” He called it “the longest condom ad I’ve ever seen,” adding: “It’s good for the condom makers.”

As the reporters quizzed him on what he planned to do about the video, Vander Zalm kept repeating the phrase like a mantra: “I want to have sex, but I don’t want to die.”

Whatever the topic, Vander Zalm always had time for the media. A morning news scrum involving the Zalm and the Gallery could last until the TV photographers’ tape ran out and provide enough news to keep reporters writing for the rest of the day.

Following one of these marathons, cabinet ministers would sometimes phone reporters to ask if the boss had invented any new policies involving their portfolios.

The love affair couldn’t last, though. Vander Zalm’s social conservatism upset many voters. His fondness for capitalists who didn’t belong to the Howe Street club peeved the party’s financial backers.

The Zalm era ended with a scathing report by conflict of interest commissioner Ted Hughes, who found the premier had used his office to help sell Fantasy Gardens to Taiwanese billionaire Tan Yu.

Vander Zalm was forced to resign; he was later acquitted of criminal breach of trust. True to the tenor of the Zalm years, the whistleblower who helped bring the premier down was Faye Leung, a realtor with a wardrobe containing several hundred flamboyant hats and a habit of delivering high-speed, high-pitched, high-volume monologues.

As she told Vander Zalm in a taped conversation she later released to the media: “Tan Yu got a good deal, you got a good deal, everybody got a good deal but I got the bum rap.”

Find Tyee election reporting team member and contributing editor Tom Barrett’s previous Tyee articles here. Find him on Twitter or email him.

Why polls don’t quell New Democrat jitters

Most BC surveys give NDP solid edge but several factors keep swing ridings in play.
By Tom Barrett
May 13, 2013
TheTyee.ca

May 10 vote mob at Vancouver's Roundhouse, where over 400 people lined up to cast ballots early. Which party gets highest turnout may decide riding races tightened in past weeks. Photo: Joshua Berson
May 10 vote mob at Vancouver’s Roundhouse, where over 400 people lined up to cast ballots early. Which party gets highest turnout may decide riding races tightened in past weeks. Photo: Joshua Berson

If the polls are right, the NDP is headed for a comfortable victory Tuesday. Of course, that’s what they said in Alberta last year about the Wildrose party.

The last polls in Alberta put Wildrose ahead of the incumbent Progressive Conservatives by six to eight points. On election night, the PCs won by a 10-point margin.

Friday, B.C.’s two big political pollsters, Ipsos Reid and Angus Reid, released polls that suggested an NDP lead of between six and nine points over the incumbent B.C. Liberals.

Those are large leads, given B.C. election history. But they’re dramatically smaller than the 20-point leads the polls suggested in March. That collapse in New Democratic Party support has sparked talk of the Liberals’ Christy Clark pulling off an upset for the ages.

You expect that kind of stuff from the Liberals and their media chums. But some well-placed New Democrats are sketching the same scenario, foreseeing a calamitous alignment of the stars that combines a better-than-expected Green party showing with a worse-than-predicted B.C. Conservative showing.

At this point in the campaign, you have to assume that everything is spin. And fretting aloud about the possibility of a Liberal win suits the New Democrats’ strategy; volunteers would be spurred to work harder, supporters scared into making sure they vote and soft NDPers warned away from the Green party.

But years of losing have taught B.C. New Democrats that even the fluffiest white cloud comes with a heavy rainfall warning. And you can make a case that there may be something to their fears.

After all, look what happened in Alberta.

Conservative klutz factor

To start with, the B.C. Conservatives are fielding only 60 candidates in the 85 ridings. Plenty of people who have told pollsters they’d vote for John Cummins’ party could turn up at the polls and discover they don’t have a Conservative to vote for. Will those people end up voting Liberal? Continue reading

The MLA who expensed milk in tight times

And luxury resort stays, and non-existent dinners… latest in ‘Some Honourable Members.’
By Tom Barrett
TheTyee.ca

Editor’s note: This is the nineteenth in our “Some Honourable Members” series, depicting the more dubious moments in B.C.’s political history, brought to you by veteran muckrakers Tom Barrett and Tom Hawthorn, one a day until election day.

UnknownIn a time of restraint, Peter Hyndman was a high flyer. Minister of consumer affairs in Bill Bennett’s Social Credit government, Hyndman was an urbane charmer who pundits thought might be the next premier.

As Hyndman’s career was taking off in the early 1980s, B.C. was being walloped by the worst downturn since the Great Depression. Bennett’s response was a highly publicized “compensation stabilization program” intended to hold down government workers’ wages.

But as the government proclaimed its intention to hold the line on spending, Hyndman was having problems with his own government spending. Clerk Alayne Falle had been questioning his expense accounts for months. She spoke to a senior ministry official, who laughed at her concerns. So she began to photocopy Hyndman’s claims.

Several months later, Falle had a cardboard box full of expense claims worth some $10,000. She gave it to her MLA, a New Democrat. The NDP gave it to the Vancouver Sun.

After wading through the documents, the Sun put together a list of questions for Hyndman. Hyndman said he’d be happy to answer them. At the appointed hour, two Sun reporters — Jes Odam and I — showed up in Hyndman’s office. While we cooled our heels in his waiting room, Hyndman slipped out a side door and hustled down to the legislature’s press theatre, where he announced that the Sun was subjecting him to an “arrogant inquisition” that he would have no part of.

“I want the Vancouver Sun to know that I will not be intimidated, that I will not be threatened,” he declared.

Hyndman turned the matter over the auditor-general, Erma Morrison, a move the government felt would be less damaging than calling a public inquiry or referring the matter to the legislature’s public accounts committee.

For the next several days, the Sun printed a series of questions for Hyndman, along with details from Falle’s photocopies. Hyndman had expensed everything, from cartons of milk from the CNIB convenience store on the legislature grounds to a $1,500 stay at a luxury resort in Arizona he said was part of a quest to learn about that state’s legislature.

There was a $61 claim for a dinner with Vancouver Sun publisher Clark Davey that never happened. Hyndman’s story was that he saw Davey walk through a restaurant just as he was paying his bill. He wrote Davey’s name on the back of the credit card receipt as a reminder to give Davey a call some time. Somehow, he said, the receipt was submitted by accident. (He paid the government back for that meal, along with another $265 in mistaken claims.)

For a recession-squeezed public, the item that stood out was a dinner at Vancouver’s Il Giardino restaurant with Hyndman’s wife and two other couples. The bill came to $374, including four bottles of Pouilly-Fuissé wine at $37.50 each — $97 a bottle in today’s dollars.

The auditor-general’s report was tougher than Hyndman had expected. Morrison found he had been “completely oblivious” to public sector expense procedures, and that he had been careless, inept and unbusinesslike.

Hyndman declared he would stay on in cabinet; three-and-a-half weeks later he resigned, saying it was for the good of the government and the Socred party. A week after his resignation, a lengthy RCMP investigation concluded there was no evidence to charge Hyndman with fraud. But by then, his political career was finished.

Find Tyee election reporting team member and contributing editor Tom Barrett’s previous Tyee articles here. Find him on Twitter or email him.

When ‘fisticuffs ensued’ in BC’s legislature

Fighting Joe Martin and his MLA ilk. Latest in our ‘Some Honourable Members’ series.
By Tom Barrett
TheTyee.ca

Editor’s note: This is the seventeenth in our “Some Honourable Members” series, depicting the more dubious moments in B.C.’s political history, brought to you by veteran muckrakers Tom Barrett and Tom Hawthorn, one a day until election day.

220px-The_Big_PunchEven at the best of times, there are more than a few similarities between B.C. politics and a WWE Hell in a Cell cage match. But on some occasions, honourable members have tried to turn the people’s business into a real bare-knuckle sport.

Consider the Brawl in the Hall, when six foot, 210-pound Liberal tourism critic Rick Thorpe threatened to punch out five foot nine, 160-pound then-premier Glen Clark. The two were having a heated discussion outside the legislative chamber when Clark put his hand on Thorpe’s lapel.

“Get your hands off me or you’ll be down, bud,” growled Thorpe.

Clark wisely beat a quick retreat.

As a two-fisted lawmaker, though, Thorpe doesn’t measure up to “Fighting Joe Martin,” who served briefly as premier in 1900.

In 1902, Martin claimed to be leader of the opposition, even though opposition members preferred to be led by Richard (the People’s Dick) McBride. On Feb. 20, when members of the house rose to pray, Fighting Joe slipped into McBride’s chair.

“When McBride sat down, he found himself in the lap of his enemy,” Martin Robin wrote in his history The Rush for Spoils. “Fisticuffs ensued. Smith Curtis grabbed Martin and was seized in turn by Hugh Gilmour. James Hawthornthwaite, the Socialist MLA, incensed at the display of Predatory Capitalism, throttled Gilmour. E.C. Smith of the Kootenay, now witness to a class war, pummelled Hawthornthwaite.

“All the while, the tenacious Martin clung lovingly to McBride’s neck. A legislative stalemate had obviously been reached.”

In any legislative Lethal Lockdown Match, though, the victor might well have been the tempestuous Waldo Skillings, government whip in the days of W.A.C. Bennett. One night, during one of the around-the-clock sittings that Bennett favoured to push through his agenda, Skillings took on an opposition member who was haranguing the premier in the legislative dining room.

As Bennett biographer David Mitchell wrote in a 1983 piece for the Canadian Parliamentary Review, Skillings “slugged the offending member and shoved him down a flight of stairs. Surprisingly unharmed, the Opposition member climbed back up the stairs, kicked Skillings with great force in the shins, then rapidly retreated from the dining room.

“Waldo Skillings, limping, pursued; but, perhaps fortunately, could not catch up with him.”

Waldo Skillings. He was hardcore.

Find Tyee election reporting team member and contributing editor Tom Barrett’s previous Tyee articles here. Find him on Twitter or email him.

The booted minister who became a great chief

Frank Calder’s legacy far eclipsed a night in jail. Latest of ‘Some Honourable Members.’
By Tom Barrett
TheTyee.ca

Editor’s note: This is the fifteenth in our “Some Honourable Members” series, depicting the more dubious moments in B.C.’s political history, brought to you by veteran muckrakers Tom Barrett and Tom Hawthorn, one a day until election day.

Frank Calder. Source: nisgaatreaty.wikispaces.com
Frank Calder. Source: nisgaatreaty.wikispaces.com

Around 5 a.m. one April morning in 1973, Victoria police came across a car stopped in an intersection a few blocks from the legislature.

The female driver and her male companion were both drunk. The cops took them to the station and locked them up for the rest of the night. The woman paid a fine; the man was not charged.

A fairly routine event except that the man was Frank Calder, the first aboriginal cabinet minister in Canadian history. He was about to become the first aboriginal kicked out of a cabinet in Canadian history.

Rumours of Calder’s night in jail circulated slowly around Victoria. When then-premier Dave Barrett heard the stories, he phoned Calder at home in northern B.C. In their history of the Barrett years, The Art of the Impossible, Geoff Meggs and Rod Mickleburgh recount one of the more unusual conversations between a premier and a minister of the Crown:

Barrett: “Frank, were you arrested in a car with a woman in the middle of an intersection and were both of you inebriated?”

Calder: “No. That did not happen.”

Barrett then phoned the Victoria police chief. Yes, he said, that did happen. When Calder got back to the capital, Barrett fired him. When he announced the dismissal to the media, Barrett refused to give a reason beyond “I’ve lost confidence in him as a cabinet minister.”

Calder revealed the rest of the story, insisting “this is not Watergate.” Said Calder: “This is not a criminal act. It didn’t involve public funds. As a matter of fact, I paid for my girlfriend’s fine, so what the hell are they worried about?”

Barrett has always maintained that he booted Calder because he denied the incident and not because of the incident itself. Others have wondered whether a non-First Nations minister would have been treated the same way.

There was also the question of Calder’s close ties to Barrett’s bitter New Democrat rival Tom Berger, a lawyer who handled what became known as the Calder case. As president of the Nisga’a Tribal Council, Calder spent years pushing his people’s land claims through the courts in opposition to both Social Credit and NDP provincial governments. A few months before Calder’s dismissal, he and Berger scored a landmark victory before the Supreme Court of Canada that would lead to the first modern First Nations treaty in B.C.

Did any of that influence Barrett’s decision?

In the long run, the incident did nothing to harm Calder’s reputation. He abandoned the NDP in 1975 to run successfully for Social Credit, losing his seat by a single vote — 750 to 749 — in 1979.

In 1988, Calder was named an officer of the Order of Canada. In 2004, he received the Order of B.C. In 2005, the Globe and Mail named him one of the greatest British Columbians of all time. When he died a year later, aged 91, the Victoria Times-Colonist wrote that, “thanks to Frank Calder, ‘Chief of Chiefs’ of the Nisga’a people, British Columbia is a different — and better — place.”

Find Tyee election reporting team member and contributing editor Tom Barrett’s previous Tyee articles here. Find him on Twitter or email him.

Keep in mind, BC elections tend to be close…

By Tom Barrett
TheTyee.ca

B.C. elections tend to be close. Over the last 40 years, only two have been decided by more than 10 percentage points. Only one has been decided by more than 10.1 points.

That’s worth bearing in mind as the election polls tighten. The latest poll, from Ipsos, suggests the New Democratic Party leads the BC Liberals by 10 points. The day before that, an Angus Reid poll suggested the NDP leads by seven points.

It’s a long way to election day, but a 10-point victory would be the third-largest margin of the last 40 years. A seven-point victory would be the fourth-largest in that period.

During the 1960s, W.A.C. Bennett’s Social Credit party beat the NDP three times by a margin of 12 to 13 points. But since the W.A.C. era ended in 1972 with an eight-point victory by the NDP, things have been much tighter.

Here are the results of the nine elections of the last four decades. The table shows the winner’s margin of victory in percentage points as well as the percentage of seats in the legislature the winner took.

Election Winner Margin Seat percentage
1975 Social Credit 10.09 64
1979 Social Credit 2.24 54
1983 Social Credit 4.82 61
1986 Social Credit 6.72 68
1991 NDP 7.46 68
1996 NDP – 2.37 52
2001 Liberal 36.06 97
2005 Liberal 4.28 58
2009 Liberal 3.67 58

The median margin of victory for this period is 4.82 percentage points.

The biggest victory by far was 36 points in the New Democrat wipeout of 2001, when voters went to the polls with pitchforks and torches looking to throw the bums out even unto the seventh generation. The narrowest victory was in 1996, when the NDP won with fewer votes than the Liberals. That wasn’t the first time in B.C. history that the party with the most votes lost. In 1952, the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation beat Social Credit by four points on the final count, but took one less seat.

As that suggests, in our first-past-the-post system you don’t need to run up a big lead to win control of the legislature. The NDP took more seats in 1996 because their vote was spread more evenly over the province’s ridings, while the Liberal vote tended to cluster in places like West Vancouver and the Fraser Valley.

As the table above also shows, the size of a party’s victory doesn’t translate directly into seats in the legislature. It all depends on where a party’s votes are located and the strength of third parties.

The two charts below give a graphic illustration of just how close B.C. elections tend to be. If things get tight on May 14, it won’t be anything out of the ordinary.

(Click on chart to enlarge.)

Source: Elections BC
Source: Elections BC
Source: Elections BC
Source: Elections BC

Find Tyee election reporting team member and contributing editor Tom Barrett’s previous Tyee articles here. Find him on Twitter or email him.

Digging into last week’s blitz of polls

A possible clue to why Forum had NDP, Libs closest. And other notes.
By Tom Barrett
TheTyee.ca

As more people make up their minds, the polls are tightening.
As more people make up their minds, the polls are tightening.

Some random thoughts on a flurry of election polls…

Five of the six polls that were released last week suggest the gap between the New Democratic Party and the BC Liberals has narrowed substantially. At the end of the week, B.C.’s two biggest pollsters, Angus Reid and Ipsos Reid, weighed in. Ipsos found a 10-point gap, Angus Reid found a seven-point gap.

As you can see from the chart here, Reid shows the BC Liberals up three points from the beginning of the campaign and the NDP down four points. Ipsos shows the Liberals up six points from their start-of-the-campaign poll and the NDP down three points. Even that six-point Liberal jump from Ipsos is within the poll’s combined stated margins of error — although it’s near the outside edge.

But a trend is apparent. The polls are tightening — just as pretty much everyone predicted at the beginning of the campaign.

Is the shift due to last week’s televised leaders debate? Could be. Or it could be a result of negative Liberal ads or the relentless, if fanciful, Liberal focus on debt, the deficit and the economy during the first two weeks. Or the media’s focus on the same topics and on NDP leader Adrian Dix’s Kinder Morgan switch.

Or, quite likely, a lot of potential voters are just starting to pay attention to politics for the first time in four years.

We’ll never know the real reason because there isn’t enough information available.

Forum’s four point gap: sample skewed?

Not that there’s a shortage of facts and figures flying around from the week’s polls. Take the Forum poll that suggested the gap between the NDP and the Liberals had fallen to four points.

Here’s something interesting about that poll that my colleague Andrew MacLeod pointed out: out of 1,009 respondents, 459 said they voted for the Liberals in the last provincial election. Another 290 said they voted for the NDP, 78 said they voted BC Conservative, 79 said they voted Green, 49 said they voted for other parties and 54 said they didn’t vote.

Forum is to be commended for publicizing this much detail about their poll; not all pollsters do.

But among those respondents who say they voted in 2009, 48 per cent say they voted for the Liberals, 30 per cent for the NDP, eight per cent for the Conservatives, eight per cent for the Greens and five per cent for other parties. Five per cent of the total sample say they didn’t vote.

Here are the results from the 2009 election: Liberal, 46 per cent; NDP, 42 per cent; Conservative, two per cent, Green, eight per cent; others, two per cent.

And an estimated 49 per cent of all eligible voters didn’t vote in 2009.

Questions like this rely on sometimes faulty memories. Respondents who didn’t vote may feel pressured to lie; saying you voted is the socially acceptable answer, after all. And pollsters who discover their sample doesn’t look like the population use weighting techniques to make up for the difference.

Still, on the face of it, this sample doesn’t look much like the real world of B.C. voters.

Gender gap trap?

One interesting difference between the Ipsos and Reid polls involves the gender gap. Ipsos suggests women favour the NDP by a 20-point margin, 50 per cent to the 30 per cent who would vote Liberal. But Reid suggests the gap is eight points, 43 per cent NDP to 35 per cent Liberal. That’s a pretty big difference, but it’s worth remembering that the margin of error goes up as the sample size goes down. Continue reading