Political science

If the people believe there’s an imaginary river out there, you don’t tell them there’s no river there. You build an imaginary bridge over the imaginary river.

Nikita Khrushchev to Richard Nixon
quoted by Rick Perlstein in
The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan

Election Day

“Get at it, boys,” said Mr. Smith, “vote and keep on voting till they make you quit.”


Stephen Leacock
The Candidacy of Mr. Smith
in Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town

Canadians go to the polls today, from coast to coast to coast.

This is a limited offer: one vote per customer.

Nice call, Nostradamus

The next time the man on the white horse comes in, he may not be so benign. He could be a real racial hater or a divider of people.


Jim Squires, one-time spokesperson for Ross Perot.
Squires made the comment after the 1992 U.S. election, which showed that millions of Americans were ready to go crazy for a thin-skinned, TV-adept billionaire who promised to shake things up in Washington, D.C.

Quoted in The Red and the Blue: The 1990s and the Birth of Political Tribalism,
by Steve Kornacki (p. 209)

Truth decay

With politics around the world increasingly characterized by lies, fear, and anger, Frontline,  on the U.S. PBS network, is looking at how Facebook has been used to drive voters apart.

John Doyle reviewed the show in the Globe and Mail and offers this observation:

At the core of the matter is one key discovery about social media that’s not new any more: Fear and anger create ‘greater engagement’ online and therefore more advertising value.

Think about that for a minute. Irrational garbage isn’t an unintended consequence of social media — it’s part of the business model.

How turnout trips up pollsters

By Tom Barrett

While declining turnout poses problems for democracy, it also creates practical problems for pollsters.

“If you do a poll that represents 100 per cent of the population, that’s fine,” said Bob Penner, president and CEO of Stratcom.  “But we know 100 per cent of the population doesn’t turn out. Maybe 50 [per cent] turns out. Well, you’ve got to know which 50 per cent that is. Or at least you have to have a pretty good prediction of which 50 per cent that is.

“Because those that turn out usually differ substantially from those that don’t.”

Penner, a veteran campaign pollster, said “the better pollsters” use turnout models that try to predict who’s going to vote. One way to do that is to ask respondents if they’re going to vote. Those answers aren’t always reliable, though.

People who aren’t going to vote may tell pollsters they intend to do so because that’s the socially acceptable answer. Or respondents may intend to vote but then change their minds.

So pollsters can also look at who has tended to vote in recent elections — older people and homeowners are two such groups — and weigh their data accordingly.

Unfortunately for pollsters, the last election won’t be just like the current one, Penner said. “So you kind of have to put it all into the mixer and kind of have to figure it out. And the more times you do it, the better you get at it and the more likely you are to be correct.”

While all good campaign pollsters have some sort of turnout model, most pollsters who make their work public through the media don’t, Penner said. And that affects their accuracy, he argued.

Mario Canseco, vice-president of Angus Reid Public Opinion,  said his firm does have a method for predicting likely voters.

In last year’s U.S. presidential election, the Reid firm noticed that supporters of Republican Mitt Romney were less committed to voting than those of President Barack Obama, he said. The difference meant that the election wasn’t as close as some pundits were predicting.

“Turnout really hasn’t affected any of our election calls,” Canseco said.