BC no longer sees Liberals as sound money managers: poll

By Tom Barrett
The Tyee.ca

A new poll suggests that British Columbians believe the NDP by a two-to-one margin over the Liberal government when it comes to the state of B.C.’s finances.

The Angus Reid Public Opinion poll comes as Premier Christy Clark prepares to go on TV to talk up her government’s economic performance in advance of the May 14 election. The half-hour infomercial, on the theme “Strong Economy. Secure Tomorrow,” runs on Global Television at 7 p.m. Sunday.

While the Liberals’ ability to manage the economy has traditionally been seen by voters as one of the party’s strengths, the new poll suggests British Columbians no longer see the governing party as sound money managers.

In its recent budget, the Clark government promised a $197-million surplus. However, the Opposition New Democrats insist the province is heading for a $790-million deficit. When respondents were asked in the online poll which view they found more credible, 24 per cent said they favoured the Liberals.

Fifty per cent said they favoured the NDP. A further 26 per cent said they were unsure.

A remarkable 29 per cent of those who said they voted Liberal in the 2009 election said they found the NDP more credible on this question.

The poll was conducted Monday and Tuesday among 807 British Columbians. Angus Reid states a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 per cent, 19 times out of 20, for this sample. While online polls have been very successful at predicting recent elections, there is a methodological controversy surrounding the citing of margins of error for online polls.

Some experts hold that it is inappropriate to quote a margin of error for an online poll because participants in such polls are drawn from volunteer panels, rather than chosen at random from the general population. For more on this issue, see this story.

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

How tanking turnout makes for ugly elections

Wedge issues and fear politics win when voters stay home, pollsters say
By Tom Barrett

Declining turnout actually affects how elections are fought. Photo: Shutterstock.
Declining turnout actually affects how elections are fought. Photo: Shutterstock.

Chances are the next government of B.C. will be chosen by approximately half of all eligible voters. That means that even in a landslide the winning party will probably have the support of no more than a quarter of all the province’s citizens.

Like other Canadians, British Columbians are becoming less and less inclined to vote. In the 2009 provincial election, only 51 per cent of all estimated eligible voters bothered to turn out.

A lot has been written about falling turnout rates and the precise causes of the decline are still largely a mystery. Some blame a dwindling sense of civic duty in young people. Some blame negative, fear-based campaigns.

But there’s another side to it. Declining turnout also affects how elections are fought. Ironically, the more that voters stay home because of politicians’ bad behaviour, the more likely politicians may be to behave badly.

“Turnout is increasingly becoming more important than persuasion in elections,” pollster Greg Lyle, managing director of Innovative Research Group,  said in an interview.

Lyle said that in the old days, when turnout was in the 70 per cent range or higher, campaigns concentrated on wooing ambivalent voters, or what Lyle referred to as “cross-pressured” voters.

“They’re concerned about balanced budgets, but they’re concerned about waiting lists at hospitals and they want to hear a balanced argument,” he said. “They don’t want someone to just focus on one [issue] or the other.”

But as the turnout gets lower and lower, the people who show up to vote tend to be the ones who aren’t cross-pressured — “people that have very consistent points of view, very ideological positions,” said Lyle, who was Gordon Campbell’s campaign director in the 1996 B.C. election. That’s led parties to build their campaigns around strong differences “that will essentially scare their voters into getting up and going to vote,” said Lyle. Continue reading

Amazing Comebacks Christy Clark Hopes to Emulate

BC’s Premier Clark: Big ground to make up, but stranger things have happened.

Four election shockers that keep BC’s New Dems up at night
By Tom Barrett

With less than three months to go until Election Day, Premier Christy Clark’s Liberals are betting on a major come-from-behind surge to wipe out the New Democratic Party’s lead in the polls.

It’s a tall order, but it wouldn’t be the first time voters have shifted that much, that fast.
“Things can change very quickly,” said Angus Reid pollster Mario Canseco. Even when an opposition party enters an election campaign with a healthy lead, voters can abandon it if they decide the party isn’t ready to govern.

For the past several years, the NDP has held a robust lead over the BC Liberals in the polls. Although the lead has dropped from highs of 20 points or more, the most recent polls still show the NDP up by 10 to 15 percentage points.

But headlines like Hudak Tories Roaring Toward a Majority: Poll and Danielle Smith’s Wildrose on Track for Majority suggest just how volatile voters can be. And headlines like ‘We Were Wrong’: Alberta Election Pollsters Red-faced as Tories Crush Wildrose serve as a reminder that polls are a snapshot in time, not a forecast.

Continue reading

Attack Ads Through the Ages

A brief, inherently dirty history, with video reminders of how low they can go.
By Tom Barrett

When Adrian Dix refuses to engage in negative campaigning, he is turning his back on a Canadian tradition older than Confederation. An early biographer of Sir John A. Macdonald wrote of an 1844 election in Kingston that “every editor dipped his pen in gall; every column reeked with libel. Those who had no newspapers issued handbills, that might have fired the fences on which they were posted.”

Politics became more polite over the years. But in the 20th century, television gave politicians a weapon far more powerful than Macdonald’s fiery handbills.

In 1964, the U.S. Democratic party aired what’s become known as the “daisy” ad. The ad, which communications scholar Kathleen Hall Jamieson has called “arguably the most controversial ad in the history of political broadcasting,” played upon fears that Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater would start a nuclear war.

Designed by media sage Tony Schwartz, the ad showed a small girl standing in a field, pulling petals from a daisy. She counts the petals — “one, two, three, four, five, seven, six, six, eight, nine” — until she is suddenly drowned out by a robotic voice counting down a missile launch: “10, nine, eight…” The camera zooms in on the girl’s eye. A mushroom cloud fills the screen.

President Lyndon Johnson’s voice is heard: “These are the stakes. To make a world in which all of God’s children can live, or to go into the dark. We must either love each other or we must die.”

The spot, which never mentions Goldwater by name, aired only once as a paid ad. But it was shown again and again by the news media.

The 1988 U.S. presidential election appears to have been a watershed in negative campaigning. “Never before in a presidential campaign have televised ads sponsored by a major party candidate lied so blatantly as in the campaign of 1988,” Jamieson wrote.

One of the most famous ads from that campaign showed a procession of scary-looking prisoners shuffling through a revolving door, as a voice-over claimed that, as governor of Massachusetts, Democratic candidate Michael Dukakis turned killers loose to kidnap and rape.

The ad was, to be charitable, misleading, but it helped sink Dukakis.

In recent years, Canadian campaigners have done their best to catch up to the Americans. Probably the best-known Canadian attack ad was the Jean Chrétien “face” spot, run by the Progressive Conservatives in 1993. Over a montage of shots that played up Chrétien’s facial paralysis, the ad suggested that Canadians may not want someone who looks like that representing us on the international stage.

The ad was pulled and is generally thought to have backfired, although some Tories insist that it was working.

The Liberals had some success with their own negative ads over the next few campaigns. But the Stephen Harper Conservatives took negative campaigning to a new level in 2007, when they began running attack ads aimed at the Liberals between elections — something that Canadian parties had rarely done before.

Almost as soon as Stéphane Dion was chosen Liberal leader, the Conservatives began a 20-month attack based on the idea that Dion was “not a leader” and “not worth the risk.”

The anti-Dion campaign included a website that featured a “pooping puffin” that crapped on Dion’s shoulder. It was pulled and Harper was forced to apologize.

After Dion flamed out in the 2008 election, the Conservatives used the same tactics against his successor, Michael Ignatieff. The new Liberal leader was “just visiting” Canada, the Conservatives informed us. He was a “citizen of the world,” who moved in “elite circles.” Not the kind of guy you’d meet at Tim Hortons.

A second wave of ads talked of Ignatieff’s “reckless coalition” and claimed he “didn’t come back for you.” Like Dion, Ignatieff was unable to tell a story that effectively countered the ads.

Domino theory

With a provincial election less than four months away, TV viewers in B.C. have been treated to a flood of advertisements that explain what a great job the Christy Clark government is doing.

One 30-second spot uses dominoes (actually, they’re smartphones set up like dominoes) to represent the world’s tumbling economies. Amidst the clacking chaos, B.C. stands strong, apparently. Viewers would be forgiven for thinking they’re watching election ads, but these are government ads, paid for by tax dollars.

B.C. taxpayers, it seems, need to be told the economy is strong and the Clark government isn’t afraid to be the one to tell them.

This week, New Democratic Party leader Adrian Dix promised that, if elected, he’ll give the auditor general the power to kill partisan government advertising.

Such ads are something that politicians always yell about when they’re in opposition, but discover are really useful when they’re in power. After Dix’s announcement, Victoria Times-Colonist columnist Les Leyne dug out a story of mine that ran in the Vancouver Sun in February, 1998.

The NDP was in government then, and Dix was chief of staff to then-premier Glen Clark. That Clark government was running a $2 million campaign with the slogan “Jobs for B.C. It’s working” As Leyne writes:

There were the same problems as today:

• Employment numbers dropped during the campaign, which negated the entire thrust.

• The Opposition Liberals condemned them as a misleading waste of tax dollars.

• The auditor general of the day — George Morfitt — was complaining that there were no rules to keep propaganda out of government advertising.

He had earlier urged a ban on partisan information in public government communications. The premier’s communications director, Geoff Meggs — now a Vancouver councillor — offered a hollow argument that the government had an obligation to report on its initiatives. Particularly if they were good news ones.

As Leyne says, “Amazing to think 17 years after the auditor general flagged it, we’re still waiting for common sense to break out on this front.”