Sunday, May 30, 2010

“It is good to live and learn.”

I was intrigued by the advice that Chantal Hébert had for the Liberal Party late last week, in the middle of a series of polls showing the Conservatives generally trending up and in particular widening a gap in seat-rich Ontario.  Hébert suggests that Liberals would be wise to embrace electoral reform as a national party-building survival mechanism. :)

In answer to a question on this at a townhall in March of 2009, then interim Leader Michael Ignatieff was cool to the idea, saying that he was “not yet convinced” on PR, preferring the stability provided by our current system and that he wouldn’t want to “turn this place into Italy”. (Go to about 8:45 of this clip.)

One of the first jobs I had at the Liberal Party Secretariat in the mid-80’s was in the Organization Department. I developed a predictive polling model for the Party.  It was the early days of “desktop” computing.  I had a tower the size of a small car, and a screen the size of a CD.  We ran an operating system and stored data on floppy disks the size of an iPad.  I personally inputted the results for 282 ridings into a Lotus spreadsheet, because of course, Elections Canada did not provide (or even record as far was we knew) the results in electronic format.  We had to refer to the blue books.  Because the Party could not afford a “pollster of record” at the time, I used data from public opinion polls published in the newspapers.

Taking into account a lot of provisos, my little model proved surprisingly accurate for the ’88 and ’93 general elections, including the prediction of a clean sweep in Ontario in ‘93 – which even the Party mucky mucks at the time, could barely believe.

Prevailing wisdom at the time was that with three competitive parties, 42/43% would get you a majority given the first past the post system.  With four competitive parties, things begin to change.  So it was in 1993 when with 53% of the vote in Ontario (a true majority rare in Canadian politics) the Liberals captured 98 out of 99 seats,and with them one-third of the available seats in the country - period.  The one other seat went to, wait for it, Reform, which captured 20% of the vote in Ontario; the PC’s were at 17.6% and the NDP at 6%.  (Change some party names and you start to see the similarities to today.)

Flash forward to last week’s series of voter intention polls and the trends they project for Ontario, par example and Hébert’s words of advice become even more poignant.  

Seat predictor site, takes the Harris/Decima’s 5-point gap in Ontario and turns it into a 13- seat gap (CPC: 39% = 54 seats; LPC: 34% = 41 seats) and EKOS’s 8-point gap into a 20-seat gap, (CPC: 39% = 56 seats; LPC: 31%= 36 seats). With Friday’s Leger Marketing poll result showing a 14-point gap in Ontario (CPC: 42%; LPC: 28), it doesn’t take much arithmetic genius to imagine the devastating result.

Convinced yet?

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