Thursday, September 04, 2008

Call It Spin, But...

A new Environics poll, with very large sample sizes, that paints a gloomy picture for the Liberals. Much of what Environics finds seems believable, relative to other polls, with a glaring exception, one that accounts for the large national gap. First the numbers:
The survey, conducted by Environics between Friday and Tuesday, found that 38 per cent of Canadians would vote for the Conservative party if an election were held immediately.

By comparison, 28 per cent would vote for the Liberal party, 19 for the NDP, eight for the Bloc Québécois and seven for the Green party.

The size of this poll is a full 2.5 times greater than a normal national poll, so the regional MOE's are much lower than most.

Bloc 34%
Cons 23%
Libs 22%
NDP 16%
Greens 6%

MOE 5.1%

Those numbers are fairly standard, relative to others, and this is the biggest sample apart from CROP.

The results for British Columbia show the Conservatives ahead, with the NDP and Liberals a few points behind. Again, that seems reasonable, relative to others.

Same for the "prairie" results, and to a less degree the Atlantic Canada numbers. Where my eyes get wide is the Ontario numbers, and it these results that give the supposed large Conservative lead:


Cons 43%
Libs 34%
NDP 16%
Greens 7%

Last week's SC poll found similar results, Conservatives up, although only by 6%. So, calling the SC poll an outlier becomes more problematic, it now finds a similar result. However, these numbers are in complete contrast to three other polls- Decima, Libs up 11%(a full 18% in the last week of polling), NANOS Libs up 13%, Ipsos Libs up 12%. In addition, the NANOS and Decima polls both showed the Conservatives at their LOWEST percentage in Ontario since the last election. For that reason, it is very hard to reconcile those results with this apparent surge in Ontario. Comparing NANOS and Environics, you see a full 22% difference, absolutely staggering, particularly for a region that has low margin of error.

There is one other item in this poll that raises my eyebrows. No surprise that the Conservatives lead on a host of issues, we have seen this before. What is telling, Environics actually puts the Libs and Cons in a statistical tie on who is best suited to deal with the environment. I haven't seen one poll that shows this dynamic, in fact most give the Liberals a healthy lead. Is this anomaly a signal that something is wrong with the respondent demographics, a clue that the poll has representative issues? I'll buy Harper smoking Dion on leadership, the economy, leading on Afghanistan, etc, but a tie on the environment is suspect at best.

Who to believe? First, my own sense of Ontario. I just don't buy the Cons ahead here, all my instincts see real problems. Even if you take the supposed battleground in Guelph, the Conservatives were poised for a very disappointing result, and third was a distinct possibility. If the blue wave was cresting, one would think we would get a hint in a key riding, instead by all appearance the Cons were set to go belly up. Aside from that, it's hard to point to any reasons to support a strong move to the Conservatives, the opposite seems more likely.

So, in the final analysis, pick your poll, or set of polls. Myself, I'm sticking with track record, and given the laser-like accuracy of the past, I feel comfortable believing the data that suggests the Liberals up in Ontario, by a good margin. Call it spin, I call it seeing conflicting signals, falling back on the guys with the accuracy pedigree. Seems entirely logical from here.


liberazzi said...

Now I'm getting a little worried, but I hope you are right about Ontario. If the polls are to be believed why are Canadians suddenly flocking to the Cons? Doesn't make any sense to me.

Steve V said...


If someone can give me one reason for the sudden Con surge in Ontario, I'm all ears.

Gayle said...

It is all a liberal conspiracy. Make Harper's numbers high, people panic, and the NDP and Greens come over to the LPC.

I am surprised you did not see this.

(I joke, of course)

The most recent media narrative has not been positive for the LPC. I think things will be OK so long as that nefarious liberal insider keeps his big trap shut.

Steve V said...

It was a CBC commissioned poll Gayle, so your point has merit.

ottlib said...

A strange feature of MOE, it is not reduced as much as you would think by a higher sample size.

A poll of 1000 respondents would have an MOE of around 3.1 while a poll of 2500 would have an MOE of around 2.2. Not a huge difference in the grander scheme of things.

I agree with your analysis. For more than six months the Conservatives have been virtually tied with the Liberals, and usually trailing in Ontario.

Now they are bolting ahead nationally and in Ontario. Why? Usually that kind of movement is reflective of something big happening to galvanize folks.

Until someone can give me a plausible explanation for these sudden and dramatic changes I am going to be very sceptical about these latest results.

Steve V said...


I was referring to the MOE's for the regionals. Typically, most national polls have a 5% MOE for Ontario, this one is 3%, for Quebec 6-7%, this one 5%.

Möbius said...

Well, since you asked, while Harper's CPC has difficulty moving ahead of the LPC in voting support due to his naturally prickly personality, Dion is a complete dud.

If not for him, the CPC would be in trouble.

The "Green Shift" is a huge political error, hence the last minute back-tracking. You have leaders in waiting stabbing the leader in the back. It all adds up to either a CPC minority or majority.

Some silly commentary in the G&M today was attempting to compare this to a Kim Campbell vs, Chretien battle, ignoring the fact that Mulroney's heir was never going to win an election, and Chretien had a shred of political sense.

Feel free to dismiss my opinions, as usual, but keep in mind I voted for the LPC several times in the Chretien era.

ottlib said...


This is a one off poll and we do not have any other polls by this company to compare it with so the MOEs are not nearly as useful.

That is another reason why I trust Decima and Nanos more. They publish polls using the same methodology over a long period of time.

Although it is very imperfect it gives us some idea of a trend. Trying to discern a trend by looking at different one-off polls from different polling companies is not possible as they use different methodologies.

The polls by SC, Environics and Angus-Reid have given estimates that seem to be counter-intuitive to what is happening in the country. I cannot say that anything has happened that would cause the Conservatives support to move like these polls seem to be indicating.

I could understand a couple of points as a result of the incumpant advantage but as you say 22 points in Ontario in a week. Something is fishy.

Steve V said...


The last poll for this company was done in July. In that poll, the Libs were one up in Ontario, so this means a full 7% rise for the Cons since then. I'm sorry, but the Cons with 43% in Ontario doesn't seem right.


So, you are discounting the polls from people with the track record?

ottlib said...

Incidentally, Decima is due to publish a poll tonight. They usually publish on a Thursday.

Ipsos-Reid is due tomorrow.

Decima had the Liberals with a slight lead last week. It will be interesting to see this week's estimates. If they have moved significantly then we can begin to believe these other polls.

I can almost guarantee Ipsos will publish estimates showing a jump in Conservative support. I was suspicious of their last poll which showed a virtual tie. It would not be the first time a polling company has published a poll understating the support for one party only to publish another poll showing a big jump to give the impression of momentum.

Steve V said...


Yes, that will be interesting, particularly Decima. In the last week of their last three week average, they had the Liberals up a staggering 18% in Ontario, so let's see...

I don't trust Ipsos either, and I'll use the fact they were off by 7% nationally last election, 11% in 2004, as ample evidence for a heavy dose of scepticism.

Möbius said...

So, you are discounting the polls from people with the track record?

Hell, no. I dont' know one polling firm from another, and have no idea what is their political leaning. I don't know for sure who will win the next election, but have a pretty good idea.

I know why I stopped voting Liberal, and why some Liberals are not planning to do so in the next election (or at least, so they say, which may be quite a different thing).

Believe it or not, had there been a clean break from the Chretien era, I suspect things would be quite different now.

Anonymous said...

"Believe it or not, had there been a clean break from the Chretien era, I suspect things would be quite different now."

I'm not so sure about this. Imagine the hatchet job that would have happened to Ignatieff or Rae. I tend to think Dion has weathered the CPC character assassination that was going to happen to whoever won better than anyone else would have. Of course there is no way of knowing that ... just a hunch.

wilson said...

Why the surge?
Families are home from summer holidays.
Wall to wall coverage of the US election focusing on leadership.

Anonymous said...

I think that there is a wide spread in the Ontario results due to many people worried we are heading into a deep recession. People are worried. Unfortunately I think they will vote Conservative, remember this is province that voted Mike Harris into two large majorities, and we change our minds quickly. It is a sure thing that most Albertan will vote Conservative every single time they vote (this despite them saying that Ontarian blindly vote Liberal). In Ontario in 1990 Bob Rae's NDP were polling 3rd at the start of the election campaign and won a majority. Five years later Harris' Conservatives were polling 3rd at the start of the election campaign and won a huge majority. At the moment I think that Ontarians are leaning Conservative. But don't be too worried as the people of this provice will actually be assessing the parties, candidates and platforms during the campaign, unlike some other areas where twenty years ago they decided how they would vote in this election.

Anonymous said...

I did think the Liberal spokesperson did a good job on CBC National tonight. He didn't shy from the polls, and even complimented the pollster in this case (seemed almost a sly slam at other "unreliable" pollsters without actually saying that). He alluded to the fact that some other polls showed the race much tighter, but only in passing - didn't dwell on it defensively. He also explained that elections can change the dynamic, and he felt the Liberals needed to come out of the gate strong.

But he came across as well-spoken and calm and confident without arrogance.

I think the economic news is only going to get worse, unfortunately. Looks like the US is about to hit another negative tipping point. I am sure that will only exacerbate things here.

Liberals had better not hand the economic argument over, because it could quickly overtake the other issues no matter what the polls say today about what is on voter's minds.

Frankly Canadian said...

I'm surprised nobody has made mention of the fact that every time the Conservatives spend a small fortune on advertising, the polls seem to follow immediately and I believe have always had a modest increase for Harpers numbers. This is what the fifth or sixth time the cons have launched advertising campaigns, usually slandering Stephane Dion personally or his leadership. The most recent bombardment started with all those 10%er flyers (which wouldn't surprise me if that was over spent as well) and a long summer of big government cash give always. Each time we see these increase in the polls they are always short lived, Canadians after some thought have always been more intelligent then they are given credit for. For this reason we have seen many elections provincial and federal, where the party trailing in the polls at the beginning of the election end up winning the election. I still think that this election is far more important then most Canadians believe, however if the masses start to see the statistics on which party can guide them through tough economic times, and which party truly does have the best solution for climate change and rising fuel cost, which party has the best team to deal with world diplomacy, trade expansion, health care and so on and so forth. This election could very rapidly change the speed at which the Liberal party GAINS BACK the support they once had!

Tomm said...


None of this is good for the LPC.

They get much of the maritimes because of Danny threatening his own party and the CPC only putting in a token effort. The CPC sweeps the prairies. They take most of BC and take a bite out of the side of the BQ in rural/suburban Quebec.

Rural/suburban Ontario?

The NDP is focuessed only on Harper and are ignoring the Liberals. After two weeks into the campaign, we will know if this is a rout if the LPC starts attacking the NDP in an attempt to save the furniture.

Chantal Hebert tonight said the first week is critical for Dion. Well let's see if he comes out stridently, confidently, and with bags of ideas and policies that Canadians buy into.

ottlib said...

"For this reason we have seen many elections provincial and federal, where the party trailing in the polls at the beginning of the election end up winning the election."

More interestingly, in every election in the past 30 years, except for the 2000 election, the party in government has always lost support to its main opposition during the course of the election campaign.

All governments have a record to defend and all governments offend more than one sector of society during its tenure. That fact is brought into focus during a campaign and it costs the party in government.

I suspect the same thing will happen this time around so Mr. Harper will be hard pressed to hang onto government let alone gain a majority.

Tomm said...


Interesting comment.

I certainly think that two things could happen:

Firstly that if the CPC is too strong (especially in Ontario), there may be a "scary" trend back to the LPC when the media talks majority.

Secondly, if Dion does not do well I think there will be what pollsters call a "dead cat bounce" for the LPC. A sympathy or party vote as a leadership backlash.

The CPC should stay away from negative advertising if they can, let the LPC look like the 12 angry men for a change.

ottlib said...

So the Leger poll essentially mimics what the Crop poll indicated a few days ago.

The level of support for the Conservatives is not nearly enough for them to take enough seats to win a majority. For them to do that they need to be above 40% in Quebec.

It is not going to happen. No sitting government has ever grown its support in Quebec by double digits over the course of an election campaign.

As well, they are sitting at 50% in the Quebec City Region. Like their national numbers are heavily weighted by Albera their Quebec numbers are heavily weighted by one compact region.

So the upshot is they may pick up a half-a-dozen seats in the Quebec City region but they can probably say goodbye to Lawrence Cannon and the other seats in the western part of the province. As well, it looks like they will be saying goodbye to many of their seats in the Maritimes.

Their level of support in BC allows them to hang on to what they have now and that is about it.

So that leaves Ontario. As Steve has pointed out, estimates indicated by some of the recent polls are suspect because they tend to run counter to what is happening on the ground. They could reflect reality but it is doubtful. We will have to wait and see.

As for the mythical internal party polls it is always fun to hear people claim they are different from the public polls. Having been on the inside I can say that the differences between public and internal polls are not that big and I will remind everybody that when Stephen Harper decided he wanted an election the public polls were saying he was trailing the Liberals by a point or two. So, the polls that he was looking at when he made the decision to have an election were probably saying much the same thing.

Tomm said...


We'll get a chance to watch it play out.

Steve V said...

"Why the surge?
Families are home from summer holidays.
Wall to wall coverage of the US election focusing on leadership."

Wow, now I understand. Thanks for the insightful comments. The weakness of the rationale, makes me more suspicious.


New trolls, with half a clue, or some capacity to be at least slightly persuasive. Will train.

Tomm said...


Talkin to me?

Steve V said...

No, we don't agree, but you're fine.

Tomm said...


We agree on more than you think.

Anonymous said...

Pollsters are business people that are trying to engineer a harper najority as he is moving the country in their favor....they like him and he likes them....they are screwing with people minds...they are all about making more money....there could not be such a difference in results from nanos and decima in such a short time ....I can just imagine what IpsosReid will be...he will have the cons at 50....they are all a bunch of crooks.

Anonymous said...

Ottlib, Cannon's is the only "western seat" in Quebec that the Tories have.

And no, the Tories don't need to get to 40% to get into serious seat totals in Quebec. The Bloc is down 12% there and the Tories are running neck to neck with them according to CROP and Leger.

The Conservatives are poised to gain an addtional 20 seats in Quebec if there numbers go up a couple of points and the Bloc goes down.

Anonymous said...

Tomm - "The NDP is focuessed only on Harper and are ignoring the Liberals."

The last two elections the NDP basically pretended that the Conservatives didn't exist. Did you watch the national debates? The NDP spent 100% of their time bashing the Liberals. I expect the same thing this time.

Steve V said...

"Did you watch the national debates?"

That was one of the most amazing things I've witnessed in politics. A socialist, ignorning a right wing agenda, entirely focused on Martin, while Harper sat back and smiled.

That said, I think the NDP braintrust may understand the unease of looking so opportunistic, and instead they may return to a more traditional ideological approach.