Tea leaf reading starts here - Macleans.ca

Tea leaf reading starts here


The Conservative share of the popular vote was three to four per cent higher than most of the last-round polls suggested. This will allow me to lord it over two of your other favourite bloggers for a while. But it raises an interesting question: Why? A few possible answers:

(a) The Conservative vote kept rising over the weekend

(b) Much like (a), but with an explanation: Thanksgiving Family Dynamics

(c) The Conservative get-out-the-vote mechanics are hugely better than their equivalents in other parties

(d) The question is meaningless as all the polls were within the margin of error, and it’s mere coincidence that the meaningless differences were all on the same side.

I give some credence to all of these answers, except (d). You may have your own theories. Discuss. Oh, and folks? I’ll be paying close attention to see whether I was hasty in threatening to shut down the comment boards here on Inkless.

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Tea leaf reading starts here

  1. It’s to do with the low voter turnout. But it really wasn’t low voter turnout that was the issue; it was low *Liberal* voter turnout.

    Votes Gained/Lossed from Last Election (+ = gain, – = loss)

    CON: -168,737
    LIB: -849,425
    NDP: -72,522
    BQ: -173,636
    GRN: +276,679

    The four largest parties lost almost 1.3 million votes last night.. with 2/3rds of those lost by the Liberals alone.

    Had Liberals not stayed home and watched baseball, the numbers would have been closer to the polls. Why the pollsters didn’t anticipate that happening is an important question.

    I’d like to amend (c) to:

    (c) The Liberal get-out-the-vote mechanics are hugely inferior than their equivalents in other parties

  2. There are still alot of people who are reluctant to tell anyone their vote, even pollsters.

    Did I pass?

  3. Or to put it differently – we’ve been hearing a lot of blarney about vote splitting. But the Liberals are down 850,000 votes and the Greens and NDP are only up a combined 200,000 votes. Where did the other 650,000 votes go?

  4. People (Liberals) stayed home, they didn’t feel any enthusiasm to vote, and perhaps that Tory scare is gone. I also agree though that many Tory voters won’t say how they are voting. They often won’t put signs up either, but quietly do their duty.

    I guess it’s not that much of a surprise but the green numbers went down quite a bit compared to the polls eh? Wasn’t one of the reasons to have May in the debates that the Greens were garnering so much popular support?

  5. If 500,000 people who stayed home instead voted for the Liberals, we would have had the following results:

    CON – 36.32%
    LIB – 28.81%
    NDP – 17.56%
    BQ – 9.63%
    GRN – 6.56%

    Not quite what the polls were predicting, but closer. Voter turnout also would have been 61.25%, which is a bit closer to recent previous elections.

  6. You forgot one:

    (e) push polling

  7. How about the explanation that people aren’t always honest with pollsters? Maybe that 3-4% were embarrassed or something about voting Conservative so they didn’t tell the pollsters the truth.

    Another alternative is that people like to vote for the winners, so on E-day that 3-4% decided to vote for who they thought was going to win.

  8. Perhaps another factor is a variation of the Bradley effect, in which especially urban/urbane voters are embarrassed to admit even to an anonymous pollster they are thinking of voting Conservative?

  9. What about the undecideds? Don’t polls regularly leave them out of the horse race numbers?

    Also, there’s the whole question of getting accurate numbers in these days of call display and the tendency to hang up as soon as you hear that telltale pause when you pick up the phone.

  10. The apathy is astounding, and worse on average with younger voters, who, coincidentally poll for the Greens at significantly higher numbers than their older counterparts. Here we are, the Greens garner almost a million votes, and we can’t win any seats, while the Bloc enjoys 50 seats. If turnout is decreasing and nobody is likely to get a majority any time soon, shouldn’t we condsider Propotional Representation.

  11. The real issue here is future funding for the Libs from elections canada. Last night’s election results just cost the Libs $1.6 million in future subsidies from elections canada. This rate of attrition, based on current Lib fundraising results from individual donors, cannot be sustained.

    Job #1 for the next Lib leader must be how to address this problem. Without the grease, there will be no fighting elections on a national scale.

  12. and on top of all of this – thank Christ it is all over until next time.

    Over and Out!

  13. Even the “Polling Observatory” which is supposed to use complex statistical methods to correct ‘measurement errors’ and ‘bias’ in the polls was way off.

    The most important thing: it predicted “credible intervals” for each party (i.e. the most reasonable shift in the polls in the last couple of days of the campaign). The Conservatives exceeded their highest plausible gains by over a percentage point. Seems to elminate option (a), no?


  14. I would say the 10% gain on the TSX on polling day was not insignificant.

  15. C) with some modifications – like Mike Moffatt!
    but different spin on the modifications – IMO – this all points back to the Earnscliffe gang (yup – I still have that bee buzzing around) – that methodically kicked out or alienated long time roll up your sleeve grass root Liberals – and brought in their own version of the ConBots (MarBots?) a couple of elections ago. Trouble is – the MarBots largely disappeared into the woodwork 2 1/2 years ago – and the old Cretien Liberals (and generally all Liberals riding organizers with some experience from about five-six years ago) – must have continued to sit on the sidelines. Doesn’t surprise me, although when I saw Cretien and Sheila Copps come out for Dion in the last week of the campaign – I was hoping that might have inspired a lot of these folks to finally get back in. Maybe some folks were just not ready.
    I’m a former riding president at the provincial level who knew pretty well what was going on behind the scenes in the Federal organization.
    I moved to a different riding – that had been Liberal for 70 years – still – offered my help in any way to the Riding President here – never heard back. The riding went NDP…no connection with me..but maybe an indication of the poor organization.

  16. The Rae/Iggy/McGuinty/Chretien organisers sat on their hands. That’s what killed them in the 905.

    The “day-after-Thanksgiving” may also have been a factor. Red Sox v Devil Rays, plus hockey games on TV another.

    Final factor may have been the stock market. Canadians just did not want to have to consider a Green Shift on top of a market downshift.

    PLUS: Dion. Let’s be honest here. The guy is a dreadful communicator in English.

  17. (c) for certain, but mindful of
    (f) the fact that Liberals were afraid to drive to the polls, what with their opponents having cut their brake lines, which impacted (c).

  18. My family is mostly Liberal and they all moved to Con or NDP, depending. Dion was neither fish nor fowl and drove a lot of people away due to his leadership ‘skills’.

    So I think another reason behind the higher than expected Con numbers were Liberals who didn’t want to admit they were voting Con.

    A few people have mentioned it but another reason for higher than predicted vote total is that many on the left have a conniption if they find out someone is right wing, so Con supporters learn to keep their views to themselves until they get to the voting booth.

  19. I say ‘a’. The stock market fell massively last week, and in times of panic or crisis, people tend to support the incumbant. Notwithstanding the fact that Harper almost soiled the bed with respect to the issue and actually lost ground for a few days, he recovered as people gravitated to the comfortable devil they knew.

  20. Baloneyman, except that Harper’s late fall in the polls was largely due to his perceived laissez-faire stance on the economy. I think Tuesday’s big jump in the stock markets helped him.

  21. When families gathered on Thanksgiving to calculate the Marcus Vitruvius Experimental Election Predictor

    My prediction: The difference between the daily polls and these actuals, and the need to explain them will only feed into the future MSM herd mentality of anxiously awaiting each day’s numbers – in order to basically talk about nothing that cannot be explained within the sampling errors.

    In that respect, Maclean’s bloggers have contributed to the dumbing down of the electorate.

    Giddy up! The horses are ready for the next round of handicapping.

  22. For all of those who are using the “they were watching baseball” as an excuse, it should be noted that the ratings for the baseball playoffs thus far are some of the lowest on record – baseball has been at the bottom of its time slot each and every game.

    As for Paul’s answers, (c) is part of it but the downshifting of Liberal votes has got to be troubling for the organization’s brain trust.

    It’s not just the ability to get out the vote but also the means to effectively organize, THEN galvanize the grassroots of the party. The first part comes from the national organization, the second from the leader of the day.

    The Reform-Alliance-Conservative organization has learned the former and is attempting to apply the latter with (dare I say) incremental results. The NDP are showing evidence of the former. The Liberals still have the training wheels on.

  23. B. Let me amend that slightly, though. I’m not sure how much difference it makes outside of the general upswing the CPC was already seeing. However, I think the timing of the election right after Thanksgiving was probably intentional, that there was a belief that getting families together would have the same impact it appeared to have during Christmas 2005.

    Because the public space has (or is at least percieved to have) many voices that tell people they shouldn’t vote Conserative, there’s a reasonable argument to be made that the way to solidify the vote is through discussions around the family table with those you trust.

  24. Politics has always fascinated me. This, I believe, is not so with most people. After moving to Ottawa from Calgary, I noticed a massive shift in popular support for the big ‘L’ Liberal party and small ‘l’ liberal ideas amongst my new friends and co-workers. This has of course led to some rather interesting conversations. In some of the most recent political talks I have had with people leading up to the election, it was easily apparent that people who identify as Liberal were uninspired with the current election. Uninspired = don’t bother voting.

    Two things are needed to inspire these voters again: 1) A ground game of local people out talking to constituents, getting people involved, and 2) A charismatic leader with a meaningful and timely message.

    The environment wrapped in another Liberal social wealth re-distribution program has to be the biggest flop of a plank since John Tory de-motivated Ontario Conservatives by fighting for Religious schools.

    It also appears that in the harsh light of real concerns such as recession, work, savings and/or housing; the far off and possibly fictitious boogeyman of ‘Global Warming’ or ‘Climate Change’ evaporates rather quickly.

  25. Do pollsters give us a breakdown of what the political affiliation of responders is? I don’t recall seeing those numbers in Canadian polls but they always provide the info in US polls.

    Could be pollsters are over-sampling Lib supporters and/or under-sampling Con supporters.

  26. I don’t know about the rest of the liberal voters who didn’t vote, but personally I was just supporting the party like the MP’s do…

    by abstaining on the vote :)

  27. “The real issue here is future funding for the Libs from elections canada. Last night’s election results just cost the Libs $1.6 million in future subsidies from elections canada. This rate of attrition, based on current Lib fundraising results from individual donors, cannot be sustained.”

    Too true, except that that is $1.6 million per year. That reduced revenue stream is the security for the money the Grits borrowed to fight the election. Cut the per vote in half, popular as hell, and things get interesting for the natural governing party. What happens when a party goes bankrupt?

  28. If they have to auction Chretien’s (golf) balls to pay the bills, I might be a buyer. Nice trophy for my bar.

  29. The Harper updraft was profoundly evident in my Ontario riding of Northumberland-Quinte West. The Conservative incumbent won with a significant increase in support despite a very well organized Liberal campaign with innumerable volunteers working hard right to the end. My own theory therefore is simply this: Harper was deemed acceptable by many (his foibles didn’t make a dent); Dion was considered unacceptable (language, policies); and the NDP and Green provided a respectable place for nearly 25% to entrust their votes.

  30. A & B, though they’re just about the same point, really.

    Actually, I’ve got to go with C as well — this is like those by-election nights when the Tories did much better than we thought they would.

    Mind you, Nanos’s Sunday sample hit the Tory and Grit numbers…

  31. This was the first election in awhile where I didn’t get a call from the Conservatives asking me to come out and vote. Could be that, in Edmonton Centre, they didn’t really need to do that; could be that the last time they called (provincally, mind you), I thanked them for reminding me not to vote for their candidate. But I still discount “C” somewhat.

    So I too am stuck with A+B. Plus I remembered, in looking at the polls, Coyne’s piece on the spread difference needed for a Conservative majority and figured the Tories would do better than people expected. That is why I handily won my election pool — I picked 140/80/50/35/3.

  32. Because you’re confusing the “popular vote” with “public opinion”.

    10 million people who could have voted didn’t, meaning that a party with only 33+% of the public opinion could garner 38+% of the popular vote.

    Bigger question: What did 10 million Canadians think was more important yesterday than voting?

  33. The only thing that I can come up with to explain the sudden bounce in the Tory numbers at the beginning of the long weekend is the CTV footage of Dion’s interview.

  34. The polls definitely weren’t meaningless. I think Paul predicted the Conservatives would be a little higher than they were polling.

    I’d add one more explanation. The final weekend saw a new Conservative ad (new to me at least).

    A woman with her daughter in the family kitchen pushing the “Don’t Trust Dion” line. It seemed like they put that one into pretty heavy rotation. That ad could have helped seal the deal with female voters in particular.

  35. Oh, and folks? I’ll be paying close attention to see whether I was hasty in threatening to shut down the comment boards here on Inkless.

    I must have missed this threat, however it does seem like all the kids are on their best behaviour in this thread. Ice cream for everybody!

  36. Finally, a reasonable and reasoned discussion of the vote dispersion.
    I agree that the Liberal vote collapsed because Dion failed to gain traction, for a host of reasons and sentiments, in English-speaking Canada. This was a concern I expressed soon after his selection as leader. His performance improved tremendously but he is still where Harper was in 2004 when he was defeated his first time out. If you recall he almost quit!
    The Liberal vote in Quebec increased largely because the Québécois et Québécoises dislike Harper’s continued displays of his contempt, with his lies and negative ads, towards Dion. These highly personal attacks on Dion’s integrity and intelligence demean the entire political process. A cultural divide between Québécois and English-speaking Canadians, fueled by PM Harper and most CP members, has emerged. This is most unfortunate, since this cultural and linguistic cleavage will fuel the Québécois nationaliste and secessionist movements.
    I have learned a lot and hope to learn more from these posts. Indeed, there is much, much more to decipher from the entrails of this election. The political realignment process, to be successful, has to be incremental. Harper, who finally understands the importance of an incremental approach to change, will consolidate CP gains over the next couple of years as the left of centre opposition forces remain divided and ineffectual.
    Once Harper senses it is time to go for a majority, he will pounce. He got away with violating his fixed-election law in 2008 and he will act with utter impunity for the law next time around. This, too, is unfortunate since it turns many voters cynical and drives them away from exercising their democratic responsibilities.

    Congrats to one and all. Let’s hope this less partisan form of blogging continues for the indefinite future.

  37. One theory:
    Likely voters (e.g. seniors) are more Conservative than Liberal.
    In times of low voter turn-out, this shows up as a divergence from the polls.

    But I think choice (a) is most likely, a weekend upswing in Conservative support.

  38. In the interests of keeping comments open, I heartily endorse every idea espoused by Paul Wells in this post.

    Just kidding. But only about the comments part. I think this is bang on the money. Other possible explanations for (a) are the Dion interview debacle and the tendency for undecideds to break for the incumbent at the last minute.

  39. Tiens? Something that john g and I actually agree on.

  40. Many, many people including myself are ‘closet conservatives’ and keep our voting opinions to ourselves -and don’t answer the phone to pollsters. In many social circles and workplaces it just isn’t worth the hassle of defending one’s views to people who think government should always be all things to all people!

  41. Some thoughts on PolPundit’s post:

    – I’m not sure the partisanship has gone away; it’s more like this is the morning after the climax of all that partisanship (no pun intended). Much like a party that got out of hand early, you wake up the next morning dazed, confused, hung over and trying to sort out the aftermath. (“Who is that person sleeping on my couch? Where’s my dining room table? Why I am wearing an orange thong?”)

    – What I find more upsetting than pure partisanship is, for lack of a better word, a complete lack of open-mindedness in parts of the electorate.

    Let me explain: Where I live, about 70% of the electorate think the Liberals are here to take our guns first and our oil second, which explains why in many Alberta ridings they finished fourth … behind the Greens and the NDP.

    Similarly, I get the impression from my Toronto friends that Conservatives hunt puppies for sport and drink the blood of the poor. Since I live amongst them, I know that’s not true — they hunt kittens, and drink the blood of heathens. (To my GTA friends: I’m kidding! A joke! I swear!)

    I claim no moral high ground about being open-minded; in the past, there were some parties I would not vote for. But the last two elections I found myself open to pretty much any party (and I mean ANY party) who could convince me they had a better way forward. No one did a particularly good job, and I ended up choosing my vote for other reasons (a local candidate I knew; not wanting any party to get money for my vote).

    I just get the impression that most people have locked into a world-view, a party (maybe two) they think fits that world-view, and are unwilling to be persuaded that any other view (or party) could be considered valid. And that offends me at a certain level, since the only reason to have a mind (IMHO) is to change it once in awhile.

    – Which leads me to my third point: Isn’t that level of partisanship driving turnout downward, and at least in part to explain why the polls were wrong? When the governing party focuses on the base and the small amount of swing voters they can access, when people on the centre-left become polarized and partition their vote accordingly, and when no one issue galvanizes even a part of the electorate on the other side, isn’t this the result? Low turnout, and a swing to incumbency?

    I’m probably wrong, but I would like to hear why.

  42. I have no clue about voter motivation around Toronto, since I live in the Vancouver suburbs and work in the city. Here’s what I saw that was different this time — the Conservatives did much better with the immigrant vote. The most radical CPC improvement is with the suburban Chinese, allowing them to pick up Richmond and North Vancouver from the Liberals and increase margins to blowouts in Richmond East-Delta and Port Moody-Coquitlam. They even came close to taking Vancouver South (and forcing Ujjal Dosanjh into gainful employment) and Burnaby-Douglas. Although the biggest turnaround is the Chinese voting Conservative, they are also clearly doing better with the East Indian vote.

    Although this gets no national media coverage (and why would it? after all, nothing outside the Big Lemon ever does) you can be sure that every local Liberal and NDP operative noticed it — and is shaken up big time.

    Some local coverage witha few of the numbers is here:
    Minorities push Tories ahead in Metro Vancouver

  43. I think Boudica is right:

    “The only thing that I can come up with to explain the sudden bounce in the Tory numbers at the beginning of the long weekend is the CTV footage of Dion’s interview.”

    It was a late campaign final nail in Dion’s hopes, an over the weekend dinner table discussion point that gave Conservatives a boost.

    Revived the “not a leader image” which Dion had some success in losing during debates etc.
    The CTV/Duffy entrance into the campaign was successful in wrapping it up for Dion.

    Should be worth that Senate seat. Sorry Paul.

  44. Check out Joan Bryden’s article on the election strategy. Interesting all around.

  45. The same happened to the UK Tories. In the early eighties, Margaret Thatcher was well past her prime, John Major made Stephen Harper look charismatic and yet British voters kept re-electing the Tories. The analysis at the time was that voter intentions were warped against the right wing. This wasn’t a case of ballot box decisions, but rather avoidance of giving the true voting intention to the pollsters. Only exit polls captured the true vote in the UK (so much so that the BBC and ITV focussed their effort on the day of the vote polls).

    The overall result is disappointing for many reasons. People voted across the land for very different reasons – and our elected representatives will yet again fail to understand or mitigate those divisions.

    SInce the Conservatives have blown their chances in Quebec (for at least 4 years), the key to a majority has to be Toronto. But what would it take to turn that city Blue? A Stanley Cup?