The bravest of talking points


Reacting on CBC this afternoon to the latest polling from Ekos, Conservative Jaime Watt offers offered an altogether profound spin.

So obviously these aren’t numbers that we’d be hoping to see. I think there’s a few explanations for why they are the way they are. First of all, we’ve got an almost three-point margin of error, which would possibly bring those numbers a bit closer.

Indeed. Or, by the very same logic, the gap might be even wider.

Better still, if a poll with a +/- 2.5 percentage point margin of error isn’t to be entirely trusted, perhaps all political polling is to be disqualified. The last similar surveys published, for instance, by Nanos, Ipsos Reid and the Strategic Counsel had margins of 3.3, 2.2 and 3.1 respectively.

This is a remarkable position for a political commentator to take publicly and Watt is surely to be commended on his bravery in doing so. May his rational and reasoned approach to politics be an example to us all.


The bravest of talking points

  1. That’s probably a moment that Mr. Watt would like to have back.

  2. Must have had Beer and Popcorn (who loves him and who knows his mother knows he loves him) snapping at his heels…
    Honestly – forget Jaime Watt – when is the Liberal Party going to realize that Bag o’Hammers and Beer and Popcorn (or for that matter David – the Cheshire Cat – Herle) do not present a great image to the general public – and to Liberal Party members – remind them all too vividly of the terrible time known as the Earnscliffe Epoch…

    OK – Rant over!

  3. I used to talk a lot about margins of error too … when I was trying to paint disappointing polls in a positive light for the Liberals. Now, its the Cons that are talking about MOEs. They’d say MOE when the polls showed the Liberals closing-in on the Con lead. They’d say MOE when the polls showed the parties tied. And they’re still saying MOE when the poll shows a decent Liberal lead.

    Pointing-out the MOE can be a valid point. But at some point, it becomes a somewhat delusional refuge. A more telling factor to consider is the trend. And for a few months now, across multiple pollsters, the Liberals have been trending consistently up, the Conservatives consistently down.

    So, maybe, Jamie is right. Maybe with the MOE, it is a little closer. Or, as you note, maybe a little wider. But more important is the trend we see in this poll, once again: one party’s moving up, the other down. And MOE can’t explain away that.

  4. The Ekos poll has some strange SK/MB numbers. Watt could have focused on that if he wanted to discredit their poll.

  5. Not sure why you single this out? Everybody commenting on an unfavourable poll points to the margin of error.

    For God’s sake, most of the media call a 3 percentage point lead a “statistical tie” when it suits them to do so.

    • It’s ok when the media does it.

    • Well, yes, but it’s all a matter of perspective then, isn’t it?

      As BCer points out, what’s really important in polls is the trend, and this MOE talking point is pretty funny when looking at the difference since December (when EKOs had a similar poll, in methodology and MOE, which had the Tories at 44% and the Liberals at 24%). (No, that’s not really a trend, but I’m just trying to show how off I think your “statistical tie” comparison is).

      It’s one thing to say, as you point out the media sometimes does, “It’s not so bad, that three point lead they have is, given the MOE, actually a statistical tie”. It’s quite another thing to say “It’s not so bad, perhaps our 20 point lead hasn’t turned into a 6.5 point deficit, maybe, given the MOE, it’s just that our 15 point lead has turned into a 1.5 point deficit”.

      So, sure, “Maybe we’re only 4 points behind, not 6.5” isn’t a crazy line, and everyone spins the numbers to their favour, but it’s still a pretty bad place to be for a party that was 15-20 points ahead less than 4 months ago.

      I really think it’s a bit different to spin a poll as “really, we’re tied, not 3 points behind” as opposed to spinning a poll as “It’s not so bad, maybe we’ve only lost 16 points since December, not 26”. “We’re not as far behind as everyone says we are” is pretty brave spin for a party that used to be way ahead (and by “used to be” I mean, like, 120 days ago…)

      It is fun to play with numbers though, eh? The way I see it, (looking at just the two EKOs polls alone mind you, so it’s not really a “trend”, making this a somewhat extreme a comparison), the extremes at either end of the MOE are either: 1) (Good spin for the Tories) The Tories have gone from a 17.5% lead to a 1.5% deficit, or 2) (Bad spin for the Tories) The Tories have gone from a 22.5% lead to a 6.5% deficit.

      Either scenario does require a Tory to put on a brave face, no?

      • John G is right. It seems silly to be parsing Watt’s comment like that. Watt never claimed that a poll with a 2.5% MOE “isn’t to be entirely trusted”. Those are Wherry’s words. Wherry invents a ridiculous position and proceeds to mock Watt based on the imaginary position, rather than what Watt actually said.

        In other words, Wherry is reading way too much into Watt’s completely factual and correct statement.

        • Well, I agree that Wherry goes way over the top in attacking Watt’s spin, which is exactly the same spin of anyone faced with a poll that doesn’t show that person’s side winning, but I don’t think it’s at all similar to pointing out when what a poll shows can actually be called a statistical tie.

          As I said, I don’t think it’s crazy to call it “brave spin” when someone essentially (if not explicitly) says “It’s not so bad, maybe we haven’t really lost 17.5 points since the election, maybe we’ve only lost 15 points”.

  6. The idea of a statistical tie in the way the media means it is of course absurd. A party with a three pt lead on another is not tied. It is substantially more probable that they have a higher level of support than the other. A statistical tie would be where both parties have roughly equal support, but the margin of error allows that one party might have more support than the other.

  7. Goes to show it really was Dion that was the problem for the Liberals.

    • True, though I think the recession and the December parliamentary meltdown eroded Harper’s credibility as well.

      • Maybe, but if so it took a while to show up in polls. That EKOS poll that the story I link to above cites was from just AFTER the prorogation crisis in December, and it had the Tories up 44-24.

        As I said, this is the “bravery” of the spin. As has been pointed out, almost any party that was shown to be 6.5 points behind in a poll would say “You know, it’s possible we’re really only 4 points behind”. It’s got to be tougher for a party to do that in when they were more than 11 points ahead 6 months ago on Election Day, and possibly as many as 20 points ahead 4 months ago in December.

        • “and it had the Tories up 44-24.”


          and then everybody had a chance to think about it.

          • It’s been a long time (if ever) since you could accuse Canada of having a thoughtful electorate.

          • I suppose you could say the same for most, if not all, modern democracies.

  8. “It’s been a long time (if ever) since you could accuse Canada of having a thoughtful electorate.”

    sorry about that

  9. So – me thinks that the real question after this poll remains? Iggy watcha going to do the next confidence motion in the house? Hmmmmm. listen to the hardline loonie left section of the party who are pressing for an immediate pull the plug (providing of course the NDP and or BQ wanna play) – OR – roll over and demand the Stevie boys rubs your belly again notice how you hear no talk of probation or tight leash = that’s because he could be called on it quickly if he did.. ROFL .. I love canadian politics .. becuase the numbers could be double what they are now for the LPC but I still don’t see 40 seats in the cards – nope sorry doesn’t compute … The best part is that this only puts fire in the bellies of the CPC base which is exactly what Stevie has to keep .. I knew Iggy would be abetter fight and he isn’t disappointing yet – So Igster what’s it going to be the pressure is on you now – thumbs up or thumbs down as the ball in his court right now.

    • I think that’s more than a bit of denial. Harper wouldn’t force an election, and Iggy has no need to back down. If Harper attempts something unreasonable, the electorate would not judge it too kindly.

      • you missed the essential point : If Iggy were to manage to drop the writ without a decent enough reason the only real poll numbers that would count are the ones where it show 70% don’t want an election therefore it is Iggy who is in the hot seat and this play’s right into Harpers tried and true counter punching strategy. By the way maybe Stevie is thinking why not pile on Iggy and increase the pressure after all if Iggy backs down again … there you go what’s the difference between Dion and Iggy and if Iggy falls for the bait and pulls the plug too soon a goodly amount of the canadian voters eject him out of the catbird seat however if he doesn’t a good chunk of his own party may revolt. All of which may be moot as who knows what jack and Gilles really want right now ROFL LMAO!

        • Like I said, denial. Fact is that the CPC is down by 6.5 pts and their leader is only popular among CPC supporters. They can’t grow. They will lose many seats in Ontario. Canadians never want an election, but I don’t think they’ll reinstall Harper out of outrage for having to vote.

          • again – you completely miss the point. It is not the ‘ growth ‘ of the CPC that is an issue it is moot and irrelevant to what the party breakdown numbers show right now – but what will Iggy do – that’s it plain and simple and no denial – If Iggy caused an election right now make no mistake he would pay a price irregardless of what caused it – if Iggy votes against a confidence motion he is responsible irrespective of what the vote is about he would have to wear it and providing Jack and Gilles go along with it. In point of fact if i were Stevie boy I would re-submit the removal of the 1.95 per voter the parties get – that would be a howl as there would be no mickey mouse coalition this time ROFL LMAO!

  10. Doesn’t threatening to ram through policies that the opposition can’t support work better when none of the opposition parties are more popular than you? I do love how, if Wayne’s right, Tory political posturing is now set to continuously swing wildly back and forth between “doing whatever the opposition asks” so they don’t vote you out, and “threatening to do something crazy” to force the opposition to vote you out. It’s quite confusing. Month after month we get policies from the Tories that are arguably more “liberal” than anything a Paul Martin government ever would have come up with, and yet they manage to keep the tough guy “vote for this platform that mirrors your own or we’ll paint you all as sissies for not opposing us” posturing.

    It makes me wonder if there’s some brilliant strategy behind it all, or if they’ve completely lost their way.

    I do agree with Wayne that it would be unwise of Ignatieff to force an election any time soon. My own reading is that what we’re seeing now is just the beginning of a Tory decline. Sure, they’re down 15-20 points since December, but I think they’ve got further to fall.

    • I think you’re right. Harper was really thinking short-term when he prorogued. Obviously had not taken to heart Napoleon’s maxim, “Never interrupt your enemy when he’s making a mistake — that’s bad manners.”

      • Exactly. I mean, Wayne’s all on about “What will Iggy do now?” and it’s a fair question, but still, it seems to completely ignore the fact that simply “not being Stephane Dion” has given Iggy’s party a 15-20 point swing in the polls and a 4-9 point lead over the Tories.

        Could Ignatief blow it? Of course.

        I’m just not so sure the apparent Tory strategy of “don’t worry, they’ve gained 20 points on us, but just watch, now they’ll implode” is election-winning manna.

        • First off I suggest that it is not the CPC strategy to sit back and watch the LPC implode nor say to ourselves we are behind on points or anything else but do a good job and keep counter punching until the fall – if the LPC putting their feet in their own mouths is gravy as Billy Bob Thorton would say. The question goes back to our agreement then on the possibility of Iggy blowing things as it were = maybe maybe not – but and here we get to the fun part … as watching Iggy fold and then fold again every confidence motion and to which I hasten to add is now what somehwre between 52 and 62 in a row ! The LPC have set a world record as far as I can determine and I have gone looking ,the nearest competitor is South Korea – well sort of a parliament one of those assembly things but they had a bunch of poltical parties and confidence motions and they went to a grand total of almost between 210 and 30 in a row – Now we have the new global record!

          • So they’re cowards for allowing the government to survive and would be bastards for causing an election. My, you guys need to make up your minds.

          • So, the Tories are all about making Parliament work, and Canadians don’t want an election, but the big problem for the Liberals is that they insist on keeping Parliament going rather than forcing an election??? They’re either sissies for not bringhing the House down, or idiots (and quit possibly UNDEMOCRATC idiots) if they vote against the government.

            That’s just idiotic.

  11. “So obviously these aren’t numbers that we’d be hoping to see.”

    About as honest as one could expect a party rep to be. It’s not like he’s going to step up and declare the cons are screwed or anything.

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