The coalition lives? -

The coalition lives?

The public is now—strangely—more evenly divided on the coalition


Let’s be mischievous.

Almost exactly a month ago, the Liberal-NDP(-Bloc) coalition was declared objectively dead on the strength of two scientific findings. First, in direct polling, 60% of Canadians opposed a coalition taking power. Second, and apparently even more telling, the Conservatives had opened up a 20-point advantage on the Liberals.

Well. The public is now—strangely, given the complete lack of an obvious campaign on the coalition’s behalf—more evenly divided. And the Liberals have gone from 20 points back to one point in front.

Suggested headlines for inevitably futile attempts to make grand declarations from these new numbers: Iggymania sweeps the nation! Canada warms to coalition! Harper’s hold on power begins to crumble!

Silly question. Are we entirely sure that public opinion polling’s primary purpose at this point isn’t simply the torment-slash-placating of journalists?


The coalition lives?

  1. To say that the Liberal party is ahead by one point is to ignore the concept of “margin of error” and to misunderstand math. That being said, the Liberal party has gained support under Ignatieff, and deservedly so. It would be wrong to mistake support for a party reinvigorated by Ignatieff’s leadership with support for a coalition, which remains extremely unpopular according to every poll I have seen.

    • Can you refer us to some recent polls on ‘support for a coalition’?

  2. Silly question. Are we entirely sure that public opinion polling’s primary purpose at this point isn’t simply the torment-slash-placating of journalists?

    Are none of you cognisant of the fact that public opinion poling serves mostly to establish the limits of acceptable opinion?

    Lord, I actually thought you guys knew that….

    • Acceptable by whom? I know a great many people with strong opinions for and against the current governing party, and not one of them seems to be concerned about the “acceptability” of their opinion.

      • Acceptable by whom?

        To the our overlords in the media-industrial complex, natch.

    • Bon, t’es pas bête, toi, là…

    • I think you give far too much credit to polls. Our elites/chattering classes have been successfully imposing a liberal hegemony within Canada and the polls are entirely ignored when they go against what our overlords want to do.

      Polls showed that Coalition was not popular in ROC, particularly the BQ gaining real power, but that didn’t stop the msm and other elites from acting like BQ are just like the rest of us, just ignore the fact that they want to break up the country, and they should be treated as such. If polls were responsible for establishing what was acceptable to talk about in polite company than there would be much, much more anti-BQ talk within the msm.

      • Really? The SEPARATIST COALITION, as I believe it’s now officially known, included the BQ? And the BQ is different from other federal parties somehow? Who knew?

        Thank you for enlightening me. I get my news from the mainstream media (these Macleans blogs are as alternative as I get), so I had no idea that the BQ were included in the TREASONOUS COALITION WITH THE SEPARATISTS AND THE SOCIALISTS.

  3. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if Nanos poll is accurate. New leaders always seem to do well in the initial polls, maybe the people have no reason to loathe them yet?, but the numbers start going up/down in response to performance after a few months.

    I think the Coalition is dead tho. People aren’t thinking about it at the moment so they aren’t all hot and bothered about Lib/BQ tag team but if the spectre of Coalition government reappears those numbers will change awfully fast. ROC seems to have a visceral hatred of BQ and that isn’t going to change anytime soon.

  4. What is it that dogs do to polls? The coalition is DOA, one of the three stooges has been unceremoniously deposed and his replacement thinks that tax cuts are good. Square that circle with the NDP and Bloc.

  5. This is still a honeymoon for a new leader, and the polls are reflecting that. The coalition will not vote down the budget (Ignatieff will let Harper govern, with a watchful eye (he doesn’t want an election)), and the coalition will essentially become history. When the government falls it will be the Liberals doing (and other parties) but it won’t be under the pretext of a coalition decision.

  6. Interesting. If this poll is to be believed then Quebec and the West basically cancel each other out when it comes to coalition support. With Ontario and Atlantic Canada pretty competitive.

    And all this, as Aaron Wherry points out, without a serious pro-coalition campaign by the Liberals.

    • “And all this, as Aaron Wherry points out, without a serious pro-coalition campaign by the Liberals.”

      And without a serious anti-coalition campaign by the Conservatives.

  7. Polls can be a funny thing — better never to put too much stock in them. At best, they’re a snapshot of a sample of people that is never representative of the entire voting nation (polls would have to work with samples of at least 10,000 people to come close to being representative).

    But sometimes they do point us in the direction of general trends. Harper has done much to frustrate not only those who never vote Conservative but also those who have. Ignatieff, after the Dion Disaster, is a welcome relief, because Canadians who find themselves in the political centre finally have an alternative to vote for (again, with Dion, no centrist would have voted Liberal, as Dion was really a closet Marxist and not a Liberal at all).

    It’s therefore not surprising that the Liberals should be a point ahead of the Conservatives (margin of error or no margin of error).

    The moment of truth will come at the end of this month; then, we’ll know better which way this country will swing.

    • Werner Patels – “…as Dion was really a closet Marxist and not a Liberal at all’


      That statement is completely ridiculous. What evidence do you have to back up that assertion? The fact that Dion proposed the Green Shift? The same Green Shift which almost every credible economist agrees is the best way to reduce fossil fuel consumption.

      Maybe Dion just seems more left wing to Conservatives because he has an accent and French citizenship. Maybe it’s because he was willing to enter into a coalition with the NDP (which you’ll recall every other Liberal MP signed onto and which is still on the table).

      There is a lot less ideological daylight between Dion and Ignatieff than you might think (remember Ignatieff actually proposed a carbon tax BEFORE Dion did.)

      • Well said, Monsieur Proulx.

      • Indeed. Ignatieff and Dion are similar in policy. Given I supported Dion for his policy, I’m hoping/expecting that he will be a better salesman than his predecessor.

        Also, Dion proposed larger corporate tax cuts than Harper. I guess that means Harper is practically Karl Marx himself, right?

        • In theory, government revenues would have actually increased under the Green Shift, so it would be misleading to portray Dion as some kind of tax-cutting crusader.

          • Tax revenues are increasing under Harper, but that is a quibble.

            According to the Liberal platform, taxes would have decreased overall. Dion was not a socialist. To claim so is absurd propaganda.

  8. Much as I respect the integrity and professionalism of people like Nik Nanos, Alan Gregg, et al., I can’t help feeling that political polling should be banned outright — not just the publication of polls but the conduct of them for internal party consumption. I think this would have several positive effects:

    1. It would oblige politicians to act on the basis of their own judgment and their own principles most of the time, looking to the long term instead of to news cycles.

    2. It would free them from their dependence on party strategists.

    3. It would eliminate horserace journalism, which is like heroin for the dealers and junkies alike.

    4. Most of all, it would force MP’s to get in touch with their constituents face to face to find out what people are thinking and feeling. A letter to or chat with one’s MP would cease to be a tiresome ordeal for that MP and instead be a rare window on what people are really thinking. Moreover, if public opinion could only be discovered at the local level, MP’s would be both empowered (as bridges between PMO and The People) and emboldened (as able to gauge local opinion).

    This is not an issue that ever comes up, I realise, except in the “Yeah I sure wish I could cut back on all these unfiltered Player’s Regulars” sense. But polling has radically changed the nature of our democracy and it deserves to be taken as seriously as electoral reform or the constitutionality of prorogation.

    • I think I disagree because there are always developments in between elections and public opinion changes such that the original poll that gave a governing mandate, that is the election result (X votes fromYX numbers of Z Eligigable citizens) just doesn’t give enough information to policy makers about what will work well.

      • I guess that’s my point. If our leaders were forced to act in accordance with what they think is best for the country, voters could then judge them on the basis of their actions, instead of on the basis of what the politicians think the voters want. I think that would actually empower voters, because they wouldn’t have to fight through a haze of second-guessed spin to find a basis for their judgment.

        • So Jack, Can you come up with any legislation to ban asking people their opinion and then publishing it that could possibly pass a Charter test?

          • Israel bans polling during election campaigns, I believe.

            Anything can be limited with regard to Charter rights if it can be shown to be reasonable in a free and democratic society. I firmly believe polling is itself an obstacle to a free and democratic society. Another is the corporate media.

    • To some extent, your points have merit, but there are two good reasons not to ban polls. First, freedom of speech and freedom of information are key principles in a free-ish society. Second, sometimes politicians really ought to pay close attention to polls — if people are massively against (or for) a particular change or policy proposal, there may be a good reason for it. There is a risk that politicians acting on their own “best judgment” would in reality act in accordance with their best judgment of how to most obsequiously suck up to their Party leader in order to advance their own careers; so if the Party leader has an egregious idea, is surrounded by yes-men, and has no polls to let him know that people don’t support his idea, disastrous policy could result. Slavish reactionism to polling is a bad thing, as you point out, but so is operating in a black box.

      • First, freedom of speech and freedom of information are key principles in a free-ish society.

        But polls are a huge restriction on freedom of thought. Besides they never measure what pollsters claim they measure. People’s opinions and beliefs are rarely what they tell us they are; most people’s beliefs are better reflected in how they act and the choices they make.

        I personally just think news agencies should be forbidden from commissioning polls.

    • But without polling, how would we know what to think?
      And how would our politicians be able to convince us of the need to elect someone “on the government side”?

    • Well, gee, doesn’t polling allow the parties to find out which way the mob is heading, and then get out in front of it? That’s the sign of good leadership isn’t it: knowing where everyone is going and then going to the front of the line.

      In regards to your 4th point. I believe that is the direction Garth Turner tried to take; but no-one wanted that kind of feedback.

      • Ed
        Is that from the official Ralph klein playbook?

        • Isn’t this the way every political party plays the game? Is there any other way?

          Without polling, a political party would only be able to assemble a platform based on their core ideologies. The voter would then have some pretty stark choices. It would make elections more clear-cut, though. Wouldn’t it?

          As it is, one never knows what one is going to get anyway. M.Chretien was going to “kill the GST”, and Mr. Harper would never tax Income Trusts.

          • I was just teasing, yr probably right.

  9. The coalition shouldn’t live or die based on ephemera like public opinion polls.

    In my opinion, it could and should live if enough elected MPs conclude that it is not in the national interest to have Stephen Harper and the Conservatives continue in office.

    Since September at least, when he broke his own fixed-election-date law, and through a series of events to follow, Stephen Harper has shown that he is neither interested in nor capable of governing the country, particularly in these difficult economic times.

    MPs in the opposition parties should therefore exercise the responsibility of judgment entrusted them by the voters, and act in the interest of the public to remove Stephen Harper from an office he is not fit to hold.

  10. You guys are asking the wrong the questions.

    If the Liberal party wanted to go ahead with a coalition, why in hell would it care about what the opinion polls say? The coalition agreement is for two years, and that is a lifetime in politics. In two years, support for the coalition would fluctuate all over the place, its starting point is of absolutely no concern for them.

    The question Iggy’s team is asking themselves right now, is whether they want to go along with Harpers budget, and simply allow him to wear this recession (which has cascaded completely outside the federal governments ability to manage), or do they seize power while they have the chance?

    Remember folks, we could be two weeks away from a Liberal-NDP government. Politicos in this country know better than anyone that public opinion is fickle, and has little relationship to wear it stood a few months ago. The question now is whether the Libs want power.

    • Well, one good reason is that there is no guarantee that the Governor General would grant the coalition request to form the government. I would hope she would, but they could very well be sent back to face the electorate immediately.

  11. Methinks that it matters enormously whether people like the leader of a party or not. There are two kinds of voters: Party partisans, who nearly always vote for their brand; and swing voters. Swing voters sometimes vote on the basis of some major issue (e.g. the Mulroney Free Trade election), but it’s rare. Mostly swing voters vote for the guy they’d most like (or least-not-like) to see in the Prime Minister’s office. A really uncharismatic Party X leader can temporarily turn habitual Party X voters into swing voters, but when an Ignatieff replaces a Dion, these habitual voters come back home.

    The real challenge for the Liberals, and for the nation, is that there is a limit to the LPC’s upside in a crowded field of Progressive parties. We need electoral reform if we are to stop this ridiculous trend of having elections every year or so. With the emergence of the BQ and the Greens (and the persistence of the NDP), and the reunification of the Right, the Progressive vote is so fractured that the LPC cannot hope to regain a parliamentary majority. And since three per cent swings in opinion polls can mean a 10% difference in parliamentary seats — and the difference between government and opposition, or parliamentary minority vs. majority — there is a permanent incentive for parties to opportunistically act on transient opinion-poll swings to bring down the government, which is why Canada is now competing with Italy for frequency of elections. This is bullshit. The solution is simple: Either we go to some form of proportional representation, something like Germany’s very stable system, so that 3% moves in a party’s level of popular support during an election mean 3% more seats — and likely no change from parliamentary minority to majority, or government and opposition, hence removing the incentive to force spurious elections — or we make a very small change to the status quo by having people mark their ballots with numbers (ranking their preferences) rather than an X beside only one name. That would effectively force minor parties out of the running, and ensure each Riding is represented by an MP who has at least lukewarm support from more than half the Riding’s electorate. It would more or less restore the status quo ante prior to the emergence of the Bloc and the Green Party. Whichever of these two models of reform we choose — it’s time to make that choice and get it done. The current system no longer serves Canada’s interests (not sure it ever really did, but now it obviously doesn’t).

    • Frankly, I think swing voters tend to vote against a party as opposed to voting for a party. They are really casting a negative vote. I don’t believe that Mr. Harper won the election in 2006 so much as the Liberals lost it. Swing voters decided that the actions of the Liberal Party had become so egregious, that they had to be punished.

      If what you say in regards to the unified Right and fractured progressives are correct, maybe after a couple of election losses, the Liberals and NDP will realize that they need to unite the centre/left, if they are to offer a credible alternative with a hope of defeating the right.

      In terms of democratic reform, I do think that we should be at least considering a preferential ballot that would insist that an MP be elected with 50% plus one of the votes in each riding.

  12. When the Liberals had a leader who was explicitly and loudly for a coalition, their polling numbers dropped substantially. Now that they have a leader who’s wishy-washy at best on a coalition (and widely suspected of having repudiated it entirely, except as a threat) their numbers have recovered.

    It takes a peculiar kind of Tory-bashing paranoia to interpret this as “polling support for a coalition.”

  13. People here should go read Chantal Hébert’s column in the Star today.

    It makes for rather sobering reading for the dwindling number of people, mostly lefties, who think the Liberals would be wise to pursue the Coalition option. Perhaps the lefties will dismiss her, as they dismiss anyone who dare express views contrary to theirs, with ad hominen attacks.

    As she explains, Dion tried to move the Liberals to the left and every time he did so, the Conservatives gained, at the Liberals’ expense.

    In my view, the Liberals should move to the center, throw a few bones to the lefties during the pre-election period and during the campaign itself to attract gullible NDPers and then govern from the center. That has has served them well in the past.

    In the meantime, Iggy should refrain from photo-ops with Duceppe, Layton and May which was a mainstay of Dion’s unfortunate reign.

    • People here should go read Chantal Hébert’s column in the Star today.

      The awful commie Red Star? No thank you.

  14. Polls…hmmm

    ” The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.”
    – Sir Winston Churchill.

    • Yes, Winnie was quite the wag.

  15. Maybe the less Canadians hear from politicians, the more they like. Maybe the Green Party should just say nothing and they can form government in a couple elections.

  16. “Are we entirely sure that public opinion polling’s primary purpose at this point isn’t simply the torment-slash-placating of journalists?”

    Leave out the “slash-placating” part, and I think you’ll have something more accurate.

  17. The poll showing the Liberals in the lead is something I would call dubious, at best.
    The Liberals have effectively always managed to cast themselves as the ‘second-best’ vote choice for the average Canadian. Hence any erosion or build-up of the NDP or Conservative vote almost always ebbs and flows concomitant with Liberal Party support. Almost every Conservative, given a ‘second favourite’ would choose the Liberals because anything else (outside of Quebec) would almost be tantamount to cognitive dissonance. And to make the case vice-versa: how many NDP voters would choose the Conservatives second. So, most Conservatives, or even those of the small-c persuasion, would tell you “Yes, quite frankly they all suck, but these Liberals are the best of the worst.” Therefore, I would call into question how many of those 1,002 interviewed chose the Libs second.
    I mean, at least put in a disclaimer that these poll numbers, should an election be held today, would be wildly inaccurate (unless all non-card carrying voters got two votes… and it’s not like polls are worth much anyway.)


    I must say I am extremely discouraged by the comments of some of my fellow Canadians who do not seem to appreciate the seriousness of what happened on December 4.

    By using the prorogue to avoid a vote of non-confidence, Herr Harper effectively ended parliamentary democracy in Canada. It was a date of national shame which I, for one, cannot forget.

    I pray that the polls are right about growing support for the Coalition, because I believe it is our only hope of restoring democracy in our country.

    If this prime minister is allowed to remain in office, Canada will have become nothing more than a banana republic. I never thought I would live to see such a day.

    If Mr. Ignatieff has a shred of patriotism, he will demand that the Governor General recall Parliament immediately, so that this illegitimate government can be brought down and replaced by the Coalition, before the damage to this nation is irreparable.

  19. Yep, it’s important to acknowledge that Ignatieff is getting that post-appointment bump; nothing like newness to make someone look attractive.
    But when do we fickle voters start getting blitzed on that cold-feet-ism with the Harper boy? Three times he’s tried to prompt us to the alter and three times we’ve gotten close but just kept it status quo. Shacking up without the full commitment and complete keys to all our accounts should require some indepth navel gazing, shouldn’t it? Cause it can’t be that Harper boy, although his meanness with our rivals and occasion to snap at our poorer cousins (shunning and insulting people just when he’s given us the invitations to fill out didn’t help with the shot-gun ceremony last year!)…
    Or is this obsession with the Liberal party and its sheen and foibles all we Canadians need to know when it comes to how our government function?

  20. That’s interesting. You declared it dead on the basis of some opinion polls. I just declared it dead at the time because there’s no way that beast survives given the constituent parts. The Bloc has no need to honour any agreement to stay quiet for any length of time, because it basically has no penalty to pay for walking away when it chooses to do so. Either the Liberals or the NDP will find its own poison pill at the most politically opportune time: “We tried to work with those (socialist idealists who should never be allowed to actually govern / arrogant blowhards who would not listen to anything anyone else had to contribute on behalf of hurting Canadian families), but we cannot allow those (choose from above) to possibly damage this country anymore. It is time for Canadians to decide…”

    What you now see may just be the last gasp of the dying patient. Call the morgue to get ready.

  21. It’s simple. The reason Iggy is doing well is because he has indicated he has no plans to push the Coaltion.