Polling numbers to kick off 2014 - Macleans.ca

Polling numbers to kick off 2014

55 and 61 are the magic numbers — for now


Sean Kilpatrick/CP

Nik Nanos publishes a poll about someone’s statistical standing in Canadian politics, and media people trust whatever it says. Or, at least, they publish the poll’s findings unchallenged, which more or less implies some kind of trust. It’s a real coup for a man whose industry has been bruised, broadly speaking, during elections of late. When Nanos puts out numbers, there is no immediate backlash, no universal doubt of his methods. His work stands tall.

Right now, Nanos is responsible for one of two important numbers that seem to have kicked off a year of prognostication in Canadian politics. His has to do with Stephen Harper’s future. The other has to do with Rob Ford.

Every year, Nanos puts out an end-of-year poll. He asks the country how happy it is with its government’s direction. This year, 55 per cent of respondents said the government’s headed in the wrong direction. That’s 28 per cent higher than last year, 27 per cent higher than the year before, and miles ahead of any year since Harper took power. It’s also a statistic repeated by any journalist who thinks the PM might be, or should be, feeling nervous. John Ivison, writing in today’s National Post, is just the most recent.

The other number-of-the-year belongs to Ipsos Reid, a polling firm with some major heft (among its other jobs, Ipsos crunches the numbers during Maclean’s Parliamentarians of the Year Awards). The firm took the temperature of Torontonians last month, and found that 61 per cent wouldn’t support the Toronto mayor’s reelection bid. That number’s found life for weeks, including the very day that Ford filed his candidacy for this fall’s election.

Polls are snapshots in time. Every pollster will say so. The useful life of a single poll, given all the things that governments and their leaders do, and all the opinions voters keep and discard as events intervene, should be reasonably brief. Often, they are, as happens during election campaigns when polls pop up every day. But during these slower times, in between big events, not so much. Writers create narratives, and polls support narratives. Fifty-five and 61 are sure to be repeated, given how they bolster the popular framing of two men’s uncertain political futures, until flashier numbers come along. And they will. They always do.

What’s above the fold

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Citizen A Canadian intelligence agency admits it “incidentally” spies on Canadians.
CBC Toronto’s biggest airport cancelled all landings before 9 a.m. today.
CTV A standoff near Vegreville, Alta. left Mounties injured and two men arrested.
NNW Prime Minister Stephen Harper could call an early election in 2014.


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