Canadian 2011 Election Debate: Will Voters Become Engaged

There were no clear winners or losers in the election debate; however, the event signals the point in the campaign where voters begin to pay attention.

March 12, 2011. Parliament was dissolved March 25, when the Harper Conservatives were defeated amid charges of corruption and being found in contempt of Parliament. Though the political parties have been electioneering for weeks, this night’s televised English language election debate, now viewable on CPAC, was the event, anticipated to ignite voter engagement. Speculation was that Stephen Harper would be under considerable pressure and on the defensive given his party’s record of apparent questionable spending, lack of transparency, and abuse of power. Also, Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff, needed to demonstrate to Canadians that he was made of leadership material.

Satisfaction with the Debate

The debate format and moderation was successful in that it allowed each of the leaders a period of time to face off one on one, as well as time for open discussion. Last year’s debate at a round table was seriously flawed by many interruptions and speakers talking at the same time, which did not happen on this occasion. Pundits on CBC and other major news outlets are unable to agree that there was a distinct winner. Each of the candidates, in interviews after the debate claimed that they were able to achieve their goals.

Leader Performance

Harper appeared as a calm controlled statesman and appealed to the voters for a majority mandate in order to create a more stable government. One oddity in his demeanor was the way in which he addressed the camera and rarely his opponents, presumably to create the impression that he was talking to the people.

Michael Ignatieff represented himself well in a prepared and competent, though uninspired performance. He did not strongly present his party platform, but had a few memorable exchanges with Stephen Harper regarding Conservative contempt of Parliament and disregard for democracy.

Another salient moment was when Jack Layton hit Ignatieff with a below the belt attack regarding the Liberal leader’s poor attendance during House of Commons votes. Ignatieff, caught off-guard responded by chastising Layton, instead of properly refuting the accusation. Jack Layton, a seasoned debater, took on both the Conservatives and Liberals. He did a good job of distinguishing his party’s platform and values from the others, especially when he offered immediate solutions to health care and immigration. Mr. Layton angrily bristled at Ignatieff’ s contention that the NDP were not a serious contender and that only the Liberals could form a government and deny Harper his coveted majority.

Gilles Duceppe picked away at all three of his opponents with regards their position towards Quebec issues. He began the debate by aggressively attacking the Harper government, citing the leaked Auditor General report on wasteful, and perhaps misappropriated G8 conference spending. Details of the controversy are reported in the Montreal Gazette. It is during this round of the debate that Harper felt the most heat, as the proffered question had to do with trust and accountability. Despite the onslaught by his three opponents regarding his government’s poor record, the Conservative leader was able to deflect criticism, by refusing to accept the veracity of allegations and by making a counter-claim that he ran a successful government given the impediment of five years in a minority position.

Engagement of the Electorate

This much anticipated debate has come and gone. Whether a signature moment or quote becomes a campaign maker or breaker is uncertain. The debate might have been a somewhat dreary affair; however, viewers were able to get a sense of the character and political stance of the leaders. There was no clear winner or loser; however, the event was highly anticipated and expected to prod the electorate. The parties have two more weeks to argue the merits of their politics and platforms. Regardless of the election result, a shake-up of Canadian political landscape is certain. The Vancouver Sun reviews the left/ right dynamics of current Canadian politics. A Conservative majority will shift Canada to the ideological right. A Liberal majority is highly unlikely; however, a Liberal minority might lead to a political leaning to the left as co-operation with the NDP will be essential for any sort of enduring term in power. Given poor election results, the Conservative, Liberal and NDP leaders are likely to be replaced. This election, like all elections, is important and voters need to shrug off apathy and feelings of impotence and realize that a short trip the polls on May 2 will impact their lives and as it will the lives of all Canadians.


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Exit Polls Reveal Barack Obama Disapproval and Economy Worries

Voters have signalled at the 2010 mid term elections that they are worried about the state of the country and many support tea party views

10 mid term elections have disclosed why it was such a stinging defeat for the Democrats, as Barack Obama suffered negative ratings and his economic policies are causing angst.

In the polls administered by the Associated Press, 54% said that they disapproved of the President with 86% of those having voted Republican, and 11% who supported the Democrats also voicing dissatisfaction with Obama.

Out of the 45% who approved of the direction that Obama is taking, in a complete reverse 85% voted for the Democrats, with 13% who backed their Republican candidates also backing the President.

The economy by far provoked the biggest reaction with 87% saying they were worried about the economic situation, with just 13% satisfied over the country’s financial affairs.

From those who are worried over the economy their party affiliations were more evenly spread out with 40% having voted for the Democrats, and 57% who voted for the GOP.

When asked what the highest priority was for the next Congress there was almost an even split, with 39% saying cutting the budget deficit was the most important while 37% believed more spending to further kick start the economy was the necessary remedy, 18% thought that cutting taxes was the most pressing need.

More alarmingly for Obama 4 out of 10 voters considered themselves Tea Party supporters, although 86% of those voted Republican in the 2010 mid term elections.

Out of the 25% of voters who saw themselves as neutral to the Sarah Palin backed movement surprisingly 47% of those voted for the Democrats, however from the 31% who said they had a negative view of the Tea Party 86% were Democrat voters.

Youth Vote Disappointing for the Democrats

The exit poll from the 2010 mid term elections in comparison to the 2008 presidential election confirm that this time Barack Obama failed to galvanise the inspire the predominantly liberal youth vote.

This was despite making a concerted effort to win youth imagination during the campaign with several campus rallies. Bill Clinton was also busy on the stump to college students telling students at the University of Mississippi they would be committing “Malpractice” if they failed to turn out.

The poll revealed that from the 18-29 age group the aggregate of the youth vote had dropped to 11% of the voting share in the 2010 mid term elections compared to 18% two years ago.

Seniors in the over 65’s age bracket increased their share of the vote to 23%, a rise of 7% from the 2008 presidential election. As seniors are mostly conservative Republicans it would appear the demographics of this election were in the GOP’s favour.

Obama Faces Difficult Time Says Brookings Institute Fellow

After the defeat which handed the House of Representatives over to the Republicans in the largest House defeat since 1938, Obama’s capacity to legislate effectively has been greatly reduced even though his party held on to the Senate.

This may effect Obama’s health care reform bill, plans to reduce the United States’ carbon footprint, and the decision to repeal the tax cuts for the wealthiest that were implemented by his predecessor George W. Bush.

Obama will now have to repeat Bill Clinton’s manoeuvrings in 1994 after having lost the House and the Senate, again partially due to a controversial health reform bill.

William Galson, a fellow in Governance Studies at the Brookings Institute and former Clinton adviser said: “Like Clinton after his November 1994 mid term defeat, Mr Obama must decide what balance to strike between conciliation and confrontation. He will have to give some ground he would rather not: if he resists everything the new Congress enacts, he risks a negative reaction.”


Do Opinion Polls Reflect or Drive Voters’ Intentions?

Are people’s viewpoint snapshots more reliable predictors of election outcome than horoscopes or reading tea leaves? Should they be allowed in elections?

In the run-up to elections and in between, the public is bombarded with surveys and polls revealing views of random samples of voters, snapshot opinions of think-tanks, focus groups and ordinary men and women in their guises as social types, income earners, marrieds, homeowners, benefit recipients, taxpayers, consumers. This is a regular marketing tool, but in elections, the real question is: do poll findings drive public opinion or accurately reflect it?

If on a given day, say, 79% of single mothers answer the voting intention question by saying it’ll be Party A, does that influence other single mothers to believe there is no point in supporting Party B? Or convince those who are not single mothers that Party B is the best one? Or dissuade anyone from voting?

Opinion Poll History: a Mixed Bag?

Polls work by extrapolating generalities from a specific sample. The first such is believed to have been a localised straw poll for the Harrisburg Pennsylvanian in 1824, to help determine who would win the US Presidency, Andrew Jackson or John Quincy Adams. In February the next year, the House of Representatives decided that Adams should be President, so the local poll got it wrong. However, the idea of opinion-gathering from local sampling caught on.

In 1916, the Literary Digest predicted from a national survey, (they sent out postcards to subscribers), that Woodrow Wilson would win. He did, and they simply followed this procedure for the next four elections. By 1936, they didn’t realise the dynamics of their readers had changed to more wealthy people, so they predicted Franklin D Roosevelt would lose, but he won by a landslide. Simultaneously George Gallup interviewed a smaller, more demographically representative sample, and got it right.

Another US pioneer in political forecasting was Elmo Roper who was later joined by Louis Harris. Gallup set up a UK subsidiary which successfully predicted Labour’s landslide in 1945, while all other pundits expected that Conservative Winston Churchill would win after leading the nation to wartime victory.

During the November 2008 election of Barack Obama, media pundits harnessed latest technologies to assess the candidates’ campaign trail progress, including controversially, sampling people by cell (or mobile) phones. US baseball statistician Nate Silver was more or less spot-on with his prediction of Obama taking 53% to McCain’s 46% of the popular vote, based not on his own polling, but by analysing every other poll and voting model.

Are Poll Predictions as often Wrong as Right?

Generally in the UK, polls after 1945 called right all elections. However, in 1992, they went spectacularly wrong in predicting Labour victory by 0.8% on election morning. Exit polls taken as people left the polling stations having cast their preferences, indicated a Conservative lead of 4%. The actual, real vote outcome was a 7.5% lead to John Major, who governed for five further years.

The reason for this 8%+ error was, concluded the Market Research Society, late swing (1-2%), wrong sample quotas (2%), leaving almost 5% accounted for by people who refused to answer accurately/truthfully their intention to vote Conservative.

Since then, not only have polling groups proliferated, but they’ve been meticulous in better balancing samples, taking more factors into account, such as previous and expected party loyalties, owner-occupiers, self-employed, number of dependents, localities and pension-holders. ICM now assume that of those who say they don’t know how they will vote, 60% will vote as previously; NOP assume don’t-knows will identify with a party that appeals to their economic concerns.

That information, along with how people are interviewed (at home, at work, commuting, unemployed, on the phone, face to face, by post, what age they are, what demographic grouping they occupy) is almost never released. It is therefore unsurprising that political parties commission their own polling.

Sometimes this is designed to give the answer that is wanted: if somebody asks the right questions, a predicted outcome can prove anything. TV networks, newspapers and universities have joined in the scramble, setting up their own interviewing machinery.

Politicians who find unpalatable answers from voters, usually keep them for private consumption. Adam Lovejoy writing on Stirring Trouble Internationally is far from alone in demanding that polls should be banned during election campaigns, to prevent forged statistics and undue influence on voters.

Vested interests apart, while there may be a case for such a ban in the UK where Parliamentary elections are not time-fixed, it would be impossible in the USA, where the next four-year Presidential election starts as soon as the last one is over.

Rather than follow polls, perhaps the best thing for confused, bamboozled voters searching for what to vote for in the absence of particular reasons to vote one way or another, is to follow the smart money. They should look at bookmakers’ odds given on candidates, and then back the favourite. Or the outsider. People putting down real money to back a particular outcome may be more accurate than answering a pollster’s questions. Or maybe not.

David Cameron

David Cameron Yet to Convince Voters in Latest UK Polling

As the election campaign begins the latest polls have indicated that David Cameron has still not sealed the deal as voters fear his lack of experience

The first poll to be taken since the general election was called for May 6, 2010 revealed that David Cameron has yet to persuade the electorate that he is ready to be the next Prime Minister.

A Populus Poll administered for the gave the Conservatives a lead of 7 points placing the Tories on 39% with Labour on 32% and the Liberal Democrats fairing better than in recent polls on 21%.

However with Cameron needing around a ten point polling lead to be handed the keys to Downing Street these latest figures will not be enough to win an outright majority in the House of Commons.

The UK Polling Report currently predicts a hung parliament with the Tories short by 21 seats to form a government after polling day.

Cameron’s lack of experience is still a prevailing issue with half of those interviewed for the poll believing him to be too inexperienced and a large majority of his doubters also concluded that he has not made a strong enough case as to why vote Conservative.

Most voters in the poll expect a hung parliament and nearly a third of voters in the poll said that they were wavering voters who will decide as the election campaign unfolds.

The Conservatives did not receive full support over their aggressive stance on

Labour’s proposed one per cent increase in national insurance that will hit those earning over £20,000.

As 45% disagreed with Cameron’s pledge to rescind the government’s increases in national insurance beginning from the 2011/12 financial year.

National Insurance Contributions Sparks First Election Campaign Row

Gordon Brown has been on the offensive in response to the momentum that the Conservative campaign has gained following the row over national insurance.

During the last prime minister’s questions before parliament is dissolved for the election Brown turned the debate into one of his familiar territories of Labour investment vs. Conservative cuts.

The Tories say they have identified £6 billion of efficiency savings to pay for the tax reduction.

Brown said:“We can put national insurance up and protect our schools, our hospitals and our policing, or we can do what the Conservatives traditionally do and that is put our hospitals, police and health service at risk.”

The Conservatives have received huge support from the business community and claim that 68 household business names including the online travel agents and Pizza Express, who employ nearly one million people, are in favour of their tax plans.

Business leaders were also angered by Brown’s comment on a breakfast television interview that the business community were being “deceived” by the Conservative’s plan.

Meanwhile Liberal Democrats leader Nick Clegg has revealed what he believes is the Tories £13 billion Value Added Tax (VAT) bombshell during a campaign launch.

Clegg argued that the Conservatives’ tax cuts and reversals will cost them £13.5 billion a year from the 2011-12 financial year with just £100 million identified to fund them and as a result claimed that a Tory government would increase VAT.

He told the website “Liberal Democrats have costed, in full, our proposals for tax cuts. We can tell you, penny for penny, pound for pound, who pays for them.

“We will not have to raise VAT to deliver our promises. The Conservatives will. Let me repeat that: Our plans do not require a rise in VAT. The Tory plans do.”

“Their tax promises on marriage and jobs may sound appealing. But they come with a secret VAT bombshell close behind.”