Do you ever get the feeling that we have elections to see if the polls were right?
I sure do. The American humorist Robert Orben said that, or something like that, many years ago. Surveying the current Canadian political landscape, you’d have to agree, too.
For a few years now, surveys of Canadians’ political opinions have been pretty darn consistent. Folks didn’t like the Conservatives enough to give them a majority — and they didn’t trust the Liberals enough to give them a minority.
The pollsters also told us, regularly, that Joe and Jane Frontporch didn’t love Prime Minister Stephen Harper very much — but they loved opposition leader Michael Ignatieff even less. Meanwhile, Joe and Jane liked NDP boss Jack Layton plenty, but not enough to ever let him near power.
And so it went over the past few years — see-sawing up and down, a few points here and few points there, but no one ever really breaking ahead of the pack.
Until the past few weeks, that is. Last Tuesday, one of Canada’s most respected pollsters, Ipsos Reid, stunned political Ottawa with the news that Harper’s Tories were favoured by 43% of Canadians — placing them an astonishing 16 points ahead of the Liberals. The survey found the NDP doing even worse, dropping five points from a previous Ipsos poll to a pitiful 13%.
If you looked at a batch of other pollster offerings, the Ipsos numbers weren’t totally out of whack. The trendlines have certainly been heading that way, Bev Oda’s lies notwithstanding. And, if Ipsos is right, Harper’s party is slouching towards a comfortable majority — with the Liberals possibly even losing official opposition status to the Bloc.
So, um, why? What’s happened?
John Wright is senior vice-president at Ipsos, and a longtime observer of the ebbs and flows of Canadian political opinion (and, full disclosure, someone I regularly retain to do work for my own political consulting firm). He wasn’t surprised by his firm’s poll results at all.
There are three reasons Harper is now in a position to clobber his opponents, Wright says.
“First, his opponents have been defined,” he says. “Ignatieff has been the centre of a carefully orchestrated advertising character assassination. Flush with cash, the Conservative Party has posed and answered a devastating question for the electorate: What is Ignatieff here for? For himself. Not the country.”
Two, says Wright, the issue that preoccupies most Canadians is the economy — and, he says, the Tories “have a lock on it.” In one recent Ipsos global survey, Canadians were found to have the fifth-highest economic confidence in the world — far, far ahead of the Americans, Brits and Japanese.
The third reason for Harper’s success is Harper himself, Wright says.
“Harper is more mainstream than ever,” he says. “He’s crossed over from a western neo-con to the steady prime minister who sports a Beatles coffee cup while working hard, and then plays piano with his son. We have the data: There is no real gender gap — and foreign-born Canadians are leaning his way, too.”
On my party, Wright is brutally blunt.
“With numbers like these, federal Liberals will lose seats,” he says. “I suspect that between now and (the budget vote), there will be many a Grit who thinks about a palace coup. Because their leader is charging headlong into the certain valley of death.”
Hmmm. “The certain valley of death.” I’m a glass half-full kind of guy, but that doesn’t sound very good.
Can things change? For sure. Do pollsters, even super-smart ones like John Wright, ever get that cliched one poll out of 20 that is wrong? Yes. The pollsters themselves say so.
But, bottom line, it may indeed be time we have an election — if no other reason than to finally see if the pollsters are right.
— Kinsella is a lawyer, blogs at warrenkinsella.com and will appear regularly on Sun News Network