Reasons I got it wrong about B.C.’s 2013 election

I was wrong.

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

I predicted that the British Columbia New Democrats would win that province’s election. They didn’t.  In fact, the scandal and mishap-prone B.C. Liberals won it – and they won a majority, too.  It was perhaps the most dramatic political turnaround many of us will see in a lifetime.

What happened? Well, I like to think my two or three regular readers are owed much-better analysis than I gave them on Tuesday.  So here are ten reasons why I – along, seemingly, with every other pollster and pundit and prognosticator – got it wrong.

1.        The polls: Every pollster messed up.  In the weeks and months leading up to the historic vote, not one of them suggested that the B.C. Liberals could win big. The reasons will be hotly debated for a long time.  Perhaps it is their methodology – online pools, IVR (Interactive Voice Response) – in an era where landlines are passé.  Perhaps respondents are lying to pollsters, and keeping their preferences to themselves.  Perhaps polling – as we have recently seen in provincial elections in Alberta and Quebec – has a far larger margin of error than pollsters claim.  Whatever the cause, I was wrong to believe the polls.  Even when they show 20-plus-point leads.

2.        The pundits:  Every one of us – including the ones I consider media giants in B.C., like Vaughan Palmer, Gary Mason and Mike Smyth – didn’t see this one coming.  Even supposedly-experienced soothsayers, like me, buy into the conventional wisdom.  When, these days, the conventional wisdom is neither.  Clearly, we are being lazy, and relying on polls (see above) to do our thinking for us.

3.        Campaigns matter: The B.C. New Democrats ran a good one, but the B.C. Liberals ran a better one.  Christy Clark’s smartest move was to import Dalton McGuinty campaigners like Don Guy, Laura Miller and Ben Chin, who helped give the ruling party the discipline and message it desperately needed.  (As a fellow McGuinty Liberal, I couldn’t have done what my friends did, and worked alongside the likes of Stockwell Day and Rob Ford advisor Nick Kouvalis.  But a win’s a win.)]

4.        Christy Clark: Some of us were right about the Liberal leader’s negatives – she got beaten in her own riding, a longtime Liberal stronghold.  But Clark’s personal unpopularity, particularly among women, didn’t hurt her party as much as it should have.  She is a formidable debater and a campaigner.

5.        Adrian Dix:  The B.C. New Democrat leader was no Bolshevik extremist, but he had a poor debate performance, and he clearly did not relish the campaign spotlight – while his main opponent reveled in it.  His approach was stable and steady, but uninspiring.

6.        Stephen Harper: Clark’s coziness with the Conservative Prime Minister and the upper echelons of his B.C. cadre did not hurt her – in fact, it may have helped.  Justin Trudeau and Thomas Mulcair, take note: in urban Canada, Harper is not as much of a liability as many reckon.  Even after a decade in power, the federal Conservatives – who, in B.C., are provincial Liberals – remain a force to be reckoned with.

7.        Going neg:  Clark did, Dix didn’t.  Only towards the end, when some of his massive lead had eroded, did Dix put together some attack ads.  But they were weak and ineffective.  Clark’s, designed by Miller, Guy and her friend Don Millar, were better and everywhere.

8.        B.C. Conservative Party: To win big, Dix needed the Right-wing vote to split.  It didn’t. The B.C. Conservatives party was a serial joke for months, and voters had no confidence in it.  Their collapse helped re-elect Clark.

9.        The economy:  Clark relentlessly focused on it, but Dix didn’t.  Big mistake.  While economists may insist that the great global recession is over, not many Canadians are so sure.  Clark’s message discipline, on the only issue that matters, made the difference.

10.  British Columbia:  B.C. – where I lived, and which I loved – has nutty politics.  Period.

To repeat: I was wrong, wrong, wrong.

Now, where is that plate of crow?





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