Politics - Federal

The Only Poll that Really Matters

By Ben Bull
Published October 14, 2008

OK, the excitement is building - Election Day has arrived! OK, so it isn't really that exciting, but I thought it might be fun to try and predict how things are going to play out over the course of today.

Here are a few observations and thoughts about the election (yes - the CANADIAN one!).

Who's Going to Win?

Well, the answer to that of course is - no one! If the polls are to be believed, no one party is going to get a majority this time around, which raises the question: If Harper knew this going in (and he surely must have) - why did he call the election?


Speaking of polls, I am one of these people who think that polls are bad for democracy. It seems to me that polls are simply a way for the media to create the news, rather than reporting it.

Polls are not accurate - we have seen evidence of this over and over again (hell, if the pollsters can't even get exit polls right (see Kerry versus Bush) what hope do they have of getting their more ambiguous polls correct?)

Another thing about polls is that they are cross sectional and cross regional. While we may hear that Harper is ahead by five or six percentage points across the country, what does that mean for each of the ridings?

Is the riding where he lost by 90 votes last time around more blue than red? Are those strongholds just as strong? It's entirely feasible that a party with a five- or six-point lead could lose the entire election, especially if those percentage gains are concentrated in areas where the party was expected to win anyway.

In a sense, every vote cast after the winning vote is counted is a wasted vote. There's no such thing as a 'big win' or a 'close call' in a riding - you either win or lose, how big doesn't matter.

More on Polls

The other thing about polls is that they tend, or at least they try, to frame the election. "Harper's lead is slipping," the headline will read, or "Dion's support grows."

This 'news' - based on iffy polling methods as it is - is tenuous at best and I would argue that it's even irrelevant. The only poll that matters is the Election Day one.

If the media want to get into the business of polling, they should follow the example of the political parties and poll at the riding level and by key lifestyle and demographic criteria - that's where the real patterns lie.

Our political system is complex and so are voters and voting patterns. Dumbing it down for the sake of a number and an imaginary news item is not doing any of us any favours.

The sad reality of media polling is that numbers do influence voting. By creating an anxiety over a Harper majority the media have forced the other political parties to change their tactics and address this fear, rather than concentrate on selling us their policies. As a result many of us will go to the polls today with the simple intention of stopping someone else.

And while strategic voting is encouraged, in this way it is difficult for political parties to get an accurate read on how they are performing. Our whole democracy suffers.


So who will win? Well I'm no pundit, I don't even count myself as a knowledgeable observer really, but just for the fun of it I'm going to predict a final tally:

Ben's Ill-informed 2008 Election Seat Tally

If I get it right, let's say Ryan owes me a pint (to go with the several he still owes me). [Wait, what? - Ed.] My prediction is not very controversial, I know, but come on - neither was the election! I mean really, on what basis would I change my vote? If anything, I think that some ridings will change simply because people don't bother to come out.

I'm guessing Harper will bleed a couple of ridings in Quebec, but no more. He'll solidify his base out west, and he'll grab a couple of rich boroughs in 905. Dion will lose a little ground for the Libs and claim he has 'something to build on' and Layton and the Greens will bemoan the blight of strategic voting like they always do.

And tomorrow we'll all get back to doing what we really want to do - watching the American election. :)

Ben Bull lives in downtown Toronto. He's been working on a book of short stories for about 10 years now and hopes to be finished tomorrow. He also has a movie blog.


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By jason (registered) | Posted October 14, 2008 at 16:00:26

'the American election'?? How can you stand that crap? I tuned out a year and a half ago.

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By rusty (registered) - website | Posted October 14, 2008 at 16:04:56

Sarah Palin is hot (what other reason do you need?)

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By Grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted October 15, 2008 at 00:54:06

Ben: I agree with you that polls are futile. On line polls exclude many of the poor and working poor who do not have access to computers. I am interested in knowing what the non voter turnout is, looking at some of the numbers, I would say that quite a few people did not vote. It is these numbers that really tell what the people are feeling. There are many who feel their voices are not heard. Besides some people vote because my daddy voted and my granddaddy voted for the same party without really looking at the issues, the party and how it relates to them. One thing that boggles my mind is how the rural areas tend to vote conservative, yet many in the rural areas struggle in poverty, yet poverty was not really on any of the parties platform. Oh well as job losses add up and more start to struggle, maybe the next election, people will listen to the voices instead of the sound bits.

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By Rusty (registered) - website | Posted October 15, 2008 at 10:45:23

Well, looks like my 'prediction' (my guess...) was not so far off! (But Ryan gets to keep his pint money - for now!) Grassroots - those same poor folks who probably never got polled, probably never voted either...interesting to see how accurate the polls were this time around.

The sad part about this whole 350 million dollar extravaganza is how unengageing it was. Dion's Green Shift could have been a better sell if the ice caps had suddenly melted and he had done a better job peddling the plan...The NDP could have been more engageing if Layton would stop barking like a Union dog (why is he always so angry?)...Harper could have been more engageing if...well, he couldn't have been any more engageing.

The 'election about nothing' ended up being just that. Question is - where do we go from here?

It all reminds me of the time to British Tory's got booted out after John Major failed to wow the base. Labour came along under Tony Blair and picked up the momentum. Now that Labour momentum is waning and the Tory's are finally growing in strength. But it's taken them over a decade and, what, 2 leaders?, to get there. The difference in Canada is that Harper has none of Blair's charisma or vision. He has failed to take advantage of a Liberal party in flux. If the Libs can get their act together quickly they may be able to regain their stronghold but my sense is that Canada is in for a long period of uninspired minority leadership.

With so much to do to fix this country this is a real shame. But - that's politics.

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By Grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted October 16, 2008 at 08:36:44

Rusty: Yes the turnout in my riding looks to be just over 1/3 actually voted. My riding has the highest poverty, so go figure.

The NDP need to go back to their roots, the working people, not just those covered by union contract, if they are to make any headway. The rise in temp work, which provides lower wages, no benefits, forget pensions and the rise of violations in legislated employment standards.

The labour movement is divided in that there is very little movement to help those who have fallen by the wayside.

Issues such as poverty, job losses, the lose of our social safety net, which is suppose to be there to help people in need, the stigma of poverty, in which there are people who have the where for all to speak out, yet do not. It might be that it is their jobs that could be on the line, those in the not for profits, that fail to actually help people and are part of the never ending poverty cycle.

It is important to have all voices at the table, that means that not just those that represent business should be the loudest voice, when their voices affect others. For the most part, people just want to be treated fair and that is just not happening for the many that struggle.

People spend too much time listening to the sound bits and not listening to the voices, there are voices out there that have important words yet they are drown out by the noise.

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By unionman (anonymous) | Posted October 18, 2008 at 22:33:10

The Union nose-dived in Hamilton under the leadership "?" of wimps like Wayne Marston and Dave Wilson who came form once non-union Bell and holding on to their "still" non-union philosophy. Wilson has gone to green pastures and Marston stays in the Commons with the watered down NDP hiding in the back benches and hoping that he is not expected to do anything to improve the rights of working men and women.

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