Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Let the people speak -- the reality of elections

A few weeks ago the Quebec government decided, after 18 months in power (but without a majority in the house of representative) to seek a new mandate.  The polls were in their favor; a majority in parliament looked like a real possibility.  Three weeks on, the leader of the PQ (government) is hoping to retain a status of minority government, and they may loose all together.   [it was such a sure thing that the main opposition party had a real problem in finding attractive candidates] How did it get there?

First off, the polling numbers in general and in this case in particular looked suspicious.

  • In particular, the PQ's initial strength went from 40% to 45% within the space of a few weeks -- and over the christmas break -- when no one was around.  Today, the latest (small sample poll) shows the PQ at 29% -- neither polls add up. 
  • The more general worry is that polls are done via land line phone only,  these have shown to be increasingly unreliable:
    • Last year in Alberta, all the polls indicated that the conservatives party was set to loose massively to a more right wing party -- they didn't loose in fact they got a good majority -- the polls were way off
    • Obama's second term election:  polls indicated that the election was too close to call; when in fact he won by 55/45; which is massive.   
    • I've not owned a land line for some years, several of my friends own landline but never answer it, its needed for the alarm system or outgoing calls.   
    • The American pollster - Nate Silver wrote a book about this problem -- its worth a read, he does propose some solution, but his main beef is that pollster need new math!

Looking at the Quebec process it is clear that the PQ made a number of unforced errors:  Got a right winger (a real one) to run and make some rather strong comments about independence, the PQ over estimated the appetite/interest for a debate on race and religion (its been going of for several years), and finally focused a good portion of their energy on what the other guys did wrong a few years ago -- as the governing party you cannot win an election based on what the others did previously -- you have to run on your record (which may have been the problem -- the PQ as a government largely shied away from the hard decision, and made promisses they could not keep).  They also decided to talk about the stuff that made them happy:  separation, banishment of religious symbols -- hot buttons for the faithful, but not for the electorate in general.  That's the problem with democracy, the people are fickle and when a party refused to talk about the things that worry the population (healthcare, education & the economy), you have this result (sinking poll numbers) .

From my tone its clear that I am not a fan (which is true) but in reality the number of stupid moves the PQ did when it arrived in power was astounding.  From bad nominations to overestimating the amount of tax revenues available... mainly because they took bad counsel.  The reality of our political process is that our leaders are in dire need of hearing the truth.  Speaking truth to power is difficult -- especially when many around them (power) are more than keen to tell them exactly what they want to hear.

elections are Monday.  There are around 115 counties in Quebec, about half are too close to call (despite what I wrote above).  It will be a late night (maybe)

A primer on Quebec's main political parties:

Quebec has two main political parties who's have one main difference:  one supports some for of (largely undefined) "independence" from the rest of Canada, the other is against.

  • The Parti Quebecois is a strange animal -- because the only thing that holds its various factions together is a desire for the province to become a "country". There is a strong leftwing/artist & journalist/union base to the party (granted after 40 years on the battlement the hair are a little greyer...).  
    • Greatest problem for the PQ is that separation from the rest of Canada only has a 40% approval rate among the general population, and about 20% of those don't want to hear about separation
    • The PQ is unable to define what it means to be separate -- common passport & currency was discussed in this election cycle (once you have those I don't know what remains -- your army?)
    • Despite some talented players the over-reliance on the historical "left"has hampered their discourse.  The PQ acts as it if it was running a rich country when it is really running a poor one.
    • One of the recent "high profile" candidates is an avowed far right industrialist.  Who is generally hated by the PQ's natural constituency (journalists and unions in particular) 
    • Finally, the PQ has a tendency to exhibit some rather strong xenophobic tendencies
  • The Liberal party are generally a left of centre corporatist interventionist... well really a "Liberal" party in the greater sense with a strong corporatist feel to it.
    • Because it assembles all those who are against separation it leads to strange bed fellows
    • From uneducated leaders who insists that the way to reduce oil prices in the province by just writing a law that makes it so, 
    • Affiliation with some less than savoury characters,
    • But its real fault is to think like the PQ that the province is rich, and that its population is a piggybank
    • The Liberals don't have the factional divid that the PQ has, it has a very very smart leader (which may be a problem)
    • Its biggest problem is that it is the only home to ethnic and anglophone vote 


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