As voters go to polling stations across Canada today, here’s a story from this past May to remind you dear readers, that until the votes are tallied all the polls in the world are nothing more than informed guesses.
In Labour, Lib Dem, and to a lesser extent Ukip, circles, the same simple questions were being posed. How could they all have got it so wrong, and how and why did the polls mislead them? Even Tories watched the election unfold in states of utter disbelief. Paul Goodman, the former Tory MP, now editor of ConservativeHome website, said he had been unable to comprehend what was happening. “It was the most extraordinary election I have ever known. The results suggest it may have been the primal fear in voters’ minds of Miliband governing with the Scots, coupled with fear of what he would do to the economy. It seems that [David Cameron’s election guru] Lynton Crosby’s campaign worked. But why the polls didn’t pick this up is a mystery.”
Actually, compared to the current contest, last May’s Westminster elections were easy to predict if you were paying attention to the campaign. My first inkling that the Tories were going to win was when the Prime Minister paid a visit to our constituency – the third safest Lib Dem seat in the country and nowhere near being included on their list of target seats – and gave a stump speech just yards from Paddy Ashdown’s home. Modern political campaigns do not waste resources on fights they have no hope of winning (wrongly in my opinion, but that’s a topic for another time).
The second clue pointing towards the eventual result was Ed Miliband’s statement that he would rather not be in government than be beholden to the SNP. Telling voters that you’d rather have your opponent as Prime Minister is an excellent strategy for losing an election.
So much for that election being hard to divine. The polls were wrong but the signs were there for those who were prepared to look for them.
Not so with today’s election. The polls could be right but after getting it completely wrong in BC in 2013, Alberta in 2014, and the UK this past spring, colour me sceptical. And there are simply too many unknowns for me to even hazard a guess. Consider the following.
GOTV. The CPC has honed its voter identification and mobilisation operations to an art form. The genesis of this development was the adoption of CIMS, (Constituent Information Management System), a piece of Database software well over a decade ago. It’s been the key to the Tories’ miraculous ability to identify and then get their supporters to the polls. I’m sure CIMS will be working a brilliantly as ever, however I find it difficult to believe that the Liberals and the NDP haven’t been to catch up in terms of both technology and organisation over the past decade.
Vote efficiency. It doesn’t matter if you’re ahead nationally, (or even regionally or provincially) if most of your votes are “wasted” by being concentrated in certain constituencies. I expect the Liberals to underperform in Quebec in terms of the number of seats they capture. They’ll rack up very monstrous vote margins on the Island of Montreal but that will only net them a dozen seats or so. The NDP may capture a similar number of votes throughout the province but will win more seats with smaller pluralities. Even the Tories could conceivably match the Liberals in Quebec with a smaller share of the vote. Will the Liberal vote be more efficient in Toronto, or Vancouver? That remains to be seen.
Regional trends. The Liberals are dominant in the Maritimes and Newfoundland, the Tories are dominant in the Prairies. I still think the NDP will take the most seats in Quebec. So that leaves just BC and Ontario to really decide the outcome of the election.
Turnout. High turnout may be indicative of a “kick the bums out mentality”. Or maybe it just means the Tories have succeeded in frightening voters as to the consequences of electing a Liberal or NDP government.
Oh well it will all be settled in a few hours.