Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Are Volatile "Voters" Confounding the Pollsters?

So once again we are seeing voter volatility and uncertainty reflected in the various recent poll results but they are all about a hypothetical question of who will you vote for when there is no election on, so generally, people don't take the question seriously. Ekos says Harper and Ignatieff are tied but the Libs have been leading for a while. Strategic Counsel says Harper is up 5 points and has been leading the Liberals since early July. Ipsos Reid a couple of weeks ago had a poll result that was very different that a group of other recent pollster findings. Go figure? All are pollsters in the game are reputable and capable but how can we account fo rthe wide variations in findings?

Strategic Counsel says the Liberal Vote is down 14% in Quebec since last May. Ekos tells us that Liberal support is higher in Alberta than Conservative support in Quebec. A fun factoid but what does it mean. Will the Libs break through in Alberta again? Will Quebecers send Harper packing? All this proves nothing but continuing uncertainty and just adds to the misinformation and distraction from the real issues we need to be facing in any pending election.

Here are some of my concerns about the state of politics and the nation these days. Consensus about leadership is lacking, both in terms of Harper's capacity and Ignatieff's intentions. No one has really talked clearly about vision and how we need to mitigate and adapt over concerns over climate change, education based on skills needed for the 21st century, how we can rethink our economy to reposition ourselves globally as we come out of the recession. What about our relations with America - where the puck was, and China and India where the puck is going. None of these issues are in isolation, they are all integrated and impact on each other.

Canadians recognize that we need a change from another minority government but we are not sure yet which way we want to go to create that change. An election will focus us on how we really want to answer that question. The Conservatives are feeding fear that an election will shut down government and the home reno provisions will not be passed. Not true but in uncertain times feeding fear is a powerful political strategy.

Elections have never destabilized the continuing work of government in Canada. And the home reno issue is assured and need not be political at all, unless Mr. Harper decides he wants to make so. I still don't understand why Harper did not just pass it all in his budget last April. Why did he not just get the home reno program done when he had the chance? We have enough uncertainty and his approach to suggest it might not go through if an election were called this fall is not true and intended to add to the angst and uncertainty of the recession.

Harper wants to avoid an early election because he wants the media attention of the international meetings that are coming up, including another session with President Obama. He will likely do what it takes to defer any efforts to personally present a confidence motion on an issue that he would like to be defeated on, like EI reform. He will at least wait to play that kind of political card until after he gets to rub shoulders with the truly powerful politicians on the world stage.

The Liberals already voted for the Budget and want it finished and effectively implemented so they are not going to scuttle the home reno program. They also want to see the results of the fiscal update the PM has to deliver to the nation by the end of September. They are just starting to talk about hope and are staking out a place presence for their leader on the Internet and traditional media with a new advertising campaign. That needs time to gel too.

But but neither Conservative fear or Liberal hope is in itself an effective method to prove either leader is ready to govern in these perilous uncertain times in our country. We will want more meaningful policy meat from these camps if we are forced to go to the polls this fall. The economy, health care and the environment are likely the top of mind issues for most of us. No polls that I have seen are exploring what the issues are going to be in the next election and our attitudes are towards them. Pity!

The punditry is all about talking up the horse race between the leaders, as meaningless and trivial as that is to the real concerns of the country. Commentary is presented without clarification nor with the contextual reality that the race has not yet started so all this chatter is just that, much ado but signifying nothing. The polling focuses to date are just about positioning politicians and parties like people in elevators. They are either coming in and on their way up or they are going down and on their way out. Sadly we don't yet know for sure who is who in the zoo.

We are going to have an election eventually. The timing will be based on if Mr. Harper's minority government can still sustain the confidence of the House of Commons. The Liberals are now on record that they are ready to go any time. So now the Bloc and the NDP have the finger on the trigger of the starting gun that will cause the election. It is up to either them to tip the scales and determine when Mr. Harper's leadership has to face the nation. It is an open question when it will start, who will start it, Layton or Duceppe, and what issue they will use to trigger it.

As to what the ballot question will be in the next election, it is always based on a theme of leadership, change and vision. The next election will also be about those themes and how do we achieve an majority government so we can get back to some stability in our politics and governance. That means the underlying and animating ballot question will be which leader do we, as a nation and in our collective wisdom, trust with the absolute governing power of a majority government - Harper or Ignatieff.