Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Dumb questions by Pollsters don't help Canadians

Our pollsters often ask dumb questions, get confused answers, and publish the answers as if they have found out what Canadians think about what does or should happen if we have a minority government.

Balanced polling?





The Cat wishes to help our pollsters clear up their confusion and turn their dumb questions into smart questions. They can do that by following The Cat's Rules on Minority Government Questions.

To illustrate what dumb questions are, we'll use the polling results of Ipsos (April 2 publication).  Of course, it is not just Ipsos who ask dumb questions on this topic – just about all our pollsters do.

Now, on with the analysis.

The Cat's Rules on Minority Government Questions

The rules are pretty simple. A pollster simply has to check his draft question against each of these 4 rules and voila! clarity will rule!

The rules are:

  1. Explain to voters in simple terms what the rules governing minority governments are. Without this, the polls are just junk.
  2. Check voters' views for at least 3 of the 4 choices in the Menu of Choices open to a minority party that wins the most seats – the Roll the Dice option, the Coalition option and the Arrangement option.  The Merger option is unlikely given the timing needed to make it happen.
  3. To only use terms like 'Coalition' to describe the whole Menu of Choices available means that the pollsters are participating in the deliberate deception of Canadians that the Harper Tories are doing.
  4. Check with voters what they think about the ALL FOUR of the parties participating in the Menu of Choices – to just ask about a Liberal-NDP 'Coalition' compared to a Tory majority misleads voters and makes the answers to the poll junk. If Harper only wins a minority, he also has to choose one of the 4 items on the Menu of Choices.
How Our Parliament Works:

A.    Majority of Seats won:

No problem here: the majority winner is the government for up to 4 years, and can do what it wants.

B.     Minority of Seats won:

1.      The leader of the party with the most seats (Party A) will be asked by the Governor General to form a government and seek the confidence of the majority of MPs (155 or more) through a Throne Speech or first Budget.

2.      If that budget is approved by a majority of MPs, including MPs from Party B and/or C and/or D, then Party A stays in power until the next confidence vote. 

3.      Confidence votes are usually finance matters, such as budgets.

4.      If Party A fails to win approval of 155 or more MPs on any future confidence vote, what happens next depends on when this occurs.

5.      If the government falls within a short period after the election (12 to 18 months), the Governor General will ask the leader of Party B, that won the next highest number of seats, to seek the confidence of a majority of MPs for its Throne Speech. If it gets it, Party B is the government as long as a majority of MPs votes approval in future confidence votes.

6.      If Party B does not win approval for its first Throne Speech or Budget, then the Governor General might turn to the leader of the party with the third most seats (Party C) to seek the confidence of a majority of MPs for its Throne Speech, or the Governor General might in his discretion dissolve Parliament and another election takes place.

7.      If Party A falls after the 12-18 month period, the Governor General may agree to the dissolution of Parliament and a fresh election. This is to reduce the number of elections.

C.    Party A's Menu of Choices:

1.      Party A has a Menu of Choices - 4 in all – about what to do when it presents its Throne Speech or first Budget: Roll the Dice, Merger, Coalition or an Arrangement. 

2.      It can Roll the Dice and hope that there will be enough MPs from the other 3 parties willing to support its budget and vote confidence in it. It might consider the policies of the other 3 parties when it draws up its Budget, but it doesn't enter into any kind of agreement with any of those parties so as to gain their support.

3.      Party A can also decide to Merge with another party that has enough MPs so that the resulting merged party has 155 or more MPs and can rule as a majority party. The two parties would unite to form one party. This is unlikely to happen because mergers would need the approval of members of each party, which could take up to a year to get, and because the merging parties run the risk that voters might desert them in the next election because they did not tell voters in advance of their intent to merge.

4.      Party A may decide to enter into a Coalition with one or more of the other 3 parties before it tables its first Budget:

a.        This would mean a written agreement between the parties in the Coalition, setting out the number of ministers each of the parties will have in the joint government. 

b.      The parties do not merge but continue as separate entities. The agreement will last for an agreed period (the UK coalition between the Tories and Liberal Democrats had a 5-year term). 

c.       The agreement would also spell out the policies which the MPs from both parties would vote for; they could retain the right to vote as they wished on all other matters. 

d.      The agreement would require MPs from all the Coalition parties to vote approval of confidence matters so that the Coalition government survives. 

e.       The Coalition parties might or might not have a majority of seats in the House. 

f.       If they don't they would need the support in confidence votes of MPs from other parties to survive. This is what happened when the Liberal and NDP Parties entered into the 2008 Coalition Agreement. The Bloc was not a member of the Coalition but did agree in a separate agreement to support the NDP-Liberal Coalition government in confidence votes for 18 months.

g.      A Coalition government that has less than the majority of seats and which does not want to enter into any agreement with other parties to support it, can decide to use the Roll the Dice option for each confidence vote.

D.    Party A might not want to enter into a Coalition agreement with other parties, but might still want to enter into an Arrangement:

1.      This is formal (written) or informal (gentleman's or handshake) agreement with other parties to gain their support on confidence votes. 

2.      The Arrangement might last for a short or a long period. 

3.      No MPs from  the other parties to the Arrangement would be part of Party A's cabinet. 

4.      The other parties would probably negotiate for certain policies dear to their hearts to be incorportated into the Party A budget in return for their support in confidence votes. 

5.      This seems to be the kind of deal that Stephen Harper was trying to enter into with the Bloc and NDP soon after the 2004 election of the minority Martin Liberal government. Harper hoped to have all 3 of the Tory, Bloc and NDP parties (which had the majority of seats) to vote against the Liberal government in the confidence vote, and then have the Governor General turn to Harper to see if he could gain the confidence of the majority of MPs and replace the Liberals as the government. Jack Layton took a hike when he realized what Harper's intent was, and the Three Amigos' arrangement fell to pieces.

E.     Deliberate confusion on Coalitions spread by Harper's Tories & Absorbed by Pollsters:

1.      Harper has deliberately deceived Canadians about the nature of Coalitions by running together all 4 choices in the Menu of Choices that Party A has,  into one lump which he calls 'coalition.'  By doing this, Harper has simply scratched out choices on the Menu and left only the one he likes on it.

2.      Harper has done this because he does not want Canadians to understand that our laws provide minority governments with the whole Menu of Choices. He believes Canadians do not like Coalitions and so wants to use the word Coalition to describe what might happen after the next election should the Tories only win a minority of seats, and then lose their first confidence vote. 

3.      Harper does not want Canadians to know that the other parties could choose from 4 choices in the Menu of Choices, not just the Harper Lump 'Coaltion' choice he pretends is our law. 

4.      Canadians do not seem to like coalitions but might agree with Party A or Party B using the Roll the Dice or Arrangement methods when their face their first confidence vote.

5.      By using the word 'Coalition' and adding the Bloc to the mix along with the Liberal and NDP Parties, Harper hopes to spread fear among Canadian voters that the country's future would be in the hands of socialists and separatists, if the Tory minority government falls.

6.      This deliberate deception has lead to many pollsters (such as Ipsos in their poll) using the 'Harper Lump' instead of presenting to Canadians the real Menu of Choices open to our government in  certain situations.

7.      It is important to note that Michael Ignatieff issued the written Liberal principles which explicitly exclude the entering into of any agreement (whether formal – that is, written) or informal, with the Bloc, and exclude any coalition with the Tory or NDP parties.

8.      Giles Duceppe has also said be will not enter into a coalition with any party (Tory, Bloc or NDP); he also said he refused to consider a coalition with the Harper Tories during the 2004 meetings of the Three Amigos in the Delta Hotel that Harper had called to discuss unseating the  Liberals.

The Ipsos Dumb Questions in its Poll:

When you glance at these questions, ask yourself how each stacks up against The Cat's Rules.

The flawed Ipsos introduction:

To give a proper picture of voters' views, any questions asked in a poll about coalitions should be asked about the Tories as well as the Liberals – if not, expect skewed and unreliable results. This is the opening paragraph of the Ipsos press release:

The country is split on whether they support or oppose the idea of a coalition government, though a majority (54%) would prefer to see a Liberal-NDP coalition government rather than a Conservative majority government (46%)...

Dumb Question Number One:

(My underlining and bolding).

5. There is a chance that the upcoming federal election could result in none of the parties winning enough seats to form a majority government. In that case, the opposition Liberals could get together with the NDP and BQ to form a coalition to stop Stephen Harper and the Conservatives from forming the next government. Would you strongly support, somewhat support, somewhat oppose, or strongly oppose the opposition parties forming a coalition government to take over from Stephen Harper and the Conservatives?

The results (taken from the Ipsos press release) are:

While the Conservatives are trying to paint a coalition as a threat to economic stability, one half (48%) of Canadians actually ‘supports’ (20% strongly/28% somewhat) the idea of a coalition of opposition parties forming the government, while the other half (52%) ‘opposes’ (36% strongly/16% somewhat) the opposition parties forming a coalition to take power from the Tories.

Hint: How many of the choices open to the Liberals on the Menu of Choices are mentioned in this question?

Dumb Question Number Two:

6. Which of these two options would you prefer to see: The Liberals, NDP and BQ forming a coalition to take over from Stephen Harper and the Conservatives, or Stephen Harper and the Conservatives winning a majority government.

The results:

Support for a coalition decreases slightly when Gilles Duceppe and the Bloc are brought into the coalition, although fully one half (50%) of Canadians would still prefer to see the ‘Liberals, NDP and Bloc forming a coalition to take over from Stephen Harper and the Conservatives’, rather then ‘Harper and the Conservatives winning a majority government’ (50%).

Hint: How many of the choices open to the Liberals on the Menu of Choices are mentioned in this question?

Dumb Question Number Three:

7. Suppose the coalition only involves the Liberal Party and the NDP getting together. Which of these two options would you prefer to see? The Liberals and the NDP forming a coalition to take over from Stephen Harper and the Conservatives, or Stephen Harper and the Conservatives winning a majority government.

The results:

Given the choice between a Conservative majority and a Liberal-NDP coalition government, a majority (54%) would prefer to see a Liberal-NDP coalition government, compared to 46% who would rather see the Conservatives winning a majority government.

Hint: How many of the choices open to the Liberals on the Menu of Choices are mentioned in this question?

Let's hope we soon have more intelligent questions asked about the Menu of Choices open to the Tory and Liberal parties, so that voters can tell us what they think during this election. 

The Coalition boogeyman of the Tories is their last and best hope in the election, given their stumbling start, so it would be nice for Canadians to be able to have intelligent discussions of the issue rather than continue to be hoodwinked.


The Real Ballot Question on May 2

3 comments :

  1. Following a vote that results in a hung parliament, it is the incumbent party, not necessarily the party that wins the most seats, that gets first crack at forming a government. So even if the Liberals manage to win a few more seats than the Conservatives on May 2, Harper will still have the first go trying to form a government that can command the confidence of the House, or else resigning. Only once he's resigned will the Libs have a shot. That's how our system works. Don't forget that in the UK, Gordon Brown resigned 5 days after the election, once it became clear that no deal would be possible with the Lib Dems. Even though Labour had fewer seats than the Tories, they still had the right to try to form a government.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Actually, the party with the most seats does NOT get first crack at forming a government. The government continues to exist through the election period. The existing government gets to keep being the government until they resign or are defeated on a motion of non-confidence.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Harper committed in the debate that if he did not win the most seats he would not seek to form the government.

    ReplyDelete

Thank you for commenting; come again! Let us reason together ...

Random posts from my blog - please refresh page for more: