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Jeffrey Simpson (Brigitte Bouvier For The Globe and Mail)

Jeffrey Simpson

(Brigitte Bouvier For The Globe and Mail)

JEFFREY SIMPSON

Who lost the B.C. election? Pollsters, pundits (and yes, the NDP) Add to ...

They used to be called “ten-second Socreds,” and they reappeared en masse to help swing the B.C. election.

The Social Credit Party once governed B.C. seemingly forever. When it looked like the party might lose, the ten-seconders would come out of the woodwork to help keep the Socreds in power.

The ten-seconders weren’t much interested in politics. They voted stability and their pocketbook, which, by definition, meant keeping the socialist hordes – the New Democrats – out of office. They didn’t care enough to be enthused by the Socreds; but they cared just enough to vote against the NDP. Fast forward to this week’s election. The winner was Premier Christy Clark; the losers were pollsters, pundits and the NDP, provincially and federally.

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The pollsters were spectacularly wrong. They didn’t catch the modern iteration of the ten-seconders, the mood shifts and undercurrents in swaths of B.C. (and other parts of Canada) that the NDP can’t run a candy store.

Pollsters – especially those using robocall and online methodology instead of telephones – were largely wrong about the Quebec election results (underestimating Liberal strength), wrong about Alberta (underestimating Progressive Conservative strength), and now wrong about B.C. There’s something very refreshing about these egg-on-the-face performances.

They might teach practitioners of that craft some badly needed humility. More important, they demonstrate that voters can make up their minds, thank you very much, without parsing what pollsters tell them is going to happen.

Pollsters, however, heavily influence the media, which read the polls and shape their coverage, predictions and so-called analyses accordingly. It isn’t polite to admit it, but the media are deeply influenced by polls. Learned, and not-so-learned, commentary during elections and between elections is greatly and often erroneously shaped by what a few polls reveal.

Just now, for example, we’re reading a spate of “analyses” about the political troubles of the Harper government because one or two recent polls showed the Conservatives trailing the Liberals. So what? The next election is several years away.

All sorts of things will happen that no one can foretell. But, suddenly, stories about government “fatigue” and “scandals” appear daily, reinforcing and reflecting the established narrative of decline based on one or two polls.

If the B.C. election induced even a smidgen of humility into practitioners of our craft and made them less reliant on suspect polls and got them to stop yammering about polls (which the general public doesn’t much care about anyway), it will have served a useful purpose.

As for the night’s biggest loser – the NDP – B.C. showed once again what happens when a coalition is formed against it. The party has its core in B.C., but when the undecided, the ten-seconders and everyone else not a New Democrat coalesces around one alternative, formerly Socred and now Liberal, the NDP is in trouble.

Adrian Dix, from the party’s leftish wing, tried to present a more moderate platform; it didn’t work. He got outcampaigned by Ms. Clark and never connected with people outside the NDP world. More important, for all his efforts, the B.C. party still isn’t seen as a reliable steward of the economy. It’s too tied to Big Labour, especially the public-sector unions, and seen as too dogmatic.

And talk about blunders: Mr. Dix’s mid-campaign decision to oppose the Kinder Morgan pipeline long before an application was filed and his own proposed environmental assessment panel was in place showed a leader and a party ready to jump to conclusions for ideological and political reasons. The Kinder Morgan announcement might have attracted a few environmentalist votes, but it scared off many others.

The federal and provincial NDP are joined at the hip in B.C. A bad provincial result should cause some reflection in the federal party, although NDP spinmeisters will say the provincial result indicates nothing. They’re kidding themselves.

Other implications: Just 52 per cent of eligible voters bothered to vote, another sign of galloping apathy for organized party politics across Canada. One Green MLA, the outstanding academic Andrew Weaver, got elected. And, alas, the Liberals went negative in ads, whereas the NDP largely stayed positive. Negative ads were effective, again.

 

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