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Norman Spector

CBC pollster/Liberal adviser? Add to ...

Most Thursday mornings, I turn to the CBC's website to the see the results of the latest Ekos poll. As I did this morning to find that "The Conservative Party retains a small but stubborn lead in support over the Liberals."

Later in the day, I turn to interpretations of the poll - including on this website as well as on the CBC's - which often include direct quotes served up by Ekos's Frank Graves.

I'm somewhat embarrassed to admit to my reading habits, given that the ballot question is not on the mind of most normal Canadians at this time - not to speak of the poor track record of most pollsters when election day finally does roll around. In this regard, I always get a special chuckle from the precision pretensions of the Ekos poll reporting its results down to the tenth of one per cent.

I've also over the years learned that the most important question to ask about a poll is not the margin of error or the sample size, but the amount of business the firm conducting it has done with government, or hopes to do with government in future. A related question is whether the pollster has any political background to speak of - especially with the two parties that have a realistic chance of forming government - which unfortunately is too often the case for my tastes.

Still, even a poll skeptic such as myself was surprised to read in The Globe and Mail this morning that Ekos's Frank Graves is simultaneously polling for the taxpayer-supported CBC and providing partisan political advice to the Liberals: "Frank Graves of Ekos Research … has told the Grits that the wedge politics of the Conservatives provide them with an opportunity to stake out a stark alternative. Stop worrying about the West, he's told them. No need to fear polarizing the debate. It's what worked for Mr. Chrétien against Preston Manning and Stockwell Day.

In his advice, Mr. Graves could hardly have been more blunt. 'I told them that they should invoke a culture war. Cosmopolitanism versus parochialism, secularism versus moralism, Obama versus Palin, tolerance versus racism and homophobia, democracy versus autocracy. If the cranky old men in Alberta don't like it, too bad. Go south and vote for Palin.' The Grits haven't told him whether they favour this approach or not. But they are keen on projecting a more activist agenda for the party."

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