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Hill Dispatches

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Karl Nerenberg has been reporting on federal politics from Parliament Hill for rabble.ca since September, 2011. In his long career, he has won numerous awards as a broadcaster and documentary filmmaker.

More evidence misleading calls really did affect election

| April 25, 2012

The Council of Canadians is doing a heroic job of turning a complex, statistical process into news.

The process involves determining whether or not so-called robocalls in seven ridings which falsely told voters that polling stations had been changed had an impact on the election results.

The news is that there is plausible and credible evidence that such calls took place, that they targeted voters whose support for opposition parties had been identified and that some of the calls did, in essence, tell lies. They told voters that polling places had been changed, when that was not true.

There are seven ridings involved in the court case the Council is spearheading and there was only a single polling station change in all of them combined.

Thus the argument Conservatives try to make that these misleading calls were an honest "mistake" rings hollow.

If there had been lots of polling station changes at the last minute and political parties had to scramble to make sure their voters know about them, such mistakes might be possible.

But since there were zero polling station changes in six of the seven ridings where the result is now being contested, what possible reason could there be for parties to call voters to inform them of (non-existent) changes?

If this matter continues to be discussed in Parliament and in the media, we'll see if Conservative MPs and apologists try to change their story in light of these facts.

Don't be surprised if they don't.

When an issue is as dense and complex as this one, one tactic for those on the defensive is to count on people not to be paying too close attention. Fog and confusion are sometimes the most effective rhetorical tactic in such cases.

Polling data that has not been contested

The Council of Canadians' most recent revelations involve polling data it commissioned from Frank Graves and his company Ekos. The Council asked Graves to survey voters with a view to finding out whether or not there was any correlation between identified opposition voters and misleading robocalls.

Graves found a huge correlation. It is very unlikely, Graves says, that such a correlation could be a random statistical event.

"Liberal supporters," the Ekos study reports, "were three times more likely to receive misleading calls than Conservative supporters."

There are similar findings, though not quite as dramatic, for all opposition-identified voters versus Conservative-identified voters.  

The Ekos report is quite detailed and available on the Council of Canadians' website. It takes prudent precautions to test and measure its results, and the full report provides all the figures.

In the end, of course, we're dealing with polling data here; not exhaustive information on all voters in the seven ridings.

And it is perhaps a bit unfortunate that the Council of Canadians found itself releasing a poll-based study on the same day that the unexpected Alberta election result was giving pollsters such a bad name!

However, the Ekos study of something that happened a year ago is a very different kettle of fish from the effort of pollsters to capture what were evidently rapidly evolving voter intentions during the Alberta election campaign. Ekos' purpose was to uncover historic facts -- not predict an uncertain future.

When all else fails, use personal attacks

In any event, the Conservatives seem to be taking the Ekos study seriously. The telltale sign is that they did not attack the Ekos study on scientific or methodological grounds.

Instead, the Conservatives resorted to the old ad hominem trick.

They were reduced to pointing out that Graves had once donated money to the Liberal Party.

When folks reach for the personal and ad hominem you know they nothing have better in their arsenal.

Stay tuned. This may be getting interesting!

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Comments

When I first read this headline, I thought you were referring to all the polls for Monday's Alberta election that predicted the Wildrose would win big time. That widely reported false scare caused a lot of middle of the road/ Liberal voters to vote for Progressive Conservatives, bringing the PC reign to 44 years and counting. I see the wisdom in banning election polls as they apparently do in some European countries.

 

Of course they effected the elections, that is why they were made, but most people will put their heads in the provervial sand. Little or nothing will come of it. Most peoples lose their democracies and their freedoms through these little nibblings -- each one accepted with hopes that no one willl have to think very much. Also there is the hope on the part of some that if they just be quiet, maybe it will not happen again.

Oh, Karl, "may be"?  It *is* very interesting!

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