Election impossible to explain

Pollsters, pundits, politicos perplexed by NDP success and collapse of mighty Liberals

2 mai 2011 - Que s'est-il donc passé?

Warren Kinsella, QMI Agency - What does it mean?
In the hours after the political earthquake hit on Monday night, Canadian pundits, pollsters and politicos quietly slid into chairs, turned on their computers, and stared — blankly — at the blinking cursor thing.
Wordless. Flummoxed. Terrified.
What the hell just happened? A Reform Party-in-disguise capturing a majority? A socialist party, comprised of vacationing students and America-hating conspiracy theorists, making up the official opposition? The (formerly) most successful political machine in Western democracy, reduced to a rudderless rump?
For my species, you see — for the aforementioned pollsters, pundits and politicos — it’s not an idle question. For us, answering that question is as necessary as breathing.
My species regularly feel an irresistible compulsion to make sense of it all. To explain the unexplainable.
The morning after the super-duper crazy election results tumbled in, I received an e-mail from Bob Lopinski. Bob is a brilliant strategist-type-guy, and one of my Ontario Liberal war-room colleagues — full disclosure, I proudly work for the Ontario Liberal caucus, and have for years — and he’s been through innumerable winning and losing campaigns.
Here’s what Bob sent to me:
I do really wish there was more science in political science.
This is what I have gleaned from the early analysis:
• Voters are moving left, unless they are moving right.
• Incumbency is bad, unless you were re-elected.
• Voters want change AND even more of the same.
• On-the-ground organization and sophisticated micro-targeting work, unless you are a bar maid canvassing in Las Vegas.
When I put Bob’s words on my website, they elicited loads of comments, and were Twittered and Facebooked hither and yon.
I even heard from a couple of famous Canadian columnists, who liked what Bob had to say, too. I now refer to his pithy truisms as The Lopinski Theorem.
That is, political events mean (blank), unless of course, they mean (blank).
Or, put plainly, nobody saw this coming. And nobody knows what caused it.
I have theories, of course, like everyone else. Stephen Harper was campaigning for years, while Michael Ignatieff campaigned for only 36 days.
Iggy was crazy to defeat the government when he did. Ignatieff should’ve worked out a deal with Jack Layton when he had a chance. The Conservative attack ads defined Iggy before he could define himself.
Harper ran a better ground game. Jack Layton was more likeable than the other two, and he was less right-wing. And so on.
Bob Lopinski’s point, however, is that there is no single meaning you can apply to the outcome. Sometimes, it’s just a bunch of crazy things happening.
For instance: Ignatieff campaigned way better than Harper — but the latter still beat the stuffing out of the former. Don’t “campaigns matter” anymore?
Well, sort of. Except when, you know, they don’t.
Pollsters were off; pundits scratched their tall foreheads. On my website, I offered swell prizes for the person who accurately predicted the exact seat outcome. Out of more than 200 entries, on my site and Facebook, no one did.
Ditto the commentariat: Harper won because he’s an evil genius (Globe and Mail); Ignatieff lost because he had a lousy platform and Canadians didn’t like him (Toronto Star); Harper won and Ignatieff lost because progressives are divided (Halifax Chronicle-Herald).
It has been all over the map, and going on for days. Someone’s chopping down forests, as I type this, to print up the books that’ll be written about this puzzler.
Me, I’m sticking with The Lopinski Theorem: Stuff happens, good and bad. People will assign whatever meaning to the results that is consistent with their own biases.
In a country as big and as diverse as this one, it’s truly dumb to say one meaning explains everything, eh?
Whatever you come up with to explain Election 2011, one thing’s for sure: It’ll be wrong.
And/or right.

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