Political pulse hard to predict in modern times

Skeptics will be confounded. If you’re a Québécois, like me, and of a certain age, you may remember this phrase attributed to the character Capitaine Bonhomme.

Well, that’s just what happened to skeptics, and spectacularly so, on May 14. British Columbia’s latest election attests to the fact that the electorate’s heart and mind is harder to define than ever. The recent results have put pollsters in the hot seat.

Since the elections in Quebec and Alberta last year, politicians from unpopular parties – at least according to polls, and sizing up the discrepancy between reality and predictions – could ask that we look at polls with a grain a salt.

These two elections are the best examples. They are the best of arguments, proof in hand, to keep the base motivated. Evidently, more than ever before, there is some truth in saying that the only accurate poll results are in the votes themselves – in the electorate’s last word.

The latest results in British Columbia’s election can only beg for a second look at just how voters are polled. The big polling companies didn’t waste any time looking into the matter. However, we must pause before throwing them overboard. The new social reality makes it hard for those who carve out a living by trying to give shape to our collective desires.

Pollsters will tell you that it is increasingly hard to connect with people the traditional way – by telephone. The new methods they are using, evidently, have significant shortcomings. Many claim that some groups are now overrepresented in the results. This could be the beginning of an answer.

But the difference in terms of percentages obtained by the Liberals and the NDP in B.C. seems to mask something else. It could be, and I am of that mind, that the electorate is more volatile than it has ever been. There was a time, not all that long ago, when poll findings during the week before a general election were fairly accurate. But it seems that, for many voters, choices are less and less firmly anchored. It appears that more and more voters make up their mind only once inside voting stations. According to this hypothesis, political parties’ main themes become all important.

And, unusual but not unheard of, the very parties that turn up their nose at the polls, are themselves hungry for public opinion findings. The studies they commission are far more precise and serve to refine their message. In the end, the Liberals were the best at reading the population’s deepest wishes.

Evidently, they understood that a large number of voters had decided that their economic future, a message pounded by the Liberals, was more important than the change promoted by the NDP. Change is nice, but when the main issue for people is reassurance as to their economic future, that is enough to reverse the tendency shown in the last days of the electoral campaign.

A lesson to take away from this campaign is that a positive approach, honourable as it may be, does not

Justin Trudeau. Photo by batmoo, Flickr.

Justin Trudeau. Photo by batmoo, Flickr.

cut it before a more muscular approach based on continuous attacks. Justin Trudeau should take notes here after promising to clean up the Canadian political atmosphere and campaign in a positive way. Could it be that it is Stephen Harper and his party who have it right in the end? The answer is in the question.

We can see why federal troops make the economy their main issue. As long as the world stays in a state of economic torpor, the party best suited to navigate troubled waters will be the best bet.

Translation Monique Kroeger