Casting runes in the heat of summer.

Political polling has never been an exact science. It has always required an overview of common sense, mathematical probability, historical data, statistical smoothing and wishful thinking. Then, and only then, could you report the result you wanted in the first place. In the past 50 years, little has changed.

Looking at the mix of polls being obtained from the five by-elections in Ontario, we can safely say that nobody really knows what will happen. What we are hearing is an assortment of pretty good guesses mixed with a bunch of longed for wishes. The one thing we know for sure is that the automated telephone calls that are annoying voters in the five electoral districts are producing less reliable results than those derived from the entrails of animal sacrifices.

Since animal sacrifices are a no-no in this age of political correctness, we have to settle for ‘Press one for candidate number two.’ What the pollsters cheerfully admit is that the four-year old’s who answer many of the telephones are more truthful in their response than the adults who stay on the line long enough to indicate something. The fact that those aged 19 to 35 are seriously under represented in the sample is casually covered by guesswork. Voter’s comments about the stupidity of the call are thankfully not recorded.

What these by-elections really need is a return to good old common sense. As a politico, we have to go with the troops on the street analysis. This means that we would be surprised if Ottawa South went anything but Liberal. The Liberals here can probably out-man the other parties by about two to one. Every worker means three more votes and when only 30 to 40 per cent of the voters are going to show, do your own math.

This approach also applies to Scarborough-Guildwood.  The Liberals will swamp the opposition and bring an interesting new personality, Mitzie Hunter, to Queen’s Park.

In Etobicoke-Lakeshore, there will be more Conservatives with whom to contend and it makes for a more even fight. The wild card there is Tiny Tim Hudak. It the Conservative leader keeps his mouth shut and lets Doug Holyday run in his own way, the Liberals are in a hell of a fight.

London-West has some of the same problems. The voters here are a bit more forgiving of Timmy Hudak but if he gets in their face, there is no telling.

The troops on the street are missing in Windsor.-Tecumseh. There is little sympathy for former MPP Dwight Duncan’s scurrying exit and resentment over the outcome of the Ontario Liberal leadership. With the Liberals staying home, the New Democrats are getting something of a free ride.  Andrea Horwath will trumpet that win far and wide.

But be cautious in placing your bets. We are still waiting for the fat lady to sing.

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Copyright 2013 © Peter Lowry

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