#3 Polls and Other Mistakes

The other day, someone sneered at the suggestion that only Barack Obama could win the American presidential race in 2008.  Maybe the better way to express it is that the election is his to lose.  In the same way, in Canada, the race is Conservative Stephen Harper’s to lose.  In both countries, the early polling is meaningless, the attack ads are only at the warm-up stage and, while different in each country, the potential for political corruption in this day has yet to be plumbed.

In Canada, much was being made (September 9) of the eight point lead in the polls for the Conservatives over their main rivals, the Liberals.  That might be a stronger lead than the current bounce to the top spot for the McCain-Palin ticket but neither lead in can be expected to hold.  There are many surprises in the final weeks of election campaigns.

Polls are always suspect in any event.  The quickie, random polls in either country as to voting intentions have a high error factor.  While the polling organization will cheerfully give you the mathematical error ratio, the truth is they cannot tell you if the people they selected are really going to vote.  You have 30 to 35 per cent of the adult respondents in that mix who are not going to vote and are muddying the waters.  Tracking polls, used by the politicos, are much more helpful because they can be measured against previous experience to forecast voting trends.  The most reliable polls are the exit polls used to measure the accuracy of election results.  For any polling, you need to remember that liars use polls too.

Elections as an art form are very much like the ancient art of duelling.  The ‘en garde’ is usually quite civil but it is followed by a series of feints to determine your opponent’s soft spots.  Once you know the weak points, you can proceed to, figuratively, cut out their gizzard.  That is why many leading political experts ridicule the political science texts and use Carl von Clauswitz and Sun Tzu’s books on the tactics of war instead.

Obama did a smart end run on McCain earlier in the summer when he did a tour of the Middle East and Europe.  He was like a high school graduate being given the trip by proud parents.  And the triumph in coming home through Europe covered most of his early gaffs in the Middle East.

But Americans of the far right are experts at the big lie and they are going to continue to have at Obama for his presumed dilettante status.  If Obama’s troops are ever irked by more specific attacks, they can always create a message about Sarah Palin taking grandpa for a farewell tour.  Of course, there is nothing wrong with being 72 but it is a little late in life to be taking over as Commander in Chief of the most powerful country in the world.  (Speaking of Commander in Chief, Sarah Palin does look a little like the glamorous Geena Davis of the ’05-’06 television series by that name.  Maybe that is what gave the Republican brain trust the idea.)

Meanwhile in Canada, the Conservatives are ramping up the sleaze factor by outright lies about the Liberal’s Stéphane Dion.  Their leader, Harper had to step in at one point when the party was running a clip of a bird pooping on Dion.  He apologized and had it removed from the web site but not before the television networks had time to get clips of the scurrilous ad—which they all gleefully used on their newscasts.

Meanwhile Canadians are waiting for the Liberal ‘brain’ trust to get their act together.  Dion looked good out of the starting gate but in the straightaway of the campaign he is looking weak and self-pitying.  So far, he has apologized for his hearing and his being an academic.  He and his advisors have to find a way for him to jump ahead of Harper’s campaign or he is going to be left in the dust.

The depths of the corruption factor in 2008 are yet to be determined.  While some of the same dirty tricks are used on both sides of the border, there is far more room for corruption in American presidential elections.  The lack of federal control over the voting process across America is a national disgrace.  Canada has a powerful and independent federal returning office that runs federal elections.  America has some 13,000 jurisdictions that run their elections their way and too many are controlled by highly partisan politicians.  The Electoral College system in the United States is anti-democratic and denies Americans the principal of one person-one vote.  The voter registration system is also rife with opportunities for corruption.  In Canada, Prime Minister Stephen Harper broke his own election law to call an election before his party is found guilty of flaunting the election laws in the 2006 election.  His people harassed the parliamentary committee trying to find answers to many charges so as to buy time for him to call the election.

Many politicos scoff at the corrupt practices because they think they balance out between the parties and the end result is little affected.  Yet as Anthony Eden once said: Corruption never has been compulsory. If you believe that the corruption balances out, the Democrats would have won the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections.

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