Fri, Apr
13
2007

Belaboured Statistics

Fri, Apr 13, 2007

You know, on the whole, I am sympathetic to the Green Party’s cause, and I honestly think that Elizabeth May has done an impressive job as the Green Party leader in getting her party some national attention. But I cannot let this article pass without heaping just a little bit of scorn.

Elizabeth’s decision to run in Central Nova is a Brilliant Strategic Move: a Dozen Reasons

Elizabeth’s decision to run in Central Nova is brilliant strategically, for a dozen reasons outlined:

  1. First off, and most importantly the riding is winnable. In 2000 Peter Mackay won 49.1% of the vote while the Alliance candidate won 7.45% — for a combined 55.65%. When the Canadian Alliance took over the PCs MacKay won the riding in 2004 but the combined right support fell by 12.4% (almost 6,000 vote reduction). MacKay’s own support fell by a staggering 3,000 votes.

In the 2006 election McKay’s support fell further from 43.26% to 40.66%. In fact he only won the riding by just over 3,273 votes. So the first point is the MacKay is vulnerable, his support personally, support for the Canadian Alliance Conservative Party has been falling and he’s just holding onto the seat by the skin of his teeth.

Brilliant? Hmm… I might agree with “gutsy”. Partisan Conservatives might say “foolhardy” or “suicidal”. I strongly suspect that May’s decision to run against Peter MacKay won’t result in the drubbing partisan Conservatives expect, but “brilliant”? Wishful thinking.

If you read the full article, it is basically a partisan position paper, which I respect, but it floods me with so many numbers that I can’t help but be suspicious. I mean, fair point that MacKay’s numbers have been steadily dropping since he was first elected, but then comes this table:

               2000    2004    2006     '06%     % Change
                                                   00-06
Con           19,298  16,376  17,134   40.66%      -8.44%
PC+ Alliance  22,228  16,376  17,134   40.66%     -15.89%
Lib           12,585   9,986  10,349   24.55%      -7.46%
NDP            4,498  10,470  13,861   32.89%      21.45%
Green            n/a   1,105     671    1.59%      +1.59%

See that last column? Percentage change from 2000 to 2006? What’s missing there? Well, how about any consideration for the election that happened between 2000 and 2006? The Greens didn’t run a single candidate in 2000. In 2004, their candidate received 1,105 votes. The 2000-2006 suggest an increase in percentage from 0-1.59%. Had they taken the 2004 numbers into account instead, their change in percent would have to show a drop of 1.32.

The author then proceeds to compound his statistical whimsy by taking the recent by-election in London North Centre, calculating how each party swung, and applying those same percentage swings to Central Nova. If, by some miracle, the voters of Central Nova swung exactly the same way as London North Centre, then May finishes in second place, just 3,000 votes shy of MacKay, a difference that could be made up for by more aggressive campaigning and national coverage of an exciting election race.

Look, fair enough, the author does show that if Central Nova did swing in the way London North Centre swung, May might have a chance. But a “brilliant” strategy? That’s overselling things. And the numbers are ultimately meaningless. You cannot predict the outcome of the next election by simply applying the percentages of previous elections, you can simply roll up your sleeves and say to the electorate, “this I will try to do.”

What follows this table is a series of other factors pointing to May’s “advantages” here, all arguable, but none (fortunately) trying to flood us with numbers in order to drive home a point. I’m really only ragging on this article because of how shamelessly partisan it is. Yes, the fact that it’s on the Green Party’s website should tell me something, but if they had just toned down the paper a bit, and expressed quiet confidence and a willingness to work hard, I’d be more inclined to nod my head. As it stands, this overselling makes me mutter that the Greens doth protest too much.

But the article is significant for another reason, in my opinion, and that is because it is written by Jim Harris, former leader of the Greens, and the individual who brought the party to the attention of a number of centrists and those on the centre right.

Since the election of the more left wing Elizabeth May, some bloggers have been looking for the “blue greens”, as represented by Jim Harris and David Chernuschenko, to bolt from the party. This obviously has not happened, which suggests that while May may be a little more left-leaning than some voters may like, she’s managed to keep relations warm between the “red greens” and the “blue greens”, and that certainly bodes well for the party.


A far better rebuttal to the question of “what the hell is Elizabeth May thinking” comes from Ms. May herself in this press release. Her number one reason for running in Central Nova?

Drum roll please: How could I live anywhere without a Frenchy’s? (for anyone outside of the Maritimes, find someone to explain that one to you.) .

It helps here that Ms. May is speaking for herself and from the heart; that turns this from an act of partisan exuberance to one of personal confidence. This is the press release that should be front and centre in the Green Party’s media buy, and I respectfully suggest that Mr. Harris ease back on his exuberance a bit.


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