You Can Lead a Voter to a Ballot, But...

The polls have been all over the place recently. Here are three in the past two weeks:


Liberals: 31%
Conservatives: 30%
New Democrats: 15%
Greens: 13%
Bloc Quebecois: 9%

Ipsos Reid

Conservatives: 38%
Liberals: 31%
New Democrats: 14%
Bloc Quebecois: 8%
Greens: 8%

Strategic Counsel:

Conservatives: 36%
Liberals: 30%
New Democrats: 13%
Greens: 12%
Bloc Quebecois: 9%

Your best bet for grabbing an accurate picture of what might be going on is to do as Calgary Grit did and average out the various poll results. Doing so gives these numbers:

Conservatives: 34.67%
Liberals: 30.67%
New Democrats: 14%
Greens: 11%
Bloc Quebecois: 8.67%

It would appear that no party, other than the Greens, should be happy with these results, as they are all within the margin of error of, or down from, their 2006 election night numbers. And listening to the partisan pundits, the frustration is starting to mount.

A few weeks ago, when Stephane Dion’s step up to the leadership of the Liberal Party failed to spark the miracle recovery that some people seemed to expect, the pundits looked for the implosion of Liberal popular support. It never happened. When the Conservatives released a budget full of election goodies and olive branches across the political centre, supporters said that majority support was on its way. It still hasn’t happened. The latest Conservative investigation in the corruption of the previous Liberal administration has been overshadowed by allegations of incompetence, corruption or whathaveyou by the Conservative administration in income trusts and Afghanistan.

The expected changes in the polls simply haven’t happened, and the more blinded partisan supporters are starting to blame the pollsters themselves for political bias, or the blindness of the general public in seeing the obvious superiority of the (fill in the blank) party. This is yet another example of the fair-weather friendship some partisan supporters have with the news media and/or the general public. If things are going well and the polls are looking up, then the public “gets it” and the polls are accurate. But if things aren’t going well and the polls don’t agree with their own partisan opinions, then it must be bias, and/or the general public is too stupid to deserve democracy.

To his eternal credit, Greg Staples never says things like this. But this doesn’t stop him from being increasingly perplexed at the log jam blocking Conservative support from tracking into majority territory. To him I would have to say, with respect, that he needs to get out of his echo chamber a bit more. And I’m not talking about the Conservative echo chamber (his blog maintains a diversity of comments from across the spectrum, though I fear that most of them are talking past each other of late), I’m talking about the political blogosphere full stop.

We are political junkies. We dissect every poll. We pay attention to parliament. We even give Elizabeth May the time of day. But look around us: the sun is shining, the flowers are blooming, and there’s gardening needing to be done.

Put simply, average Canadians don’t think like us. They have lives. In their view, the country is being run relatively well. They have not been given much reason to challenge their own preconceptions about the various contenders for power, and they won’t reassess their positions until an election is called (maybe) — an election that I suspect most people don’t particularly want, given that the current house still has its mandate and, as I said, the sun is shining, the flowers are blooming, and there’s gardening needing to be done.

So they’re not getting all of the mistakes and gaffes the various politicians are making, from comparing anti-Kyoto politicians to Nazi appeasers, to debating the merits of a hockey player for alleged (and largely dismissed) anti-French Canadian comments.

It’s a little silly for various supporters to wonder what it will take for Canadians to notice these gaffes when many of these mistakes are small and verbal in nature, make little difference in the cosmic scheme of things other than the rolling of eyes. These gaffes will largely be forgotten in about a week, especially since the long memory of some of these pundits are stoked by their own partisan biases.

Elizabeth May’s comments that the refusal to address environmental concerns is worse than appeasing Nazis is overblown, but words like this are quickly forgotten. For one thing, the media sort of got distracted by the other issues of the day. For another, the Nazi appeasement comparisons have already been flying fast and furious, particularly south of the border where anybody who suggests that we pull out of Iraq or reassess our approach to the War on Terror is likened to Neville Chamberlain. It’s a shame, but the phrase is losing its power to shock, and thus losing its power to taint anybody through its misuse, and people on all sides of the political spectrum deserve to share the blame for this outrage.

On the other hand, Canadians are caring about some important, longer lasting things, like our efforts in Afghanistan, and whether or not they are being undercut by allegations of human rights abuses by our Afghani allies, and our possible complicity in said acts. We care because the lives of our troops are at stake here, as well as our reputation abroad. And the government hasn’t helped matters by its incompetent ducking of the issue.

If we can’t understand why Canadians think the way they do, why they support the parties the way they do, perhaps it’s time to step outside of our shells and take a few deep breaths. Set aside the blogs and go down to Tim Hortons and simply listen to the people over their coffees and Timbits. You might be amazed by the diversity of opinion out there, not just in terms of who they support, but what they care about. You might be amazed, or possibly depressed. I usually get depressed when I hear people go on and on about Britney Spears or when Brad Met Angelina, but quite often I hear talk about fly fishing, home renovations, a good place to get gyros, and the cute things the kid did last night, and it’s nice.

Ultimately, these are the individuals who will decide how our country is governed, and depending on our points of view as pundits, this fact is either frustrating, elating or depressing, or possibly all three at once. Whether we like it or not, these guys are in charge and, over the course of our lives, these people are going to disagree with us several times. It is their right to do so.

I enjoy political punditry as much as Greg does (okay, maybe not that much), and there is certainly value in keeping close tabs on our politicians. But if the rest of the general public doesn’t share our attention span, or our conclusions, there’s nothing we can do. It’s the old horse and water adage. Getting frustrated or angry is simply going to raise your blood pressure. Quite possibly they have it right; certainly, they seem to be happier.

(Update: 15:54): Of course debating Bigfoot sightings doesn’t help the Commons’ credibility either, but to be fair to Tory MP Mike Lake, he’s simply doing his job: entering in a petition submitted by his constituents. Maybe the will of the general public isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be…

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