I don’t remember who said that there are three kinds of lies - “lies, damn lies and statistics” – but surely we’d have to include opinion polls as a fourth kind of lie. For instance on the cover of today’s Globe & Mail newspaper is a half-page article on the "Stephen Harper paradox"; ie. how the Tories are doing great at solidifying support and winning us to their agenda but Harper can't quite win our hearts and minds. I will only point out here that the Tories now stand at 33% in the polls. However, in May, 2006 the National Post was creaming its jeans that the Tories - then at 43% - had enough support for a majority. Great job indeed.
With every day bringing more bad news from Afghanistan and the hardening of opinions in opposition to Canada’s involvement over there, it seems funny that the Globe & Mail – which made a special effort to lick Tory butt in the last federal election – decided that now is the moment to tout the "growing support" for the Conservatives. Funny as in suspicious.
So, I went and had a look at the poll on the Strategic Counsel website.
First of all the questions they ask are pretty vague in relation to the Conservatives. For instance “I disagree with the Harper government’s approach to Afghanistan” – 44% agree with the statement, 47% disagree. Well, Harper has been sending out mixed signals recently in relation to Afghanistan. He’s now saying that the troops will come home at the end of their mission in 2009 if there isn’t support. So, people go, ‘ok, he’s listening to the opposition and he’ll bring the troops home.’ And, of course the response from most of the opposition, NDP aside, is to say “oh yeah, well, you better bring the troops home in 2009.” Not exactly hard-hitting critique.
The same basic thing applies to the question on climate change: “The Harper government has shown that it is serious about starting to deal with global warming” – 48% agree and 46% disagree. Well, Harper has worked hard – and done a pretty good job with the help of a compliant media and pathetic parliamentary opposition – to deflect and diffuse their way out of the early controversy over their opposition to any notion of stopping climate change (remember when Harper claimed that Kyoto was a socialist plot? Ah, those were the good old days...)
However, what is more interesting than the confusion that these numbers indicate both because of the questions and the spin of the Harper Tories is how steady is the opposition to the main political thrust of the Tories – and this stuff is revealed deeper in the survey, after the meaningless nonsense about “Stephen Harper is somebody I like – agree or disagree”. Here people were asked whether their opinion would improve or worsen if the Tories did a series of things. The numbers were as follows:
Get us out of a combat role in Afghanistan immediately – 63% (vs 28%)
Standing up to George Bush – 77% (vs 13%)
Meeting Canada’s Kyoto targets to reduce global warming: a WHOPPING 83% vs 13% are down with the socialist plot. Even in Western Canada, that supposed bastion of oil burning conservatism the numbers were 78% vs 13%. So much for that myth.
Putting significantly more money in public transit – 78% vs 8%.
The list goes on. And it’s not all unproblematically left-wing – a larger minority would have their opinion of the Tories improve if they lowered corporate taxes than not (47% vs 39%). And, as usual, the fear of crime drives 81% to want to see the Tories get tough.
Overall, however, the results show clearly that the Tories are WAY to the right of the general population, even in Alberta. In fact, looking at a mid-July survey by the Strategic Counsel Tory support has fallen the most in two regions: Quebec and the West. In the West they have slumped from 49% in 2006 to 40% today – and remember, that’s in the middle of a massive oil boom in Alberta.
If you can’t hold your support in a boom, well, it doesn’t bode well.