Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The election was not a waste of money

I think people think it's clever to say that this election was a waste of money. Rick Mercer banged on about it last night and Peter Mansbridge even agreed. I remember Joe Clark making a similar claim in the 2000 debates, complaining that Chretien had wasted money on an election because he wanted to stave off Paul Martin.

The idea, as far as I can tell it, is that if an election ends with a Parliament similar to the previous Parliament, then we ought not to have had an election. Or perhaps we should just have delayed it. I am not really sure what advocates of this argument actually propose as an alternative. I suppose it's probable that they don't have one.

For me, I think the election was well worth the money. Think of what we've learned: the Green Party is supported by less than one-in-ten Canadians. Voters are not as keen on Stephane Dion (much to my chagrin, I must say) as his backers assumed. Jack Layton's New Democrats are not in fact more popular than the Liberals, they are not poised for a breakthrough in Quebec, and they are now more effective in Alberta than Dion's Liberals. Finally, you can make any number of overtures towards Quebec, but the Bloc is still a formidable party and will capitalize on small mistakes. These are all things which were less clear before the election.

Perhaps most importantly, we've given a leader a fresh mandate to address the economy, provided he can muster the support of other parties.

What's the alternative to this? To let the government last for another year, listen to the bleating about how the Tories are acting without a mandate, and complain about the need to get rid of them? I suppose for those who don't like the outcome of last night's election that this would be preferable. At least then they could keep up the charade of being democrats. But to complain about the cost of the election because you don't like the outcome -- which is what this seems to be -- is to be either a purveyor of easy jokes, a cynic, or lazy. It certainly doesn't make you a democrat. This election was not a waste of money. They never are.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Paradox of Voting

Don Butler has a great article on the paradox of voting in today's Citizen. You could remove my quotes and I'd still think it was awesome! It's great when a journalist really digs in and figures out a debate.

You can read it here.

Compulsory Voting and Voter Knowledge

My little paper on compulsory voting and knowledge (co-authored with Milner and Hicks) is here. We conducted the experiment in the winter of 2007. That it's in press a year later says a lot about how efficient is the editorial team at the CJPS. It also says something, I should like to think, about the clarity and simplicity of experimental work.

Note: I think the article is gated. Send me an email if you'd like to read it. Here is the abstract:

Does compulsory voting lead to more knowledgeable and engaged citizens? We report the results from a recent experiment measuring such “second-order effects” in a compulsory voting environment. We conducted the experiment during the 2007 Quebec provincial election among 121 students at a Montreal CEGEP. To receive payment, all the students were required to complete two surveys; half were also required to vote. By comparing knowledge and engagement measures between the two groups, we can measure the second-order effects of compulsory voting. We find little or no such effects.

Monday, October 06, 2008


I am sitting in Old Montreal watching the National with the Cynic in Chief. There must be something in the water here, because I am seeing things. Rick Anderson and David Herle are on a segment called "The Insiders". And David Herle is talking about how the end of a campaign is full of people outside the party -- pseudo insiders -- talking about what is happening in the race and how it could be done better. I can only assume that they are both taking time away from the campaign rooms to do this show.

Friday, October 03, 2008

On the Debate(s)

I watched last night's debates with some interest. For the Canadian debate I participated in a great community event with a discussion of the debate at the end. The discussion eventually turned to whether the Green Party should actively throw its support behind the Dion Liberals. It was a great discussion about the moral legitimacy and/or imperative of strategic voting. It's a more muddled question for me now than it was before the conversation, which I take as a sign of a great discussion.

As for the debates themselves, I am not keen to pick a winner or a loser, because I think we all see different things. And it's quite possible for every leader to do well among their respective constituencies and thus discussion of who won and who lost is rather fruitless. Indeed, the most significant recent research on debates suggests that debates do just this. To review the findings of Blais and Perella (two colleagues and friends) consider this abstract:

Almost an entire generation of election survey data was pooled together from the United States and Canada to assess the systemic effects of televised debates. Four questions were posed: (1) Is there a general tendency for evaluations of candidates to improve or deteriorate after a debate? (2) Do evaluations of one candidate negatively correlate with changes in evaluations of opponents? (3) Do debates disadvantage incumbents? (4) Do debates advantage less popular candidates? Using "feeling thermometer" items to measure voter evaluations, four patterns are revealed. First, candidates generally gain points.The supposed mudslinging that characterizes a debate appears not to feed into any notion of cynicism. Instead, voters appear to gain an appreciation for the debaters. Second, a candidate's gain is not earned at the expense of those deemed to have "lost" the match. Third, a debate does not disadvantage an incumbent. A candidate with a record to defend stands about as much chance of benefiting from a debate as a challenger.And fourth, any evaluation gaps before a debate become narrower following a debate. This final effect, which is particularly true of American presidential debates, may reflect a debate's ability to raise awareness of less popular candidates.

Think about that before you prognosticate on who "won" the debate.