Why The Pollsters Got BC Wrong
As Erik Grenier writes, the real story of the recent election in British Columbia is the comically awful polling, which missed the actual result by nearly 20%. It’s inexcusable.
Or is it?
Let’s zoom out a little.
Historically, pollsters have focused on two provinces: Quebec and Ontario. And it’s for one good reason: elections are always (always!) decided in Quebec and Ontario.
The Atlantic provinces always always always hedge their bets. Every party will win a decent number of seats, which means they effectively cancel each other out. Besides, there are so few seats to begin with that you’re usually wasting your time in the region.
Mind you, Atlantic polls tend to be fairly reliable, and that’s for one core reason: the economic, social and demographic conditions of the Atlantic provinces tend to be fairly homogeneous, and homogeneous cultures are extremely easy to poll, even with a small sample size.
Alberta is reliably Conservative. So much so as to be scarcely worth polling. Most Albertan ridings have elected Conservative MPs continuously since the 1960s and 70s, and show no signs of changing any time soon. On the federal level, the political culture just isn’t all that interesting
Manitoba and Saskatchewan have the “Atlantic disease” of being both relatively easy to poll and fairly insignificant to the national picture. Neither gets much attention, and the little attention they do receive is nevertheless adequate.
And then there’s British Columbia. BC is big enough to make a difference, and BC swings violently from election to election. So why are the polls so bad?
BC is perhaps the least homogeneous province in the country. The economic, social and demogaphic conditions in one community can be wildly different from those of a neighbouring community, to say nothing of the stark differences between a big city on the Island and a small town or rural area in the northern interior. In a province like Prince Edward Island, you can pick 50 random numbers out of the phone book and be pretty sure you’ve got a balanced sample; in British Columbia, you have to consider dozens of different factors and weightings (which means polling hundreds and thousands of different people!) just to get basic data.
And that’s a problem.
Because of that diversity, BC is expensive and difficult to poll. So are Ontario and Quebec, but Ontario and Quebec both have way, way, way more seats than BC, making their results more critical to the national picture.
This obviously bodes poorly. It means polling agencies have weak operations in a critical province, and—in situations like this—the lack of resources is plain and obvious.
But is that the wrong decision?
The bottom line is that Ontario and Quebec do matter more than BC when it comes to federal elections. Given the choice between throwing resources into a province with 107 seats or one with only 36, you’d need a very compelling reason to opt for the smaller province.
It is, of course, galling that the polls were so abysmally wrong: you might as well have been tossing a coin.
But this doesn’t mean the polls generally are broken. BC is a very, very special case (high investment required to poll adequately, yet only low-to-middling importance in national elections), and should be handled as such.
Pour service en francais, poussez sur le neuf.
Thank you for calling Facebook.
To hear your grandmother’s favourite inspirational quotes, press 1.
To discover your 15-year-old cousin’s thoughts about Justin Beiber, Ayn Rand, Nickelback and Marxism, press 2.
To learn what your coworker did last night, who they did it with, how much lubricant was required, and where they procured the goat, press 3.
To listen to your neighbour babble for two hours straight about their baby (DID I TELL YOU ABOUT THE BABY BECAUSE WE HAVE A BABY NOW IT IS THE BEST BABY IN THE WORLD), press 4.
To accidentally mail your boss a drunken photograph of you at a Halloween party making out with a hipster dressed as ‘Sexy Teddy Roosevelt’, press 5.
To be awkwardly hit on by the guy who was in your tutorial last year but you never really talked to, press 6.
For an unnecessarily long argument about religion which is guaranteed to offend everyone involved, please stay on the line.
Anonymous asked: Any thoughts or feelings regarding the following links? stfufauxminists*tumblr*com/post/14725550943/female-privilege , also, morewomeninskepticism*wordpress*com/2011/07/23/15-reverse-sexis/
The “Female Privilege Checklist” is a hoary old MRA trope which has been going around for years and basically amounts to a whiny screed, akin to a stand-up comedian asking “Why can’t I say the n-word? Isn’t that a little racist?”. (Because, you know, that’s what racism is: when the black people don’t let you join in their reindeer games.)
The Women in Skepticism post is excellent, but I would make one additional criticism of this approach.
A significant problem with this argument—THE PATRIARCHY HURTS MEN TOO, YOU GUYS!!!!—is that it postulates that the only way to get men interested or involved with feminist causes is to make it all about them.
I think this approach is cynical. People can be persuaded to take up causes which aren’t in their obvious self-interest. (The campaign to end apartheid in South Africa would be a good example, as would be the millions of heterosexual Americans who are now lining up behind gay marriage.)
I think this approach creates perversions. While it’s certainly true that addressing feminist issues will ultimately lead to good things for men (and that feminists are the ones doing most of the heavy lifting on many of the weightier issues MRAs like to whine about: rape, circumcision, fatherhood, etc.), but “Feminism: Now About Men!” misses the point completely and essentially amounts to a takeover of the movement.
I think this approach is especially ironic in light of the common complaint that “Sexism hurts men because, in commercials, men are always made to look stupid”. This approach (“we have to make feminism about men, too!”) postulates that men are completely immune to argument or empathy or reasoning: they simply aren’t clever enough to get there on their own, so we have to assume they’re stupid and lead them by the nose, because what else can you do with the great lumbering he-beasts we call men?
I do think that “feminism hurts men too” is a worthwhile line of inquiry, and an interesting and worthwhile intellectual exercise. But framing the movement (or even just male participation in the movement) around this situation is a deeply, deeply problematic thing, especially if you’re doing so because you don’t like seeing the intelligence of men discounted.
Labels are for Soup Cans, Amirite?
I don’t know why you insist on labelling yourself. I mean, what does a word like “gay” or “bisexual” even mean? These are just silly labels, and by using them, you’re making yourself an easy target.
I label myself because I’m going to be labelled no matter what I say or do. Given the opportunity, I choose to do this on my own terms rather than meekly accepting the epithets others would bestow upon me.
I label myself because the label is useful. “I’m gay” provides helpful and concise information about my behaviour and activities, and while this may be used to associate me with stereotypes, it also communicates a critical mass of good data. (i.e: I think men are just dreamy.)
I label myself because, as a fairly well-adjusted grown-up gay man, I think I have a responsibility to put myself out there, both as an example of a well-adjusted grown-up gay man (so as to help combat certain stereotypes) and, potentially, as a resource for other queerfolk who might need support, assistance, or just to know there’s an ally in the room.
I label myself because it makes people think twice about making fag jokes when I’m in the room, and that’s a good thing.
I label myself because it makes some people deeply deeply uncomfortable. In some cases because they’re homophobic, yes—but just as often, people seem to have no idea what to do with a gay man who doesn’t conform to their expectations and stereotypes. And I think that sort of cognitive dissonance is worth igniting.
I label myself because I find my label empowering. I like the connection (however tenuous) to Quentin Crisp, Oscar Wilde, Alan Turing, Gertrude Stein, John Waters, Fannie Flagg, and the thousand and one other gays and lesbians who I find inspirational.
I label myself because sometimes it’s actually really really really cool to be queer. When queer people meet up in non-queer spaces, even if there’s absolutely no sexual or romantic or even social interest in each other, the moment of mutual recognition carries a sensation not unlike a secret handshake.
I label myself because engaging in queer behaviour is tantamount to labelling yourself, and I have no intention of living like a eunuch.
I label myself because I speak from a queer perspective. And in some conversations, that means I need to turn into Godzilla and make the straight people shut up by stomping around and breathing fire on them. This process is greatly expedited by pre-identifying myself as gay.
But above all else, I label myself because I choose to label myself.
How dare you presume that I’m some backwards rube, ignorant of my own circumstances, who needs a nice heterosexual to come by and pat me on the head and tell me how I ought to feel.
How dare you lecture me about the merits and shortcomings of my own identity, as if this isn’t something I’ve spent years puzzling through, assessing, veryifying, balancing, weighting and checking.
And how dare you assume that, based on having sat in an armchair and thought some Reel Deep Thots about how queer people ought to live, you are now equipped to shout from the rooftops. Ring the churchbells! Strike up the band! The breeders have “solved” queerness! We can all stop thinking!
My identity is my business, and mine alone. I am not your project. I am not your test subject. I am not some paper doll you can dress up and toy around with as you please. I am a sentient, conscious, adult human being, and I’m perfectly capable of making my own choices.
You will never, ever liberate me by denying me my choices. You will never, ever liberate me by denying me my identity. And you will never, ever liberate me by convincing yourself that you know better than I what’s in my best interests. Knock it off.
Limbo Dancing on Parliament Hill
This CBC story has me thinking about numbers and Caribbean rhythms.
[Justin Trudeau] intends to introduce a motion that would strip [parties] of their power to decide which MPs are allowed to make members’ statements in the House of Commons.
The motion is undoubtedly problematic for the prime minister, who is facing a rebellion by backbenchers fed up with their inability to speak their minds[.]
There are 308 seats in the House of Commons. In order to remain firmly in power, Stephen Harper must hold 155 of them. He currently has 165. (164 Conservatives plus one “Independent Conservative” who essentially takes the party line.)
You must understand that every parliament has a certain amount of churn: MPs dying, going down in a blaze of scandal, defecting to other parties, resigning out of boredom or frustration with politics, all that juicy stuff. This action usually picks up towards the end of a parliament—and rarely favours the government.
With an election widely believed to be about two years away, we’re officially at the beginning of that end.
Harper’s been lucky so far: Peter Goldring has been loyal, while Bev Oda and Lee Richardson both resigned from safe Conservative seats, protecting the balance of power. But Peter Panshue (who, according to polls, is going to be absolutely swamped out of his Newfoundland riding by the Liberals) represents a break with this pattern, and a potential danger.
More importantly, with every MP who dies, resigns or defects, Harper has to squeeze even tighter. When you have 170 MPs, you can afford them a good deal of freedom: you can even let a few of them vote the “wrong way” without jeopardizing your government.
When you have 165, you have to be more aggressive. Troublemaking MPs are called before caucus and explanations are demanded. Dissent is unwelcome and intolerable.
When you’ve only got 160, your backbenchers don’t get to eat, sleep or sneeze without a party staffer watching over their shoulder, clutching a whip and grinning menacingly: every vote counts, every MP must be handled, and there will be crushing consequences for screwing up or speaking your mind.
159? Even stricter.
158? Even harder.
Don’t even contemplate the horrors of 157. And it only gets worse from there.
The Liberals are trying to exploit this weakness. If they can ferment caucus acrimony, and especially if they can spark defections or resignations, all kinds of exciting things happen.
Maybe the resignations will be concentrated, as they have been so far, in safe seats. Harper doesn’t care if his MP for Wild Rose resigns: he has 75% of the vote in that riding, the Conservatives would win it again in a heartbeat.
But may be he won’t be so lucky. Maybe we’ll start to see real cracks. Maybe MPs from places like British Columbia and Quebec will begin to waver. (In fact, judging by the polls, the best job security for such an MP would be to defect to nearly any other party. For some BC Tory incumbents, even the Greens may be a more viable option than sticking with Harper.) Maybe the caucus will even split and we’ll see a revival of the Alliance-DRC division from the early 2000s that kneecapped Stockwell Day’s leadership.
Remember, Harper only needs to lose 10 to lose his government. And every time he loses an MP, for whatever reason, the screws tighten just a little more, making the caucus even more disgruntled and generating even more headlines about MUZZLING BACKBENCHERS and SILENCING DEBATE and OUTRAGE OUTRAGE OUTRAGE.
If Trudeau succeeds in this ploy, it’s going to look an awful lot like a limbo dance. They’re going to be picking off Tory MPs one at a time, turning up the heat as they go, and watching gleefully as Stephen Harper tries to answer a key question: how low can he go?
A Person’s A Person, No Matter How Evil
Whenever the culprit’s, or culprits’, name comes out, DO NOT repeat it when you write about the bombing. These sickos want attention. Do not give it to them. Refer to
himthem as “the bomber,” “the culprit,” etc., but do not refer to himthem by histheir name.
Get the word out.
For once, I agree.
Okay, here’s the thing.
In the immediate aftermath of the Sandy Hook shooting, the police weren’t looking for a killer. They were looking for Evil. At least, that’s what the media told us.
Evil stalked the halls of Sandy Hook elementary school.
Evil visited the small town of Newtown, Connecticut.
Evil has claimed the lives of our children.
Evil, Evil, Evil. Not “an evil person” or “an evil man” or “a person acting evilly”, just plain, pure, dehumanized evil.
And this dehumanizing of serial killers, terrorists, rapists, pedophiles, and other moral offenders is both understandable and sensible enough. We don’t want them to be human: we want them to have as little in common with us as possible.
We want to live in a world where only bad people do bad things, and where bad people are clearly and readily identifiable. We want to live in a world where every pedophile has a tragic past and a creepy mustache, every serial killer is a muttering schizophrenic, every terrorist has been brainwashed until no traces of humanity remain.
We don’t want to contemplate the lives and choices and motives of these people, because that involves engaging with parts of our own humanity that (rightly!) make us uncomfortable.
And, ultimately, we simply don’t want to reckon with the fact that the capacity to do evil things rests within us all. Evil is not some lightning bolt that comes out of the sky, hits a random target, and inspires them to go on a rampage, but something inherent to all of us as human beings. Evil is the thousand and one sins that linger within us all: temper; jealousy, jadedness; ego and pride; entitlement; zeal for control; privilege; substance dependency.
Most of us control these evil urges. We identify them, we contextualize them, and we either tamp them down before things explode, or we redirect the energy they represent into more positive actions.
But small numbers of us don’t. (Or can’t. Or won’t.)
Small numbers of us become rapists, abusers, murderers, pedophiles, or terrorists.
And nothing provides better cover to those people than this refusal to engage with the humanity of evil people.
“He was always such a nice young man”, said the serial killer’s neighbour.
“Wow, I didn’t realize she was capable of something like this” said her coworker, as the police continued to dig bodies out of her back yard.
“That’s not the man I raised him to be”, said the terrorist’s mother.
We need to get over this cringe: this belief that evil acts are only committed by obviously evil people. We need to recognize and discuss the capacity that exists within everyone to be evil. And most importantly, we need to sit up and pay attention to that capacity within ourselves and others.
And with this in mind, dehumanizing murderers and terrorists even more by depriving them of faces, names, identities and causes is profoundly, profoundly unhelpful. This leads only to more death and destruction.
It might be the case that terrorists with causes want to get noticed, but what exactly do you think you’re accomplishing here?
Do you think you’re “punishing” them by refusing to mention their name?
You’re making their next job even easier. You’re making it easier for them to recruit new attackers. You’re making it easier for those recruits to slip through the cracks. You’re making it easier for parents, friends, teachers, neighbours, coworkers and others to ignore warning signs. (“Well, yeah, looking back that was unusual, but he just didn’t seem like the kind of guy…”) And in the long term, you’re just making it easier in general.
Lay out their causes, their motives. Piece everything together: let’s not just understand their identity, let’s understand how it came into being. Let’s understand how and why the moral forces which would otherwise prevent someone from bombing a public event were disabled or short-circuited. Let’s understand what drove this person to commit such an abhorrent act.
And rather than burying our head in the sand, let’s use that information to make ourselves, and our society, safer. Let’s learn how to identify the warning signs within ourselves and others. Let’s make it easier to have this conversation, to learn the skills needed to channel this energy more effectively, to catch these people and steer them into more productive pursuits.
Let’s stop dehumanizing these people.
FAAB Heterosexual Ciswoman
There’s a certain type of early-20s FAAB Heterosexual Ciswoman who identifies as “genderqueer”, on the apparent basis that:
- She has a pixie haircut. (For reference, here is Mary Martin rocking a Pixie Cut back in the 1950s.)
- She may be just a teeeeensy bit bisexual. (She thinks. She doesn’t know. She’s just exploring her options, you know? She’s keeping an open mind, not ruling anything out. And she totally has a crush on this one girl she kissed at a party that one time…)
- She strongly and vocally disapproves of standard beauty norms.
And that’s about it.
This early-20s FAAB Heterosexual Ciswoman’s hobbies include giving Her Opinion As A Queer Person, talking about Her Marginalization (which never rises above the level of “mommy and daddy don’t understaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaand”), and whining about How She Is A Victim Of Erasure, What With Everyone Assuming She’s A FAAB Heterosexual Ciswoman When She Is Totally A Genderqueer Pansexual GOSH!
I’m wondering to what extent these people are interchangeable with fictive otherkin.
Fictive otherkin are people who believe that they either have multiple personalities (at least one of whom is a character from fiction) or that they are a character from fiction. It must be understood that fictive otherkin have varying degrees of earnestness underpinning this belief: some of them are just goofing around and roleplaying within this framework, no more serious about it than children playing dress-up in grandma’s clothes; others are TOTALLY SERIOUS MY NAME IS HERMIONE GRANGER AND DON’T YOU FORGET IT. (“MOMMMMMMM! I’VE TOLD YOU A THOUSAND TIMES TO CALL ME HERMIONE! GOSH!”)
In short, these people have decided that they rather like Hermione Granger, and begin acting as if they are Hermione Granger: a full-on performance. Everything is imitated. People affect accents, start dressing differently, and refer to other characters from that same fictive source in much the same way that children often refer to imaginary friends. (“I’m not allowed to go out after 10. Dumbledore enforces a strict curfew.”) In their zeal to show respect for and model their own behaviour on that of the fictional character, they believe that they have become the subject of their interest.
Do these people have something in common with the FAAB Heterosexual Ciswoman I identified above?
FAAB Heterosexual Ciswoman, in my estimation, rather likes the idea of being marginalized and oppressed and having queer opinions and otherwise gaining access to the Queer Kids Treehouse. (Both in the sense of having a queer identity and in having access to the literal treehouse: spaces and encounters and resources which would normally be queers-only.) So she begins imitating queers, affecting our language and social organization and cultural priorities, until she goes whole hog and takes on a queer identity.
The best part is that she doesn’t have to actually do anything queer. The queer community is (rightly!) so ecumenical and open-minded and (ideally, but admittedly not always) loathe to play at identity police that her claims will never be directly challenged. So long as she pads and clouds her identity just enough and in the correct language (“In what ways are you genderqueer?” “Oh, you know. I’m still trying to figure stuff out. Haven’t really decided on anything yet. I’m just curious and explorative, right?” “Yeah, I dig that.”), she passes muster.
I’d also like to note that, while I think I’m being critical of FAAB Heterosexual Ciswoman, I don’t think she’s destructive as such. I find her tedious and irritating, and her interest in queer identities and spaces to be perverse, but she’s definitely a strong and motivated ally. I don’t like her speaking on behalf of queer people, but insofar as FAAB Heterosexual Ciswomen tend to be extremely well-versed in queer issues and identities, she’s actually quite a strong advocate, and one who can often speak from experience—albeit these experiences will be those of other people who are perfectly capable of expressing them on their own.
I think she trivializes queer identities, but this can’t be addressed without destroying much of what makes the queer community great. (Any system in which people need to “prove” their queerness is ludicrous. We must have spaces for the confused, the questioning, the uncertain, for those with genuinely mixed identities, and for those who simply don’t want to be nailed down. And if that means a few well-intentioned fakers squeak through the cracks, so be it.) More importantly, sometimes someone who may initially appear to be a FAAB Heterosexual Ciswoman is “genuine” and actually does acquire a queer identity as a result of this type of exploration, and that’s not something to be overlooked.
And even in cases where they’ve been faking all along, to some extent this type of person is paying us an enormous compliment. They think we’re so inclusive and accessible and friendly and creative and unique and noble and fierce that they want a double helping of whatever we’re having. This, too, is problematic (Paging Margaret Mead!), but—again—it’s hard to fault FAAB Heterosexual Ciswoman
So. What do we do?
I think I’m being critical, but I don’t think it’s worth doing anything. It’s not worth calling specific people out, it’s not worth trying to force them out of our spaces, it’s not worth “ripping the mask” off their face (unless and until their zeal to Spread Queer Opinions becomes disruptive to or destructive of “actual” queer conversations, activism or projects), you pretty much just have to leave them alone.
We can name it. We can describe it. And we can hope that, by reading about this phenomenon, certain people may reconsider the extent to which they have a queer identity vs. they have adopted someone else’s identity in order to feel better about themselves. But beyond that, every approach just seems unbearably destructive.
What do you think?
DISCLAIMER 1: Just because someone looks like FAAB Heterosexual Ciswoman does not mean someone is, in fact, FAAB Heterosexual Ciswoman. As I say in the essay, people who fit this type are often indistinguishable from those who are genuinely questioning and mashing through their identities: FAAB Heterosexual Ciswoman adopts the terms and language we use to describe ourselves, making it nearly impossible to tell them apart.
As a result, we shouldn’t be identity-policing these people. If this descends into a game of whack-a-mole, we’ll end up destroying much of what makes the queer community worthwhile.
DISCLAIMER 2: Not every self-identifying bisexual or genderqueer person is FAAB Heterosexual Ciswoman. There are bisexuals in the world who just genuinely have only had occasion to date people of the opposite sex, and they’re every bit as entitled to that identity as those bisexuals who “genuinely” swing. Again: don’t play whack-a-mole, and don’t start calling people out. That’s unhelpful.
What Is Vacation Pay?
A lot of my friends are slowly moving into the workplace, and several have asked me (HR guy! Hi!) to explain vacation pay.
Before I begin: HR law varies significantly from country to country. The information I’m about to provide applies in Ontario, Canada and will generally apply in most other North American jurisdictions—but it might not apply to you. Speak to your HR department before you do anything stupid.
This information also only applies if you are covered by the Employment Standards Act. Most employees are, but speak to your HR department for more information.
If you’re like most hourly employees, the Employment Standards Act entitles you to two weeks of paid vacation per calendar year. (Even if you work part-time.)
Conventionally, you would take the vacation and receive vacation pay at the same time: you book two weeks off, you go lie on a beach somewhere, you don’t do any work, but you still get paid as if you’re in the office. Money for nothing, essentially.
Your paycheque for that two-week vacation should be a “typical” week’s salary for the previous year. This means that, if you work in an environment where your number of hours varies from week to week, the employer can’t just cherry-pick a week you had very few hours and base your paycheque on that. The law compels them to average everything out and come up with a fair figure.
This paycheque also has to account for predictable bonuses, overtime and stat holiday pay, and other goodies. For example, if you receive a $100 bonus in weeks where you sell $15,000 worth of merchandise, and you hit that target 60% of the time in the preceding year, you vacation paycheque should include $120 extra. ($120 being your weekly bonus of $60, times two: remember, it’s a two-week vacation.)
As a result of all this detail, this is a fantastic system for people who work 40-hour weeks in predictable and stable office environments, but it doesn’t work especially well for many other employees:
Not So Rosy After All
81% of Canadians now have a female Premier. (Sort of the Canadian equivalent of a Governor.) Notably, all four of the “top 4” provinces are governed by women: Ontario, Quebec, BC, Alberta. And that’s good news, right?
Well. I’ve done some number-crunching, and it isn’t looking all that swell.
There are really only two circumstances under which women gain the leadership of Canadian political parties:
- The Kim Campbell: A long-standing government has grown unpopular, so the premier resigns and a female leader is installed to do damage control. (A new face! A new prespective! New ideas! Hooray!) In practice, she usually ends up being a sacrificial lamb, serving primarily to protect her predecessor from the humiliation of losing an election.
- The Alexa McDonough: Nobody really expects her party to win an election any time soon. In many cases, the party only has a small handful of seats in the legislature, if they have any at all. The job just isn’t very desirable: you’ll spend a few years toiling in obscurity, desperately trying to hold onto just 1-2 seats, and that’s about it.
It’s very, very rare for women to be trusted with parties which are truly on the ascent: competitive parties who might form a government in the medium term almost always end up with male leaders.
So. Theory in a nutshell: competitive parties get male leaders; women get damage control and the parties hardly anyone wants to lead in the first place.
Does this rather depressing theory hold up to the data?
Of the five current female Premiers, four of them (Alison Redford, Kathy Dunderdale, Kathleen Wynne and Christy Clark) took over from long-standing and increasingly-unpopular predecessors, while the fifth (Pauline Marois) only won her party’s leadership after they experienced a humiliating and unprecedented third-place finish.
In short, none of these women were trusted with the leadership during a period in which their party’s prospects were good: Clark, Wynne, Dunderdale and Redford are all on damage-control duty, while Marois took over at her party’s absolute nadir, when the job just wasn’t all that desirable.
So far, so bad.
But it gets much, much worse.
Of the 31 women who have ever led a provincial or federal party, 28 fit this model: 7 were assigned to damage control (among them Catherine Callbeck in PEI, Rita Johnston in BC, and—of course—Kim Campbell), and 21 were appointed to lead unimportant also-ran parties.(Nancy MacBeth in Alberta, Yvonne Jones in Newfoundland, Audrey McLaughlin federally, and so on.)
“But Wonkman!”, I hear you say. “What about all the women who are leading popular opposition parties? What about Andrea Horwath, Danielle Smith and Lorraine Michael?”
They fit the model, too.
When Danielle Smith took over the Wildrose Alliance, they had no seats in the legislature and were between 5-10% in the provincial polls. Not, by any stretch of the imagination, serious contenders for government.
Andrea Horwath was in a similar position: fewer than half as many votes as the other parties, and less than 10% of the seats in the legislature. It just wasn’t a very good gig when she took over.
As for Lorraine Michael, while it’s looking increasingly likely she’ll soon be the first NDP premier of Newfoundland and Labrador, she was chosen to lead a party with just 2 members of the legislature and which polled in the single digits.
You know what is interesting, though?
This model cannot account for the experiences of at least three women:
- Lynn Verge, who led the Newfoundland Progressive Conservatives between 1995 and 1996. She resigned suddenly after failing to win a seat for herself in a byelection.
- Helen MacDonald of the Nova Scotia NDP, who took over the second-place party in 2000 and resigned in 2001 under identical byelection-related circumstances..
- And Lyn McLeod, who took over the Ontario Liberals following an embarrassing defeat in the 1990 election. She failed to reverse the party’s fortunes in time for the 1995 election, and resigned in 1996.
In other words, there’s some hope here: under certain circumstances, women can win desirable leadership gigs. But it’s unlikely. It’s a 1-in-10 crapshoot. And even though we currently have five female First Ministers, none of them are in especially strong positions: this state of affairs isn’t going to last very long.
In other words, this model does not build sustainable female leadership. It gets women leadership jobs, but only within this damage-control-or-jobs-nobody-wants paradigm. If we want more female premiers, and especially if we want female leaders in their own right (rather than premiers tacked onto established “dynasties”, which is the case for 4 out of 5 of the current women in power), we need to find some way to get women into positions of leadership within parties which are already competitive.
Sometimes leaders can work minor miracles and turn an uncompetitive party into a serious contender. (Lorraine Michael or Andrea Horwath are good examples.) And sometimes leaders can do a masterful job of damage control, saving their own skin in the process. (Kathy Dunderdale and Alison Redford look good here.) But these are the outliers: far more women are simply being set up for failure.
And that’s not something we ought to be celebrating.
Reading the Polls
Matt Elliott, who writes for Metro, recently tweeted an interesting graph: mayor Ford’s approval ratings measured over time in all 4 of Toronto’s “main” divisions.
This graph appears to hold bad news for opponents of mayor Ford, finding that his overall level support have—at best—stagnated over time. Certainly not the city-wide decline they’d hoped for.
Allow me to unskew them a little. (Yes, yes, I know. Tinfoil hat. Bear with me, here.)
First of all, let’s do some averaging. Political opinions tend to change gradually: if someone drops from 60% approval on Monday to 55% on Friday, it’s not as if everyone in the entire city changes their views en masse the night before. That shift happened slowly, over the course of the entire week. What I’ve done with this graph is account for that gradual change by averaging every two adjacent polls, then connecting them at their midpoints. This knocks off the hard edges, makes the graph less jagged, and makes it much easier to observe trends over time.
I’ve also overlaid two colours here: red for periods of sustained city-wide growth, and green for periods of city-wide decline. Periods without colour are stagnant.
As you can see, not much changes. The shifts are less dramatic, but mayor Ford has spent only marginally more time in decline than he has in growth, and that’s not uncommon for elected officials.
But we can unskew even more.
Going back to the original numbers, several of these polls seem to be statistical outliers: his popularity suddenly drops 20%, then bounces back to its initial value in the very next poll? That’s highly unlikely, especially if other polls do not show a similar decline or increase. (If every poll taken in the city gives him a 20% bounce, he probably has a 20% bounce; if one poll shows a bounce while every other poll shows stagnation, he probably doesn’t.)
You’ll notice that my removals are universally at mayor Ford’s low points, so this analysis should be beneficial to him. Right?
Well, here’s what the graph looks like when you re-do that averaged chart with the outlier polls removed:
I’ve also added a dotted line at the current level of support, to provide for comparison over time.
Three things you should notice:
- Mayor Ford’s support has bottomed out in two cities: in both Toronto (red) and Etobioke (purple), he’s at all-time lows.
- Rob Ford has never been more beloved in North York (green) at any point in his administration. Even during the honeymoon immediately following his election and inauguration, his numbers weren’t this good.
- His support has cratered in the last few months, roughly an 8-10% drop city-wide. Late 2012 and early 2013 were very good for mayor Ford: he reached all-time highs in Etobicoke and Scarborough (blue), and even did quite well in Toronto, nearly matching his honeymoon numbers. But that’s crashed down to earth recently, with all three of these cities showing significant declines—even once you average out the numbers.
The last point is the most interesting. It suggests that Rob Ford is testing voters’ patience: that, contrary to what he’d probably hoped for, he hasn’t grown on us. As with most elected officials, voters have become less inclined to forgive his mistakes.
The key question for the 2014 election, then: can Rob Ford manage the rising expectations of his citizens? So far in 2013, he hasn’t.