Friday, November 3, 2017

Governor-General, apologize

One month into her new job as Canada’s Governor General, Julie Payette is taking on fake news and bogus science.

Payette was the keynote speaker at the ninth annual Canadian Science Policy Convention in Ottawa Wednesday night where she urged her friends and former colleagues to take responsibility to shut down the misinformation about everything from health and medicine to climate change and even horoscopes that has flourished with the
explosion of digital media.

“And we are still debating and still questioning whether life was a divine intervention or whether it was coming out of a natural process let alone, oh my goodness, a random process.”

She generated giggles and even some guffaws from the audience when she said too many people still believe “taking a sugar pill will cure cancer if you will it good enough and that your future and every single one of the people here’s personalities can be determined by looking at planets coming in front of invented constellations.”

I am a huge fan of our Governor-General, Julie Payette. I think she has the ability to be one of Canada's best vice-regals, and even if she wasn't in that public position, she is someone who has done a lot more than I will likely every accomplish and should be respected from coast to coast to coast for those contributions and service to our country and the sciences.

But what she said in the above paragraphs is not acceptable.

Don't get me wrong, because I agree with her. I find amusing that people still believe in astrology, support the baseless ideas behind homeopathy, and as an atheist see no reason for a deity and I'm shocked when people tell me they can't accept evolutionary theory. I also know that these ideas can become harmful when brought into the public sphere, as any policy created on the foundation of ignorance will harm someone, somewhere.

But, still, what she said is not acceptable.

I support the general point the GG is making, too. The rejection of science, critical thinking and the erosion of trust in experts and higher education is a huge problem members of the media, politicians, teachers, and most definitely science communicators must address. It's probably a defining crisis of our day, and one that if we fail to get ahead of will get worse and worse until we barely recognize society, and not for the better.

What she said is just wrong, though.

Let's not even address the fact that mocking people for beliefs is not the better way to communicate science. We all know it isn't, and I bet the GG does as well, but I think in the company she was with, she just felt too comfortable, because I get it. It is exhausting to deal with people that refuse to even entertain a concept that goes against their deeply held beliefs.

Oh my goodness, yes, I think the people that put up entire museums based on nothing but their hatred for evolutionary science because some words written a couple thousand years ago disagree are infuriating, ignorant, and petulant.

Don't even get me started on the charlatans that give false hope to sick and tragic people with miracle cures and utter bullshit, I get very angry at their mention, and I would gladly curse and mock them in front of any audience.

Here's the key thing, though - I'm not the Governor-General of Canada.

I don't serve in a public capacity as the nominal head-of-state of a country. I don't have to be ready to hear about the interests and concerns of all those people who believe in what I consider absolute woo. I could mock whoever I want, because I'm a private citizen - Julie Payette is not.

The GG should apologize for her statements, immediately. It is one thing to talk about how to communicate science better, I think that is a very worthy goal and one she should pursue to the end of her term and beyond. You don't do that by mocking the very people you're trying to reach out to, and you certainly do not do it when you're someone serving the people of Canada, all of them, regardless of what they believe.

She should make it right. I would expect nothing less from someone of her stature.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Some thoughts on Naheed Nenshi's 3rd term win

Tonight's municipal elections in Alberta, which featured both excitement and utter boredom, also have some lessons in store for the various political parties out in Alberta and beyond.

It's pretty obvious that the race between Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi and main rival Bill Smith was a chance for the now-united Conservatives in the province to test messages and campaigns in what will be the crucial battleground come 2019. Smith and his backers tried their best to tie Nenshi to the broader left and ran on fairly divisive rhetoric, though of course nothing near Trump or even Ford, but rather the standard old centre-right lines of taxes and left-wing cliches (bike lanes everywhere, bureaucracy, you get it).

It obviously didn't work and Nenshi was able to secure a fairly easy victory, despite the fact that he didn't have the benefit of a vote split as he did in 2010 (2014 doesn't count in my opinion). Calgary's centre-right threw a lot behind the little-known Smith, boosting him up in ways I doubt even he expected. Likely his campaign was crippled by it's secrecy surrounding donors and the overt involvement of developers and the rather-disliked NHL on the arena issue, and had a better and more open - or at least hands-off - campaign been run, Nenshi might've been in more trouble.

The takeaway from all this is that the NDP's political grave has not been dug yet just because the centre-right has united. It's clear Calgarians are willing to vote for progressive continuity, but it will depend greatly on how Notley and her party frames it and how much they want it.

I also suspect it will help the NDP more that voters will be given a clearer choice in the next election.

Think of it this way - clearly voters were looking for some sort of change in Calgary, but the race became far too polarized between Nenshi and Smith, and some of the "change" voters worried about Smith held their noses and kept Nenshi in. That segment of voters exists out there, and the race is close enough that even if it was just a small part, we could have had a different outcome. Had Andre Chabot ran a stronger campaign, earning say around 10% rather than just 3%, those change voters that went Nenshi may have gone to him instead.

Come 2019, we're going to see some major polarization between the NDP and the Conservatives, and it may just be more helpful to Notley than Kenney or Jean. If too many voters are worried about what the Conservatives will do, even if they don't like the NDP all that much, they may hold their noses and pick orange anyway.

Of course, this is all speculation, and there are some serious differences between Nenshi and the NDP. The major one is that it would really help if Notley and the NDP actually had a transformative record to run on, but I've seen no moves towards ambitious reforms and no defining of a brand around a particular cause or mindset. If anything, the Alberta NDP remind me of the PCs! Specifically the Stelmach/Redford PCs. An old party in power that just wants to get through the day in one piece, not change agents handed the reigns to bring about something new and different. There is still time though guys.

Friday, October 13, 2017

How to read the competing Calgary election polls

With just two days left before most Calgarians finally get their election over with, dueling poll releases from Mainstreet Research and everyone's favourite Forum have painted some very different pictures of the race.

Let's start with the Mainstreet poll, which gives challenger Bill Smith a healthy 13-point lead over incumbent Naheed Nenshi.

The September 30th Mainstreet release for Calgary caught some flak from myself and more respectable quarters over the odd crosstabs that gave Nenshi a lead among men but a severe deficit among women, a breakdown we wouldn't usually see given the left/right divide between Nenshi/Smith. It wasn't impossible, but it seemed odd. That red flag doesn't pop up here, though there is a potential brow raise with the 18-34 number - again, not impossible, but not what you'd expect.

However, Mainstreet went more in-depth, asking favourable respondents of the two main candidates what they believed their best qualities were, and also gathering general approval/disapproval. Nenshi lagged behind Smith regarding taxation and has a 48% disapproval rating, which can go a long way as to why the mayor is running behind his opponent.

Now on to Forum's release, conducted on behalf of the Canadian Municipal Election Study:

Forum gives Nenshi a substantial 17-point lead in the race, but I would a caveat to it. Much of the lead comes from 18-34 demographic, which while I believe would be more likely to vote for Nenshi I'm not so sure they would go that heavily. There is also the broader question regarding turnout scenarios and the sample sizes presented - for example, 18-34s turnout isn't great versus 65+, yet there is a greater sample of the former than the latter in this release. (Mainstreet's samples, in comparison, were more equally sized, though you could latch on the same criticism, as they had twice the 18-34s as they did 65+, and once again Smith led among both substantially.)

However, if you were to ask me personally where I thought the race was in Calgary, Forum's numbers fit the narrative I've seen more closely. That is of course subject to all my biases and can't be trusted, but while I can easily see Smith gaining traction, common sense says that Nenshi is still popular and it would take a large scandal, and not just general fatigue over taxes, to turf him. Some could point to the arena issue if they wish, but Mainstreet's numbers won't back them up, as very low priority was given to that squabble by respondents.

But of course, we want a more objective measure than my gut. Following the initial controversial release my Mainstreet, a lot has been made over the various methodologies of the polls involved. So let's just get through this quickly.

Mainstreet conducts polls using Interactive Voice Response (IVR), which is to say you get a call from an automated voice asking you to press a key or say a word corresponding to a question asked and answer given. They included both landlines and cells.

Forum's poll was conducted online, through its respondents were recruited through responses to an automated dialing service.

Another poll done by a different company was done through an online-only panel that, while somewhat self-selective in my eyes, would still give a good cross-section of voters (it also showed a strong Nenshi lead).

All of these methods are completely valid and have similar track records.

IVR vs online vs interview all have good and bad moments and neither can truly claim to be better than the other, so all the huffing and puffing over this and that is meaningless. Any of these polls could be right, though of course only one will be.

There is no objective way to determine who is right until Monday night rolls around. But we can discuss why these numbers are so divergent.

The main problem is that municipal elections are very hard to pin down, even in cities the size of Calgary. Turnout is often low, lack of partisan affiliation can lead to odd alignments among voters, and the reasons behind a voter's decision can be obscure and hyper-local (for example, how will the raised issue of water flouridation in Calgary change turnout among voters who consider that a priority?). While the size of Calgary means we'll see more general swings on more standard issues, it's very hard to properly reflect what drives a lot of people to the polls in these elections.

With the above taken into account, getting a random sample of opinion from 1,000 to 1,500 people about this race will be trickier than usual. Consider as well that being forced to choose from a smaller pool of potential voters (just those in Calgary vs all of Canada) means your margin for error is larger, and you can have a pretty chaotic and fluid situation. Getting a result within the margin of error in either case will would surprise me, and we could easily see a close two-way battle rather than these large distances between the candidates, or Chabotmania. We just don't know and are making educated guesses at best here.

To end on a cliche, the only poll that really matters will be election day, so take everything else with a grain of salt - good advice for any polling you come across.

Friday, February 10, 2017

"Do you think Kellie Leitch should have her own party?"

Such were the words of the illustrious Prime Minister of Canada and erstwhile leader of my Liberal Party, defending his government's failure to move on the electoral reform file from an upset constituent.

It's probably one of the most inane, cynical, and downright silly things PMJT has ever said - and he's said a lot of silly things.

Let's forgo the fact that Kellie Leitch may be about to run her own party come March, and if so will be elected with a ranked ballot system of proportional constituency sizes. That likely should have been the first thing to cross Mr. Trudeau's mind.

Let's also forgo the fact that Kellie Leitch could run her own party regardless of what system we elect our politicians with. Here's your daily reminder that there exists parties with fringe ideologies throughout Canada, and at times in the past they've been elected through first-past-the-post. While there is some downward pressure on these small parties because of the electoral system we use, it isn't overwhelming - Canada just has a relatively stable political climate, but not so stable that we don't have upheavals every decade or so, or did we collectively forget the 80s and 90s? All wins by Reform, the Confederation of Regions, Western Canada Concept and whatever else - all FPTP elections.

Finally, let's just move past the idea that Kellie Leitch is why the Liberal government gave up on electoral reform, we all know it's because it was too hard to do. :(

No, let's just focus on the fact that electoral reform isn't, and should never be, about keeping parties or ideologies from the House of Commons.

Reforming the political system should primarily be about ensuring the will of voters is heard loud and clear. FPTP elections distort the will of voters more than it represents said will, hence why it should be changed. It isn't and should not be about giving your party a leg up, or keeping another party down.

Why? Because if you can't defend your platform and ideology fairly, and instead rely on the tricks of the system to keep your opponents down, then your party is morally and ethically bankrupt.

I despise Trump, Le Pen, Leitch, and whoever else pushes nativist bullshit - but that doesn't mean I want to keep the voices of their voters out from the conversation. I want them to be heard, because clearly the establishment is missing something - and maybe in return, we'll get them to listen to our side. Even if they don't, they deserve a say just as much as the rest of us.

But clearly Mr. Trudeau doesn't share that belief. Utterly disheartening.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Campaign Research Ontario Poll: 50% PC, 28% OLP #onpoli

Campaign Research, a Toronto outfit in part run by the now-infamous Nick Kouvalis and current Ontario PC President Richard Ciano, put out a poll showing the Ontario Tories ahead at 50% support, a huge number.

Now, is this result out of the norm? Not necessarily, given that the PCs are known to have strong leads in most polling and the Liberals are struggling to catch up, though the low level of NDP support in this poll (15%) is definitely different. For comparison, the last Forum poll had the NDP at 24%, and Campaign Research's numbers are the lowest for the party since January 2011. There is simply no concurrent trend there, though in CR's defense, this the first 2017 poll in the province.

Basically, take this entire poll with a huge grain of salt. It's run by people partial to the conservatives and the PC Party in particular, the numbers are outside of the norm, and on top of that the sample size was 676, a fairly low number when compared to their fellow Ontario pollsters (usually 800-1500).

But hey, where's the fun in just ignoring it? Here's what I got when I put CR's numbers into the projection model: PC - 81 seats, Liberal - 15 seats, NDP - 11 seats. This includes 17 seats for the PCs in Toronto and zero seats for the Liberals in the 905. That's what I call a rout.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Trumpism in Canada, Part 1: Ontario

You might be shocked to hear this, but Donald J. Trump is not popular politically in Canada.

In fact, according to any poll he isn't popular almost anywhere, including within the country he'll now lead. Yet the man convincingly won an election through the Electoral College - the question is, of course, how?

The short answer is this: demographics. Trump won overwhelmingly among whites in the United States, 58% to 37% for Clinton - that spread is even larger among non-college educated whites and white men. This wouldn't have necessarily been a winning number, as Romney won with a similar spread - except that combined with lower turnout among blacks, Hispanics, and younger voters, Clinton fell back harshly.

The longer answer involves shifts in voter patterns in particular states. The most notable: College grads went for Romney in 2012, but Clinton in 2016; while non-college grads went Obama in 2012, but Trump in 2016.
In 2012, Obama in particular swept the board among non-college grads in swing states, including Pennsylvania, Ohio, Florida, and Wisconsin - all states that flipped to Trump this year. Consider the chart below.

If you're looking for the reason why Trump won, the shift of these voters - especially white non-college grad voters - in these states are main reason. Many of these voters are the "white blue collar worker" we heard so much about during the campaign, especially the older among them who never had to attend college because they had a good paying job at home. That was, at least, until the jobs started leaving and new people started coming into their neighbourhoods...

The point is, regardless of how much voters disliked Trump, they still voted for him. Likeability is meaningless so long as you have something to sell, which makes all these polls useless.

So where am I going with this?

It's clear that "Trumpism" has won a legitimate place on the political spectrum, meaning that we're going to hear a lot about it over the next few years. You can say whatever you want - it's the politics of white grievance, it's the anguished cries of the middle class, it's whiplash against the establishment - but the fact is that it's coming, and Canada is square in the sights of it.

So I've started a project to see where Trumpism can grow in Canada, using the voting patterns laid out in the 2016 exit polls and the demographic information provided by the Canadian census. The first part will deal with Ontario, my home province and easily the biggest target for Trumpism's particular appeals.

A couple of caveats before you read on further.
  1. This is by no means a 100% accurate estimate of how we would have voted if Ontario was a state in the US. A lot of our voting patterns here have to do with regional variations and attitude, so there's nothing stopping people in a pro-Trump area demographically voting for Clinton because they like her more. That being said, there is a strong correlation between our political spectrum in Canada and the way these demographics show Trump's support.

  2. I'm using data from the 2011 Census, much of it also from the National Household Survey, aka the long-form census that was voluntary. Many global response rates were around 30% or higher. This is however the data I have, and I can't do much about that, just keep it in mind when you see close results below.

Got it? Let's move on. Welcome to Trump's Ontario.

The above map illustrates where and how likely Trumpism could win in Ontario's 121 federal ridings, and the province as a whole. The chart at the bottom right shows how Trumpism would do based on single demographic lines - i.e., if people voted plainly along income distribution, race, and so on, that is how the vote would go. The darker the shade, the more likely the winning candidate. How I got there I'll explain at the end of this post, which will also have riding-by-riding charts.

I chose to use the federal ridings because that is how we vote here, and if we had the result above, 100 seats would fall into the Clinton camp versus 21 for Trump.

Here's the facts about Ontario - we are a more diverse and well educated province compared to states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, or Michigan. We're close, but we veer closer to Virgina, New York, and the New England states on many metrics. We're also less segregated than many US states, though we do have high concentrations of ethnic groups in some regions, i.e. rural Ontario is incredibly white while many parts of the GTA are already majority-minority. One of the biggest differences however is the number of foreign-born citizens - i.e., Ontario is about 28% foreign-born compared to just 4% in Ohio.

We're also more somewhat more religiously diverse, where Ontario is a lot more Catholic and non-religious than any of the states in the Upper Midwest, but we are about on par with income levels in those states.

Trumpism is strongest in the rural ridings in eastern Ontario, the rural and small-town ex-manufacturing ridings in southwest Ontario, and the still labour-dominated northern Ontario ridings. It's weakest in and around the GTA and smaller cities, particularly Ottawa, Kitchener-Waterloo, and Windsor. The Canadian politics nerds among you are probably already noticing a pattern here related to our own politics - Trumpism does better in areas currently or recently dominated by Conservatives and New Democrats, in particular for the latter their rural/small town labour base.

Put this all together and we get a close race, but not enough for Trump (or a Trump-like candidate) to win the province.

But there is a cavaet, and here's where we really get into it.

A major factor in any US political race is turnout among demographics. In 2016, Donald Trump won because turnout was up or maintained a larger share than it should among older white voters (they represented at least 70% of the 2016 electorate, but only around 64% of the population), while Clinton saw a drop among non-white, non-religious and younger voters. The above map reflects that turnout ratio as best as I could manage in Ontario. The map obviously got a lot more redder.

While it's wouldn't be enough for Trumpism to win in the province (in terms of the popular vote and seats, losing 68-53), it gets pretty damn close. The GTA is still a fairly solid wall against it, there are cracks appearing. Outside of the GTA it's a massacre, with nearly every rural riding minus one (Kenora) trending for Trumpism.

This is why voting is important, kids.

There are of course some things I can't account for, such as whether Ford Nation fall behind Trumpism. Demographically, suburban Toronto is not a friend to Trumpism, but it went heavily to both Fords in 2010 and 2014, and the movements aren't that far off. Also a good question, would Canadian union households swing an election for Trumpism? There's no good statistics I can use for union membership in the province, so it's impossible to say.

However, there are a few conclusions we can reach about Trumpism in Ontario:

  1. It's a close run thing, but could easily fall back out of reach with high turnout among youth and visible minorities.

  2. It has little to no traction in the majority-minority suburbs around Toronto, unlike how Harper's Conservatives did with their strong outreach to immigrant and minority communities.

  3. Trumpism mirrors quite well the receding of Liberal support from southwestern Ontario and other rural parts of the province, showing how the establishment left's problems in Ontario are pretty much the same as they are in the United States - aka, we are not immune.

  4. Ontario's demographics are moving away from pro-Trump groups, thus by 2019, a Trump-like candidate (coughKellieLeitchcough) might not be able to rely on the above maps to get them through.
The warning signs are there, folks. Just remember that.

Next up: Alberta.

A quick note on methodology:

The basic idea behind the above maps was based on seven demographic metrics - age, education, immigration, income, marital, race, and religion - for Ontario's 121 ridings adjusted by the results of the 2016 US presidential election's results for those metrics, as shown by the exit polls. The metrics were chosen based on what I had reasonable data for, for example I couldn't adjust the numbers by ideology or church attendance simply because the census didn't have that information.

To get a "Solid" result, a candidate had to win six to seven of the metrics in the riding. "Likely" was five, four was "Leaning." This is a crude way of projecting a result, but also effective - the more demographics a candidate can win among, the more likely they're to win the riding overall. Margin between the candidates was not taken into account.

Turnout was adjusted using a rough ratio method, and is only meant to be a general representative view, not completely accurate.

Below are charts for riding-by-riding, one without turnout adjustments and one with.

Friday, August 19, 2016

#bcpoli poll: 38% BCL, 29% NDP, 16% Grn

Quick post today in case people aren't aware of the current state of BC politics - a new poll was released, the first in several months, showing what appears to be an absolute wash for the BC Liberals.

Innovative Research, which is a semi-regular pollster during election season in past BC races, put the race at 38% BC Lib, 29% NDP, 16% Green and 15% BC Con.

Since at least early 2013, and I'd wager probably since the 2009 election, the Liberals have never had something like a nine-point lead over their NDP rivals. If Horgan led his party to that result it would be the third worst result for the party since its name change in the 1960s, with only 1963 and 2001 beating it out. It would be a disaster, while the Liberals would coast on by to an easy majority, despite 38% being their worst result since 1991.

Using the now updated BC election model, I get 55 BCL, 17 NDP, 10 Greens and 5 Conservatives. Ouch.

But it gets worse for the NDP, considering that the numbers for the BC Conservatives are very inflated. As I mentioned last post, the party is disorganized and currently doesn't even have a leader, that honour going to whichever of the no-names wins in September, with little but months to prepare for an election.

There is no way the Conservatives can maintain that kind of strength, but the Greens? Likely they'll fall back, but there is also a good chance they won't. To get to 16%, all they have to do is hit around 35% on Vancouver Island and they can settle for teens or lower everywhere else, and that will likely be their strategy going forward.

The NDP better get their house in order quickly before the Greens start looking to supplant them as opposition.