I recently started working at Hill+Knowlton Strategies in the Toronto public affairs department.  It’s a great professional environment that genuinely fosters positive dialogue and encourages healthy political debate.

When it comes to elections, internal email banter at Hill+Knowlton is intelligent, thought-provoking and pretty spirited.

(For anyone who has ever participated in an on-line fantasy football league, think about your “trash-talking” between friends.  Make it political and that’s a good starting point.)

For a young political junkie like me, it seems a shame that the banter will never see the light of day. So, I created a “running diary” to share just one stream of heated email debate from this weekend.  I’ve removed all names and have permission from all participants (no internal whistle-blowing here!).

Yesterday’s events started innocently enough, with a group email regarding three separate provincial election polls with very different predictions.

I hope you will enjoy the differing opinions, views and biases we all brought to what is shaping up to be the closest and most exciting provincial election in decades.

Let the online games begin!

From: Hill + Knowlton Public Affairs
Sent: Saturday, October 01, 2011 10:02 am

  • Angus Reid: PC 34; LIB 33; NDP 26; GPO 6
  • Nanos: Lib 38; PC 34; NDP 26; GPO 2
  • Leger: PC 34; LIB 32; NDP 29

From: H+K Respondent # 1
Sent: 11:12 am
Never thought I would hear myself rooting for the NDP but I will take a win anyway it can be had.

From: H+K Respondent # 2
Sent:  11:19 am
Angus Reid has Green Party at 6% – doesn’t seem credible.  Historically, I think Nanos has been closest 😉

From: H+K Respondent # 3
Sent: 11:29 am
I think NDP strength comes from the PCs.  See the reasoning here.

From: H+K Respondent # 4
Sent: 1:22 pm
I agree — there seems to be a correlation between the NDPs growth and declining Tory fortunes. Hate to break it to you, but these numbers still point towards the likelihood of a Liberal government (according to our election predictor).

From: H+K Respondent # 5
Sent: 2:36 pm
Yes, Respondent # 1 and I were talking just the other day about all the lifelong Tories we know that are voting for the dippers.  Is that the Liberal theory with respect to what happened federally too?

From: H+K Respondent # 4
Sent: 1:42 pm
I have a theory:  as these “lifelong Tories” start to get older, I suspect that they become more concerned about the future of healthcare and, as you know, Tories do not usually score well on the question “who do you trust on healthcare”.

In fact, the issues that drive voters (and NOT political hacks like us), will change as people go through the various stages of life.

The things that people care about change when you go through life:  student, young adult trying to launch a career, young parent of infants/toddlers, parent of high school students, parent of college-aged students, empty nester, active and healthy retiree, frail elderly, etc (and even the dead given the rumoured election-day habits of some!)

Present company excluded, I’m not sure that we are living in a time in which people will continue to have lifelong allegiances to one given political party.

From: H+K Respondent # 5
Sent: 3:35 pm
Interesting theory, but the only “polls” that matter are the election results.

Let’s turn to the actual numbers of popular support in the last two provincial elections. In 2007, the Liberals had 42.25% of the popular vote and the Conservatives had 31.6%, with the NDP at only 16.8%.   In 2003 the Liberals had 46%, the Tories 34% and the NDP had 14%.

Based on those two election results the Liberal popular support has plummeted. The Tories are up slightly (depending on which poll you consider accurate) and the NDP is way up. So ask yourself again, where has this NDP support come from?

Could it be from the double digit decline of the Liberals over the elections in 2003 and 2007 and the collapse of the Greens?

From: H+K Respondent # 4
Sent: 3:56 pm
Agreed, but that is an old story.  The issue is whether continued growth by the NDP (i.e. beyond 20%) is coming strictly from the Liberals or if some of that incremental growth (even most of it) is NOW coming from the PCs.

In other words, I would grant you that the early bleeders to the NDP likely came predominantly from the Liberals.  However, given that the polls since this summer have shown that the PC numbers have slid while the NDP numbers have grown, suggests that the growth of the NDP is coming – at least in part – at the expense of the PCs.

Now, vote splits will matter, of course so I’m not saying that the PCs on a riding by riding basis won’t benefit, however the provincial trend seems to be suggesting that the NDP populist message (with tax cuts and promises of cheaper gas) has also been stealing votes away from the PCs.

We also need to consider that you have opposition parties splitting the anti-government vote and that there will be movement between the two opposition parties.  The people who are voting for change have already made that decision; the question now is:  where does one park their anti-government vote?

Wouldn’t you agree that the PC numbers looked much better when the NDP was at 20% earlier this year and that, in fact, the PCs fortunes have actually declined since the NDP started breaking the 20pt threshold?

And, you can’t have it both ways:  one side of your argument depends on the current polls, however we also seem to be discounting earlier polls as a legitimate benchmark.

From: H+K Respondent # 4
Sent: 4:43 pm
The voters who left the libs are those who have decided that they will be better off with change and we’ve seen liberal numbers drop significantly over the past year. These votes have gone to BOTH the dips and the pcs.

However, with less than a week to voting day, most people have made their minds up between change and status quo. What we have seen over the past couple of weeks is a shift of the change vote from the pcs to the ndp hence the softening of the pc numbers and the strengthening of the ndp numbers.

Opposition parties have a more difficult job then the governing party which only has to win the change – status quo question. The opposition needs to first convince voters that they will benefit from change and then they need to convince the voters that they are the right change.

(Note from Rob:  in fairness, it was around this time that “Respondent # 5” had to board an international flight on business and couldn’t respond.)

From: H+K Respondent # 1
Sent: 6:59 pm
One more good thing about having years and years of experience at the polls and in elections is that we all know the NDP support only spikes and then goes right back down to low teens… that is their natural vote is in Ontario.

It might flare up …but won’t stay there very long.  You just all need to pray that we don’t see it spike up on election day and end up like we did in 1990.

From: H+K Respondent #3
Sent:  8:08 pm
Amen to that!