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Civic election reporting mistakes to avoid

November 12th, 2011 · 23 Comments

Heading into the last crazy week of this strange election, I am being reminded by various tweets, blogs and news reports of the inaccurate perceptions that are often perpetrated in civic-election reporting.

In the spirit of contributing to better reporting all around, here’s my list of stories/analyses/assumptions we should all avoid.

1. “A large turnout is expected after heavy voting at advance polls.” Voting has been shifting more and more to advance polls in all elections and does not mean there will be a large turnout. Election teams are pushing their committed supporters to going to advance polls so they can spread out their workload and not try to do everything on E-Day. And voters are starting to vote in elections the way they go to Shopper’s Drug Mart: at all hours of the day and night.

2. “The east-west divide in Vancouver civic elections.” As I said in my previous blog post, the campaign experts know the divide is not east-west with Main as the boundary. It’s north-south, with 16th in the west and Kingsway in the east where the real division is. The NPA tends to pull solidly all along the south, except for Marpole, and especially in the southeast.

3. “The XXX scandal/issue/crisis determined the outcome of the election.” (For XXX, substitute Olympic Village, Occupy Vancouver or whatever else you like.)

The majority of people, about two-thirds, vote on long-term values. Long-time NPA voters are never going to vote for Vision or COPE even if those parties adopted the economic policies of Milton Friedman whole-heartedly. Long-time COPE/Vision/left supporters are never going to vote NPA even if the NPA decided to mandate bicycle-riding chickens in every solar-powered community garden. In both cases, it’s not their club.

The middle third of voters, those who frequently don’t understand political ideology enough align themselves one way or another, tend to swing back and forth. But even they have certain long-term values and other indicators that guide them, more than just the latest crisis.

A brilliant article in last Sunday’s New York Times magazine analyzed the respective chances of the various presidential candidates and calculated them using the factors that tend to have the most influence: 1. How well the economy is doing 2. How well the presidential candidate was polling a year before the election 3. How far from the centre the candidate seems to be in comparison with his opponent.

A major scandal — and I’m talking major, i.e. sex with children; criminal behaviour of other sorts; inconvertible proof of major fraud or corruption — can have an impact on top of that. But it has to be more than just “she’s a wimp” or “he’s a dimwit.”

4. Please feel free to add your own.

Categories: 2011 Vancouver Civic Election