Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Who will win the race for Stornoway?

Leadership races are tricky beasts to project, due to their insular nature. There are few meaningful polls, the media is being spun in twelve directions, and the air war rarely corresponds to the ground war. Name recognition and a spiffy social media campaign are a lot less important than having organizers who can deliver hundreds of membership forms.

So when some compared Brian Topp's leadership bid to the Paul Martin 2003 juggernaut back in September, it was premature to say the least. It would be equally premature to call Topp's campaign dead after a few weeks of bad press, when we haven't reached the membership deadline yet.

The fact is, there's very little for anyone (especially for those of us outside the NDP) to go on when it comes to handicapping this race - but here are how the candidates stack up on a few metrics:

The "donations" and "donors" columns come from the most recent fundraising numbers, with "media" merely being the number of news stories that pop up on a google news search under each candidate's name. The "poll" column refers to an IVR poll of NDP members released by Paul Dewar's campaign yesterday. If you don't know what Facebook and Twitter are, then get with the times.

With five different candidates leading these seven metrics, it's hard to know what to think. Clearly, this won't be decided on the first ballot, and we shouldn't be surprised by anything short of an Ashton or Singh victory.

Inspired by Pundits Guide's look back at the 2003 NDP leadership race, I've decided to go back and see how useful these different factors have been in predicting first ballot support in past leadership contests. Behold the table of correlation values!

The numbers are all over the place, but that's to be expected when you consider these races all had different rules, fundraising restrictions, and voting systems.

Still, there are a few take-home messages.

1. MP (or MPP/MLA, as the case may be) endorsements and fundraising totals are both moderately useful at giving a sense of the race, but they're hardly perfect. After all, Stephane Dion was sixth in fundraising in 2006, and you could count Christy Clark's caucus support on one amputated hand in 2011.

2. Social media may be an important element of leadership campaigns, but there isn't enough data out there yet to suggest it's a good barometer of a candidate's strength.

3. Polls among party members are likely the most useful predictor, though they remain rare.

It should be noted that polls among the public are worthless (correlations generally between 0.1 and 0.4), but every leadership poll among party members I've found has tended to stack up fairly well. Still, the Dewar poll should be read with caution given the source - after all, the opportunity for massaging the data exists, and we know he wouldn't have released the numbers if they didn't look good for him. I'd be a lot more confident in the numbers had someone leaked a membership list to a polling company instead.

But at this juncture, Mulcair has a 9-point lead in the campaign's only poll, has three times the MP endorsements of anyone else, and has the most donors, if not the most money raised. He might still be too polarizing a figure to win, but at this point I'd put down $20 (or $10,000 if Mitt Romney comes calling) that Mulcair will be ahead of Brian Topp on the first ballot.

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  • No doubt, some of you have seen my rank-ballot internet poll for the NDP leadership (http://www.demochoice.org/dcballot.php?poll=NDP2012NPD). I will not claim that it is accurate as I can assume that there is a bias in favour of young internet-savvy Canadians based in Ontario, who may or may not be NDP members. I do think that one can look at where the poll-participants' 2nd and 3rd choices are going. Personally, I do think that Thomas Mulcair will need strong first ballot support in order to win whereas Peggy Nash and Paul Dewar may be able to win with a lot of 2nd and 3rd ballot support. Brian Topp may have a lot of support from the party brass. However, I don't think this support has expanded greatly to the party membership. Nathan Cullen wants to unite progressives. However, I don't think he will get enough support from NDP members who want the NDP to win or remain true to its roots as a social democratic party.

    By Blogger Skinny Dipper, at 11:49 a.m.  

  • This comment has been removed by the author.

    By Blogger C4SR, at 12:44 p.m.  

  • The most interesting point in the Dewar poll is that Mulcair clearly has room to grow after the first ballot.

    His "second choice" score may not be as high as some of the others but, combined with a strong first choice score, demonstrates a a real openness within the party to a Mulcair win.

    If Dewar's numbers are representative of anything, it's hard to imagine any other outcome than a Mulcair third or fourth ballot victory.

    By Blogger C4SR, at 12:47 p.m.  

  • Ah, polls. The bane of stasticians.

    The first comment, about the Dewar Poll, is that the %s given exclude the undecideds, which (IIRC) came in around 31%. That makes it difficult to compare against other polls, and makes it incorrect to say that X has an n% lead over Y.

    The second comment is that, as noted by pundits, Dewar's gambit worked in getting Mulcair's team to release their own internals, which come out something like this: Mulcair 31.1, Nash 17.5, Topp 14.8, Cullen 14.2, Dewar 13.8, Ashton 5.3, Sigh 0.9

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:46 p.m.  

  • I think a feature of this race will help Mulcair a lot. Most Canadian delegated conventions involved delegates voting in person. However, this race will allow members to mail in preferential ballots prior to the race. While they can change their votes round-to-round online, they aren't obligated to.

    I suspect a fair cohort of folks will just mail in their ballot and let it stand. That will make it hard for people to coalesce around the best anti-Mulcair candidate.

    By Anonymous hosertohoosier, at 8:44 p.m.  

  • H2H - Agreed. This format benefits the frontrunner. At a delegated convention, you had candidates throwing their support behind others when they drop out and emotionally charged delegates voting. The Alberta PC run-off system is also hard on frontrunners, but for different reasons.

    My guess is Mulcair could very well find himself in a situation like Christy Clark or Tim Hudak, where he doesn't have amazing growth potential, but he's got enough of a lead to pull it out. If he can build a 30-20 first ballot lead on whoever emerges as his main rival, he only needs 40% of the final ballot "2nd" support compared to them to win it. Maybe less if the NDP doesn't require voters to list a second choice.

    By Blogger calgarygrit, at 10:25 a.m.  

  • Anon - For the life of me, I still can't understand WHY Mulcair felt the need to release his numbers. I could see Topp doing it since the Dewar poll was unkind to him, but Mulcair was already in front in Dewar's poll.

    All he gained by releasing his numbers, was to further cement himself as the frontrunner. And I don't see what Mulcair gains by puting himself under that kind of scrutiny at this stage.

    By Blogger calgarygrit, at 10:27 a.m.  

  • SkinnyDipper - Interesting poll, given the large sample in it.

    Like you said, it has its biases, but it's interesting to see where the 2nd and 3rd choices break.

    By Blogger calgarygrit, at 10:29 a.m.  

  • I would like to apologize for erroneously tweeting a stolen version of this post yesterday.

    If it's any consolation, I said it was excellent. Will retweet now, with the proper credit.



    By Blogger The Pundits' Guide, at 11:40 a.m.  

  • I agree that it is odd for mulcair to release his poll after the Dewar poll.

    That said, I can see two reasons:

    1) A second poll in 24hrs that shows Mulcair as a clear first ballot front runner.

    2) To torch Dewar. Dewar's poll was being spun to put him in the top 3. This is ridic spin and nobody bought. That said, Mulcair releases a poll on the same day that shows Dewar 5th. So, he kills an momentum the Dewar spun poll may have had.

    I think this leaves both Topp(from Dewar's poll) and Dewar(from Mulcair's poll) reeling.

    Two birds, two stones.

    Sidenote,Cullen, 4th in both polls. Otherwise written off by media and the party "elite". He has momentum and could be the surprise of the race.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:38 a.m.  

  • This is a meaty post and I hate to naysay it, but it is misleading until the last paragraph.

    The first table gives a very clear picture of who is leading in the race. Mulcair leads outright in four of the seven categories, and is second in a fifth. The other two categories are the two social media categories, and facebook presence seems (from farther down into the post) to be negatively correlated with success in leadership elections! So it looks from the first table that Mulcair is the clear frontrunner.

    Now the dynamics of this leadership election may be that Mulcair is a polarizing enough figure that a "stop Mulcair" movement will likely be successful if it can find a candidate to coalesce around. But if this is the case, we still have a pretty clear picture of the leadership race, in that Mulcair is leading but is vulnerable to a "stop Mulcair" candidate if one emerges. And the first table indicates that Topp and Nash are the two candidates in the best position to be the anti-Mulcair.

    By Anonymous Ed, at 11:10 a.m.  

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