Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Value of Endorsements

Leadership races are notoriously hard to handicap, due to the absence of credible polling data. Asking Canadians who they want as the next NDP leader is pointless, since only 3 or 4% of NDP voters will buy a membership. Despite the best efforts of the Globe & Mail, few Canadians have heard of Brian Topp, never mind Nathan Cullen or Paul Dewar.

One way you can stickhandle around this is by counting endorsements, which is what the website has started tracking. His system assigns points based on endorsements from federal and provincial politicians, and was calibrated on data from the 2006 Liberal and 2003 NDP leadership races. It currently ranks the candidates as follows:

Topp 40.8%
Mulcair 23.2%
Nash 18.2%
Chisolm 5.0%
Dewar 4.0%
Ashton 3.9%
Cullen 3.1%
Saganash 1.7%
Singh 0.0%

It should be noted that nearly half of Topp's points comes from Ed Broadbent's endorsement, which would be by biggest quibble with the scoring system. Still, the model does a decent job of quantifying establishment support.

What it is likely less successful at, however, is predicting actual support. Many of these endorsers won't sell more than a couple dozen membership forms and I suspect their influence over existing Dippers is negligible. Yes, sometimes there's a correlation between endorsements and support...but sometimes that correlation is actually negative.

For proof of that, we need to look no farther than the Alison Redford and Christy Clark victories from earlier this year. Redford had the support of just 2 MLAs (one of which was named Alison Redford) on the first ballot and 5 on the second. Redford would have been projected as an also-ran under any endorsement model - especially one which weighted former leaders so heavily (Ralph Klein was a Mar man while Don Getty was all about Horner).

Clark's case is perhaps even more remarkable because, unlike Redford, she was the undisputed frontrunner of the campaign from start to finish. While she did have some support from former caucus members, she counted only one MLA endorsement and would have projected out in third under any formula (unless it assigned God-like status on Harry Bloy). This, despite the fact that everyone knew she would be in front on the first ballot.

None of this is meant to knock the 308 model which, as I said, does a decent job approximating establishment support. It's just important to recognize that support among the establishment doesn't always translate into support among party members, just as support among the general public doesn't always translate into support among party members.

There are significant risks in being seen as an establishment candidate, so I remain unconvinced that the Topp juggernaut is as unstoppable as these numbers would suggest.



  • I think you hit the nail on the head there.... endorsements are nice but who is actually selling memberships? Sure the endorsement from a former leader (Broadbent, Klein, Getty) looks really good in the media but means nothing if they aren't pulling in a couple thousand memberships in the process. Boots-on-the-ground organizing by candidates is what wins these races and if an endorsement doesn't bring in a whack of new memberships, its not worth the paper its written on.

    By Blogger Mark, at 9:43 a.m.  

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