Tuesday, March 12, 2013

#skndpldr - Super Happy Mega Fun Pundit Navel-Gazing Post

I'll have plenty more to add in later posts about the opportunities the Saskatchewan NDP holds under Cam Broten's leadership. But before this weekend's convention is too far in the rear-view mirror, I'll take a few minutes to assess my own analysis of the leadership campaign.

And I'd like to think I had my share of successes.

My first-ballot best guess numbers were closer to pegging the candidates' positioning than any other poll or source, getting within 3% of each of the candidates' support levels. And my first-ballot analysis was on target in identifying exactly what Cam Broten needed to accomplish to have a chance on the second ballot - even if I underestimated his likelihood of managing to leapfrog Ryan Meili. 

But therein lies the rub: I failed to account appropriately for what proved to be the deciding factor, even after identifying Broten's potential down-ballot appeal as his biggest strength from day one. So where did I go wrong in expecting Meili to hold enough down-ballot support to win based on the first-ballot results?

My working assumption is that I failed to account for an "I like him, but..." factor.

For all the post-campaign spin about a divided party, all indications I've seen are to the effect that each of the leadership candidates was broadly liked by a range of NDP members extending well beyond his immediate supporters. And Meili in particular stood out on that front, with at least one internal poll placing his net favourability rating at +67%.

It then didn't seem plausible to me that an electorate where a strong majority of members even outside of Meili's supporters had a positive view of him would line up strongly against him on a second ballot. (And that went doubly when his second-ballot opponent had been tagged with a marginally higher "will not support" number, and when an army of volunteers was at the ready to chase down the vote of anybody with a marginally positive impression of Meili.)

But ultimately, there is a difference between liking a candidate personally, and actually casting a ballot for him. And Broten looks to have convinced a substantial number of voters who have a favourable view of Meili generally to throw their support elsewhere in choosing their party's leader.

In retrospect, there were some signs which I could have taken into account in seeing that as a possibility - including some actual second-choice data and Broten's slight improvement on my expectations for the first ballot. And indeed, both campaigns look to have been far closer to the mark than I was in assessing the meaning of the first-ballot outcome.

So my takeaway from the just-concluded campaign is this: as much as the HOAG factor matters, a modest lead in favourability may not matter much at all when party members face a one-time vote. 


  1. I'll be frank. I think the NDP voters were foolish to go for Broten.
    My basic suspicion is that this is yet another case of wound somewhat-leftist political groups inflict on themselves very often: A misreading, fostered by conventional media wisdom, of the nature of "electability". It's related to an article I read a few days ago, I believe because of a link from this very site, that talked about how both Democratic and Republican politicians consistently believed the electorate to be further to the right on issues than they in fact are.

    So you get the phenomenon of all these people who like Ryan Meili, but assume that in an election he would not be able to succeed, whereas a more establishment candidate would. In reality it's IMO very likely the reverse is true. For one thing, voters in a general election would not have this second-order worry when they went to the polls. So the convention voters may well have stuck themselves with the person who is neither the one they like most, nor the one who would best renew the party, nor the one with the best chance of winning, because they have absorbed a right-wing-media impression of what a winning candidate is supposed to look like. It's dispiriting to see the NDP work on defeating itself by absorbing its enemies' view of the world.

    1. Anonymous3:01 p.m.


      You confuse electoral experience for membership in "the establishment". You imply that that "the establishment" is shorthand for "right wing".

      So I will ask...

      What is your proof that Cam Broten is "further to the right on issues than voters in fact are"?

      What is your proof that Cam Broten has "absorbed the enemies' view of the world"?

      I await your exaggeration of the trivial & reasonable disagreements on-display during the Sask. NDP leadership process.

      This should be good,
      Dan Tan

    2. I'm not sure I actually do any of the things you suggest I'm doing, or attempted to prove what you want my proof of, so it's kind of hard for me to reply.

  2. The second ballot results make a couple of things clear.

    First, the race was actually far more polarized than anyone realized. This is the first time in the history of One Member, One Vote leadership elections that the order of candidates has ever changed between ballots. Given Meili's 5% lead and the fact that there was an almost 20% drop off of Wotherspoon / Weir voters (ie, people who voted Wotherspoon or Weir on the first ballot but did not mark a preference between Meili and Broten on the final ballot), Broten needed a 1.6:1 split in order to win - and he actually got a 1:66:1 split. Given that down ballot choices tend to default to a similar proportion to initial ballot support. (In other words, given that Meili and Broten were close, with Meili slightly ahead, the most likely scenario was for the distribution of down ballot support between the two candidates to be very close. Thus, even if the Wotherspoon / Weir voters broke for Broten, it was unlikely to be by enough.)

    I think it also indicates that the Saskatchewan NDP has a strong desire for a more visionary type of leadership. Virtually half the voting membership opted for a clearly visionary candidate, and at least some proportion of those who opted for Broten over Meili did so despite Meili's "no little dreams" approach rather than because of it. In other words, they may have opted for Broten as the "safe set of hands" rather than the potentially risky Meili, but that did not mean that the party wants to continue in the prosaic path of the non-visionary NDP we've experienced since Allan Blakeney retired.

  3. Anonymous9:45 a.m.

    Malcolm & PLG,

    You should learn from your defeat, instead of lamenting & insulting those who handed you such a result.

    Meili failed to assert himself as an economic administrator. Instead, he insisted on presenting himself as a "TED Talk"...urging his subjects to "do better", rather than convincing them he could guarantee employment, growth, & a raised standard-of-living.

    You must also consider the burden he intended to place on local candidates. By stubbornly tying EVERYTHING back to his "Healthy Vision" book...he turned the reading & understanding of that book into an undeclared pre-requisite for participation in the NDP.

    Many are scared about global economic uncertainty & require simple reassurance. Even more lack the time or patience to read weighty literature.

    If Meili had adapted his marketing approach to these popular sentiments, he would have won. After all, he is a sincere, clear & alluring public-speaker. No one denies him that...and he should not deny them a more refined & professional approach.

    Do better,
    Dan Tan

    1. Come now. It is obviously possible for the majority to be wrong. The majority should still rule because the point of democracy is that it's the people's decision to make, not that they will always do the perfect thing. But in Canada, historically most of the people have voted Liberal and Conservative. Most of them were ill served by doing so; they did it because they were mistaken. I would not set aside the results if I could, but many of the voters were still fools to vote as they did. Neither you nor I have any scruples about putting our opinions up against the majority of Canadians on this front.

      Many provincial NDP leadership votes, and certainly some recent national Liberal ones, have selected leaders who were neither the best ideologically nor the most likely to win a general election. In BC we had Carole James for years, which turned out to have been a lousy idea. In Saskatchewan it certainly seems as if Lingenfelter was a stupid idea last time around. Why should it be verboten to suggest a mistake was made here? Particularly given that in this case, I'm only insulting 23 more voters than if I say it was a good result.

      Broten is a status quo, stay-the-course approach to the Saskatchewan NDP leadership. One problem with that is that the Saskatchewan NDP's status quo is Losers.

  4. Anonymous10:58 p.m.

    It is a critical to realise that Cam did not win and Ryan was not defeated. If 23 votes had been cast differently the result would have flipped. Cam certainly got more votes in the second ballot. He came in first in what was clearly a photo finish.

    There is also the question of what were the over 400 people thinking who didn't votre in the second ballot?

    I see recognition of this fact underlying the comments by Malcom & PLG and that they are meant to provide constructive ideas on how to deal with what is a delicate situation.

    Pat Atkinson's has stated it best so far in her column today.


    1. In response to your question, my guess is that much of the drop-off came from people who voted in advance and didn't bother submitting a preferential ballot. A voter who only listed one choice in advance (think friends/family of a particular candidate with little other interest in the party) wouldn't have had a chance to make an alternate selection once the listed candidate dropped off.

    2. To be honest, I'm not really so much trying to be constructive about Saskatchewan, although neither am I trying to be destructive about Saskatchewan. Rather, I'm looking forward to other such races in other provinces, federal ones, or future races in Saskatchewan, in hopes that this style of choice does not continue to dominate.

  5. Anonymous7:57 a.m.

    Malcolm says this "is the first time in the history of One Member, One Vote leadership elections that the order of candidates has ever changed between ballots."

    What about he Conservative party in Alberta? In 1992, the candidate who won the first ballot by one vote did not win. Two times since then, the candidate who won the first ballot did not win. If Malcolm was right, Ralph Klein, Ed Stelmach, and Alison Redford would have never become leader and premier.