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January 31, 2011

Polls and Name Recognition

Since the last election, polls on voting intention are limited to occasional items from the Mustel Group and slightly more frequent, but not regularly scheduled, polls from Angus Reid.

I miss the regularly scheduled quarterly Ipsos-Reid polls, not published since the last election, which made me all the more surprised when Ipsos-Reid entered the field last week with its poll on leadership candidates. On January 26th it published findings on BC Liberal leadership hopefuls, and on January 27th it published on NDP hopefuls. Both reports appear to be taken from the same sample of 750 adult British Columbians surveyed between January 20-24, 2011. Like Angus Reid's December 23rd poll, Ipsos-Reid found that Christy Clark is the most preferred BC Liberal candidate and Mike Farnworth is the most preferred New Democrat. Unlike Angus Reid, Ipsos-Reid reported on how many are paying attention to the leadership races. For the Liberals it found that only 17% of all those surveyed and 22% of previous Liberal voters are closely following the leadership race. For the NDP it found that only 16% of all respondents and 26% of previous NDP voters are following the leadership race closely. For both contests, over 40% of respondents said they were not following the race very closely or not at all closely. Nevertheless, the otherwise distracted were thrown in the hopper when it came to tallying the overall results. This leads one to think that the polls are measuring little more than name recognition.

It is not surprising that Christy Clark has the most name recognition amongst the Liberal candidates since she served as a CKNW talk show host for the past several years and, as Opposition House Leader, Mike Farnworth got more media exposure than NDP leader Carole James. Nevertheless it is certain that both camps are using the polls in their attempts to convince card carrying party members to vote for them as leader of their respective parties.

I discounted the importance of the polls during an interview with Sean Leslie on CKNW last Sunday. My comments were picked up by the Falcon campaign, made available on YouTube and Tweeted by Falcon supporter Rich Coleman. I'm flattered, but I want to emphasize that for all I know Clark and Farnworth may be the most popular, but no one can separate name recognition from voter appeal when so few people are paying close attention to the leadership campaigns.

In my opinion, while the political parties each have six candidates running for leader, it is really a three way race for both parties. The Liberals have Christy Clark, Kevin Falcon and George Abbott; the NDP has Mike Farnworth, Adrian Dix and John Horgan. They are not all equally well known, but whoever wins each contest will be well known as the media focuses on them in the subsequent weeks and their parties feature them in all their messaging. The three top candidates for both parties have proven themselves as experienced politicians. Christy Clark tries to bill herself as the outsider, but she was first elected in 1996 and served as Deputy Premier through the roughest period of the Campbell cuts.

I've known Dix, Farnworth and Horgan for 20 years. I respect all of them and will not be endorsing any. I honestly don't know how I will vote, but my secret vote will be but one of over 25,000 eligible votes within the NDP. I've never met Clark, Falcon or Abbott, but as a pundit I've followed their careers. I've appeared on Clark's CKNW show a couple of times.

I hope that members of both parties will look at the performance of their respective candidates and where they stand on issues such as the economy, education, the environment, health care and poverty. As shown by the Ipsos-Reid poll, most people don't pay much attention to politics, but it is the only game in town when it comes to determining much of what affects our daily lives. We deserve to choose political leaders for both parties on the basis of more than a popularity contest that reflects fleeting name recognition.