Forget the horse race, cover the poll numbers on important issues instead

Media should be paying attention to the wealth tax and the Green New Deal, both of which have majority public support
Photo: Lebatihem
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Forget the horse race. The fixation on party poll numbers produces only an echo chamber of false certainties and leads to media coverage that tends to disproportionately cover the perceived front runners. This is harmful to the kind of informed discussion and debate required to revitalize Canadian democracy.

Many are treating the 2019 federal election as a straightforward two-party contest between the Liberals and Conservatives. That’s both a mistake and a disservice to the voting (and non-voting) public. The truth is that at least six parties fielding candidates this year have a legitimate chance to win seats in Parliament, and the most likely outcome as of now is a minority government situation. What’s more, recent history shows that electoral politics in Canada are in fact quite volatile.

Jagmeet Singh’s party has more seats now than Justin Trudeau’s Liberals had going into the 2015 election

All year, we’ve heard about the polling woes facing the NDP. But Jagmeet Singh’s party has more seats now than Justin Trudeau’s Liberals had going into the 2015 election. The Liberals went from third place in the polls to a decisive majority government in less than two months. Another historic third-party surge took place in the 2011 federal election, when the NDP rode a late campaign wave to over 100 seats and Official Opposition status. Less than a month before this best-ever NDP federal election result the Toronto Star reported that the NDP’s popularity was “plummeting,” having fallen to 13 per cent nationally. By E-Day they were over 30 per cent.

If the last two federal elections teach us anything, it’s that nothing can be taken for granted. Parties can go from third place to government on the strength of a strong campaign. So don’t let anyone tell you not to support or vote for the political party that actually represents your interests and your values. Put your inner pundit away, and, if you are so inclined, go knock on doors in your neighbourhood to help convince others to vote for their values and interests too.

Treating party poll numbers as immutable, especially this far out from the vote, is also pernicious for another reason: it takes our attention away from poll numbers about what issues are important to people, something to which we should be paying close attention.

Take, for example, the Ipsos poll results released Thursday, which show an enormous potential for class-based demands aimed at reducing economic inequality in Canada. A whopping 67 per cent of respondents agreed with the statement “Canada’s economy is rigged to advantage the rich and powerful,” while only 10 per cent disagreed.

Perhaps no issue deserves more discussion in Canada over the next six weeks than the Green New Deal.

Relatedly, polling done earlier this year for North 99 found 67 per cent in support of a wealth tax on the super-rich. A mere 14 per cent were opposed to the hypothetical new tax, which would apply at a 2 per cent rate on fortunes over $50 million. (The NDP has included a wealth tax in their election platform, proposing a 1 per cent surtax on fortunes over $20 million.)

Imagine if poll results on specific issues like a new wealth tax received the kind of sustained media coverage as the perceived fortunes of the political parties. It would result in qualitatively different public discussion of politics during an election campaign.

Perhaps no issue deserves more discussion in Canada over the next six weeks than the Green New Deal, an idea popularized by grassroots activists like the Sunrise Movement in the U.S. and Our Time in Canada, famously championed by a new wave of left members of Congress including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. While there are now several Green New Deal proposals in both the U.S. and Canada, it’s understood as an umbrella term to describe urgent climate action and a rapid and just transition off of fossil fuels that creates jobs, tackles inequality and oppression, and centres migrant justice and Indigenous rights.

Last month, author and researcher Seth Klein released polling he had commissioned from Abacus looking at public opinion on climate and a potential Green New Deal in Canada. The results showed 72 per cent support for a Green New Deal here and only 12 per cent opposed. However, the polling also found limited awareness. “In Canada, only a minority are aware or think they have heard of the term ‘Green New Deal.’ Fourteen per cent say they have definitely heard something about it while 19 per cent think they have heard something.”

In other words, the Green New Deal is wildly popular, but only a small minority actually know much about it. This gap is the most important polling result of all, and it points to the great potential for a surge in support for parties and candidates who wholeheartedly push Green New Deal policies. Taken together with the poll numbers on the wealth tax and the rigged economy, we can see there’s a significant and largely untapped potential in Canada for a politics that unabashedly pushes for tax fairness and climate justice.

As for media outlets, whether mainstream or independent, the public interest would be better served this election season if we all focused more on these poll numbers and de-emphasized the daily ups and downs of the parties’ tracking numbers.

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