Back After the Break: Parties, Tweets, Polls and iPolitics

My last entry here, three months ago, asked: Whither this blog? It might appear, on the surface, to have whithered away entirely, which is only partly true. The blog has been silent, indeed, but I have not. My somewhat sparse political observations have been directed through the comments sections of some stories that caught my attention.

I read those again this morning, and will up-date and post them here when I have time. They talk about some of the issues I specified in my post of January 4th.

The past few days offered three stories that I think are worth passing comment, perhaps more.

The first concerns the Liberal Party’s continuing efforts to turn itself from a political party in the old style to a “movement” in a new one. See http://ipolitics.ca/2016/04/03/trudeau-promotes-wide-open-liberal-party-no-more-membership-privileges/ I take this as an initiative under the general heading of “doing politics differently”.

An anonymous comment suggests the story is “unbalanced”, because it contained no “critical comments” and made “snide remarks” about the Conservatives, who appear to be moving in a contrary direction for what appear to be good reasons. Under the general heading of “doing political journalism differently”, might we ask whether “balance” means that every story must contain both positive and negative comments? If our government, or a party, or politician, does something good, may we not say so? Must we always add a negative comment, in the interest of balance? If we do take that as a standard, then are we not perhaps encouraging a general political culture of carping negativity, and what is the large effect of that?

Obviously we don’t care for seemingly objective news media who simply become propagandists for the government or any side of the political debate. One could hardly accuse iPolitics of being that, especially given Michael Harris’s column yesterday, blasting current policy on some parts of the Plethora of Middle Eastern Questions. See http://ipolitics.ca/2016/04/03/dions-blunders-undermine-trudeaus-claims-that-canada-is-back-on-international-stage/

I think I would interpret the first target of Harris’s rage—Global Affairs Minister Stephane Dion’s tweet—somewhat differently. Presumably the minister was under some pressure from somewhere to make that kind of statement. Can any form of ministerial statement be more trivial than a tweet? If M. Dion had wanted his opinion to be taken seriously, he would have used a more serious mode of expression. A tweet is an insignificant verbal gesture. The medium is the message.

As for the rest of Harris’s column, I think it states one side of a couple of questions well enough, and is fair comment. I would suggest, however, that the Plethora of M.E.Q.’s constitutes one of the most complex and difficult of conundrums that our or any government has to face, both morally and practically, and that actions put in place by the previous government, wrong-headed though they may have been in some respects, cannot brusquely be set aside without consequences. Was it Bismarck who said, of some foreign policy issue, that only two people ever understood it: he himself, who had forgotten it, and a professor, who went mad thinking about it? Thinking about the Middle East these days could definitely become fodder for madness. These are the murkiest of waters, and when we try to see through them, or comment on policy, we should treat them accordingly.

My third issue concerns another recent iPolitics story, coming out of the EKOS polling firm. I am referring to http://ipolitics.ca/2016/04/03/trudeaus-nuclear-honeymoon-now-fading-ekos-et/. The story itself, by Elizabeth Thompson, seems fair enough, but the headline is terrible, because it reflects one of the two polls reported—concerning the “direction Trudeau is taking Canada”—and not the other—concerning how people would vote at present. And the whole “direction” question respondents were asked, with the method used (a “high definition interactive response poll of 2,019 respondents”) must make this one of the most useless polls ever taken. What kind of statistical nonsense is that?

Ms. Thompson assures us that the poll is “considered accurate within 2.2 percentage points (I love the specious precision!) 19 times out of twenty”! Well folks, I will put my statistical credentials up against hers any day, whatever hers may be, and I don’t consider this stupid poll accurate within the maximum possible number of percentage points even once, nor worthy of any comment except instant dismissal. And as for the regional comparisons, yikes!

Surely if we want to see politics “done differently” we should ask our polling companies to get on board, and stop obfuscating the conversation by glib and careless work. A little training for the iPolitics headline writers wouldn’t hurt either.

I think iPolitics does a good job within a few percentage points most of the time, and I appreciate their work. But the quest for “politics done differently” must include them, and all journalists. There, am I being balanced?

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