Sunday, 26 October 2014

Crombie cruising to an easy win? Five reasons maybe not.

I speculated earlier in the week that Steve Mahoney might do great in southwest Mississauga, but Crombie could expect to do well in the other three quadrants. The last Forum Poll suggests that Mahoney may be trailing Bonnie Crombie even in his "home" quadrant in the southwest. Mahoney is also trailing with voters over age 65.

That is bad news for Mahoney.

Municipal elections are often decided by differential turnout. The big challenge for pollsters is not determining who citizens prefer, but rather who is likely to actually vote. Older voters who have lived in an area for a long time are one of the groups most likely to vote. In this election, I expect that is a big advantage for Mahoney, who last held elected office in 2004. People who have long supported Mahoney and his wife, City Councillor Katie Mahoney, in southwest Mississauga should be expected to be Mahoney's core base of support. And many of those who remember voting for Mahoney at the federal or provincial level are among the most likely to turn out to vote. Advantage Mahoney.

Surprisingly, the latest (and potentially last) poll, by Forum Research (see and full results here: show Mahoney behind in both his home "quadrant," 49% - 41% and trailing among older voters. Actually, to be blunt, Mahoney is trailing in pretty much in every demographic category: young voters, old voters, men, women, PCs, and Liberals. This does not portend well for Mahoney.

However, be cautious when reviewing these results. This poll may be an accurate gauge of public opinion in Mississauga, but much can be wrong about these results.

This Forum Research poll is an automated telephone call conducted on a Friday night. Only 308 respondents answered the call and told Forum Research who they intended to vote for (or had already voted for). Forum Research included 286 of these responses in a proprietary weighting scheme based on the demographic information the respondents provided to give estimates that should reflect the voting population in Mississauga. There are five reasons to be especially cautious when reviewing this polls' findings:

First, automated polls are good at sampling households or phone numbers, but not household members. If certain demographics are more likely to answer the phone in a house - like they are in my house- that could bias the results. For example, many young people assume that no one they know will be calling their parents' home phone, so many do not answer that line. This can be minimized by the pollster's weighting algorithm, but only if one assumes that those who answered the phone had similar views to those with similar demographics who did not. In other words, a 22 year old living with her parents who did not answer her phone would be expected to have similar political views to a 22 year old living in an apartment (with a number that identifies her as a Mississauga resident).

Second, the poll was completed over just one evening. A Friday. Were you home all evening on Friday? Many people go out on Friday nights. Especially if they are celebrating Diwali, or honoring a soldier on the Highway of Heroes, as many did on Friday night, October 24, 2014. They didn't answer their phones. Neither did some who were enjoying a family dinner. That could bias the sample. Most phone surveys go out in the field for more than one evening to avoid biases caused by certain demographic groups being out one night compared to other groups. I am not surprised that about 40% of the sample were older than 65.

Third, most surveys are larger than 300 people. I suspect that Forum intended this survey to be larger; a recent poll of Brampton voters was a more typical 1000 voters. This may have been intentional, as Forum may have been working with a small sample to mute criticism that their previous poll was biased by a robocall sent out shortly beforehand by the Crombie campaign. Or, it may reflect a paltry response rate (it was a Friday night!). Forum didn't disclose their response rate (unless I'm misreading the difference between 308 calls and 286 respondents with demographic info). Response rate biases are not covered in the published margin of error (6 percentage points in sample of this size), but can be minimized by Forum's weighting algorithm IF there is nothing remarkable about the people with similar demographics who did answer the phone.

Fourth, Forum Research did not disclose the number of undecided voters. Forum's reported figures include those who have decided whom they are voting for, and those who are leaning towards one candidate or the other. Since the percentages sum to 100, Forum Research must have excluded all those who said they were so undecided that they were not even leaning one way or another. Or, maybe that is the gap between 308 voters they said they sampled and the 286 voters whose demographics they report - 10% of the sample, a likely proportion. If many voters are undecided, or are leaners, we could potentially see a big shift between this poll and election day - if those people vote. Undecideds and leaners are less likely voters than those who have already decided whom they are supporting. If they turnout, and vote in ways different than many of their neighbors, the results could be very different than this poll.

Fifth, all the usual problems with telephone polls in the early 21st Century still apply: many citizens do not have land line phones, some are not comfortable with speaking English on the phone, many simply do not respond to polls.

Remember this poll does not substitute for voting on election day. There is little or nothing promising in this poll for Steve Mahoney, but this poll is even more suspect than many other polls conducted by Forum Research. Treat these results with caution.

Friday, 24 October 2014

Watching for the geography of the voting results

I'll be looking at the geographic distribution of the vote on Monday to see if the winner carries the entire city or just portions of it. I don't know of anyone who talks of two Mississaugas, since so much of Mississauga is relatively new.

However, there is a rough divide between an older and wealthier south and a newer, poorer (and less white) north. Except for Meadowvale and Malton, much of the north has been built up in the last 20 years. Many voters are new Canadians. Few are born and raised in Mississauga. City services like community centres are relatively scarce in the north and spread widely apart. Even public transit on arteries like Dundas and Burnhamthorpe in the south is better than transit in the north, on streets like Britannia or Derry.

In my previous post, I noted the geographic distribution of the endorsements Steve Mahoney has lined up. His elite-level support in council, Queen's Park and Ottawa tend to come from west Mississauga, and especially south-west Mississauga. These are areas in, or near, where Steve Mahoney and his wife, have held office. Mahoney have emphasized his long connection to the city and his experience in different levels of politics.

Bonnie Crombie, on the other hand, represented a portion of northwest Mississauga as a MP, and currently represents the entire northeast corner of the city. Much of the northeast is non-residential, but Ward 5 includes Malton and some high- and medium- density areas near along Hurontario, north of Eglinton Avenue. These are diverse neighborhoods, both financially and ethnically. Crombie enjoys the endorsement of Amrit Mangat, MPP for a riding that includes some of Ward 5 (where her husband is running for election) and part of Ward 11 (where George Carlson is neutral). Even though Crombie has not held office for very long, and could not easily claim a strong base of support in these areas, I do not expect that those demographics will favor an older candidate like Mahoney, who stresses a record of experience that predates many of these residents.

Will Crombie's vote totals on Monday reflect what appears to be her strengths in the north- and east- part of the city? The few existing polls have not broken down support by geographic area. Its possible that the two candidates enjoy similar levels of support in every neighborhood, especially after Mayor McCallion endorsed Crombie.

However, if Crombie does well in the north of Mississauga, and Mahoney polls strongly in the southwest, the big battleground between Crombie and Mahoney could become in the southeast corner of Mississauga, including the densely populated area around Square One. I expect Crombie's Polish and Ukrainian background helps her in some of those areas, but perhaps not with younger voters around Square One.  Win or lose, a geographic split could foretell a looming political divide in the city.


Since I last blogged about the mayoral election in Mississauga in 2014, Steve Mahoney apologized for the advertisements that suggested incumbent Mayor Hazel McCallion endorsed him. McCallion then surprised Mahoney and many others by explicitly backing Bonnie Crombie. In an unlikely coincidence, Crombie surged in the polls, turning a close race into one where she leads by a wide margin.

Hazel's endorsement matters. Studies show that in non-partisan local elections, endorsements matter, largely because voters look for signals about whom to support. In partisan races, one easy signal is the party label, but in the absence of that short-cut towards political understanding, trusted political leaders can substitute. For voters struggling to decide between Crombie and Mahoney, McCallion's endorsement of Crombie, especially after McCallion long promised to stay neutral, is such a signal.

Up until now, there was not much that gave voters a reliable signal over which candidate to support. Not much differentiates the platforms of two former Liberal MPs. Neither candidate easily can be categorized as being on the left or as being on the right since both promise to expand government services like transit, government supervision on matters like development and planning, but both promise to keep tax rates in check.

Until the endorsement, Mahoney, his councillor wife Katie, and Crombie have long enjoyed close ties to Mayor McCallion. The close ties between McCallion and both Mahoneys helps explain Katie Mahoney's rather angry and bitter reaction to the news of Hazel's endorsement. So, losing McCallion's endorsement puts Mahoney at a severe disadvantage if he wants to claim the ability to continue a popular legacy from the incumbent. If Mahoney wanted to run as the voice of change against the establishment, he would have run a very different campaign. McCallion's endorsement takes away an important foundation of his appeal.

Mahoney is countering with several MP and MPP endorsements. Two, Brad Butt and Bob Dechert, are Conservatives, which is useful for a former Liberal MP and MPP, but at the same time Mahoney's [relative] fiscal conservatism makes such endorsements unsurprising. Furthermore, Butt defeated Crombie in the federal election. It would have been a surprise if he supported her now.

The ethnic background of endorsers may be used as signals if the endorser is seen as a leader of a particular community. Only one visible minority MPP, Harinder Takhar, endorsed Mahoney. Takhar represents a riding that overlaps with Ward 8, the ward Katie Mahoney represents. Vic Dhillon and Amrit Mangat have endorsed Crombie. The others have not publicly introduced either mayoral candidate.

Mahoney is highlighting the endorsements of five current members of council, including his wife. All represent western Mississauga. The only councillor in the west who has not endorsed Mahoney, George Carlson (Ward 11). Carlson says that the two candidates have such similar positions, he'll work with both. That is probably one-third of the story. There is surely a strategic element, as Carlson does not want to be caught taking the wrong side and alienating the winner or the winner's supporters. Carlson's last re-election bid was relatively close after Carlson was part of the coalition that favored the inquiry into McCallion's corruption scandal and McCallion tacitly backed his opponent, the co-chair of Bonnie Crombie's campaign!

The other councilors may have similar strategic concerns. In the absence of parties, these councilors find it expedient to allow Crombie supporters to think they support Crombie, and Mahoney supporters to think they support Mahoney. The absence of an endorsement from them does not mean that they do not think Crombie is qualified, it just means that they have little to gain by offering an endorsement, and a lot to lose in this election, or the next, if they endorse the loser. Long-time friends have less to fear, especially, like in the case of Pat Saito, they have been [re-] elected for decades without much competition.

The bottom line is that I don't think the absence of councillor endorsements of Crombie is all that indicative of their opinion of Crombie's competence (as Mahoney would lead you to believe), but may be more directly the result of strategic considerations.