Cold Hard Wonk

No sentiment but politics

1+1 = Sunny Skies?

Posted by JJ in Federal Elections, Strategic Planning, Brass Tacks (Thursday April 19, 2007 at 3:52 pm)

The problem with simple math is that it’s more complex than you might think. That’s why Jason Cherniak’s recent assertion of impending Liberal success in St. Catherines is as analytically sound as a proof that 1=2.

Here’s the theory:

  • In 2006, the Liberal candidate lost by 246 votes.
  • In 2006, the Green Party candidate received 2,305 votes.
  • Therefore, if a mere 15% of the Green votes switch to Liberal in the absence of a Green candidate, the Liberal candidate wins!

Spotted the fallacy? It’s simple, really. It assumes that the Conservative candidate, now an incumbent, doesn’t gain any votes. Incumbents often do; and absent some sign of real backlash in the area in question or serious nationwide backlash, there’s no reason to suspect that he won’t do as well or better in the next election.

But there’s another one; and this is the point that leads to the serious error of judgment in Jason’s analysis, to wit: the headline:

Dion-May deal pays off in St. Catharines!

It’s wholly within the realm of possibility that 15% of would-be Green voters will trend Liberal. It’s also within the realm of possibility that the Liberals’ effort to court the left end of the spectrum will alienate more centre-right parts of their support. If so, the quasi-coalition could cost more votes than it gains. Not only has he assumed that the Conservatives gain no votes, but he also assumes that neither the Greens nor the Liberals lose any votes.

Assuming that a deal has only positive effects comes down to begging the question, because that’s precisely what you’re trying to prove. It’s as analytically sound as. . .well, thinking it won’t rain because you don’t have your umbrella. Slapping a smile across your face no matter what might help your mood, but it won’t keep you from ending up all wet.

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