Sun News (which I will not be launching, but which I will occasionally be reading), better known as The Network That Plagiarizes Wikipedia, has renewed its attack on CBC’s Vote Compass. Both Ezra Levant and Peter Worthington, who together probably form a single wit, claim to have found new evidence that the Compass is biased towards Liberal. As usual, the attacks betray a startlingly complete ignorance of how graph-based assessments like this actually work, which is typical of the contemporary media.
In this case, I have to wonder whether there’s more to it, of course. Sun TV News competes with CBC TV News. The Vote Compass mini-scandal was over weeks ago. For Sun to revive it now smacks of a cheap attack on a rival. But, just in case it’s not, here’s the real reason why the compass seems “biased” Liberal. And believe me, it’s not because it’s pro-Liberal. Oh, and by the way, Worthington also appears to be lying to bolster his case here. He claims that when you run through the form saying “Don’t Know” for everything, it comes up Green. I know, because that’s one of the first things I tried too. It doesn’t come up Green. It comes up blank, just as it should. Nice try, Peter.
Anyway, let’s leave aside Worthington’s apparent deceitfulness and move on the real issue: the alleged Liberal bias. Here’s the thing: like all “vote/party” charts, this one works by assigning you a score for each answer: so much up, so much down, so much left, so much right. If you give totally inconsistent answers, then these scores all balance each other out, and you end up in the middle. If you give a weak “neither agree nor disagree” to every answer, then you don’t move out of the middle in the first place.
Which brings us to the Liberals. They’re smack dab in the middle too, mostly because it’s unbelievably difficult to get a solid, consistent answer out of the Liberals on any real policy issue. (Think about it: can you come up with a serious policy issue, not just rhetoric, on which the Liberals have had a consistent position? I can’t.) Part of this is true of any political party, of course, but the Liberals are masters of it. That’s why we call them centrists — they take every issue and then fervently stake out the broad middle in an attempt to play off both sides. Honestly, is this a surprise to any Canadian journalist? Or any Canadian, really?
So yes, some people will turn out Liberal even when they don’t really think of themselves as Liberals. That’s not because the Compass is rigged. That’s because it’s telling you your answers don’t really fit as “hard left” (e.g. NDP) or “hard right” (e.g. Tory), and all that’s left is the big, mushy middle. I can’t count how many times someone has told me they’re “left on some issues, right on others.” Well, guess what? On a chart, left plus right = 0 = centre = Liberal.
You know how to really find out whether this is biased? Don’t complain about unexpected answers. Don’t complain that the CBC is holding back data. Unlike the average Sun/QMI poll, the Voting Compass actually does explain their math. On every question, they’ve identified their guess about where each party stands.
|Pull out of Afghanistan?||Definitely Yes (Left)||Definitely No (Right)||Definitely No (Right)|
|More military bases for Arctic?||No (Left)||Yes (Right)||Yes (Right)|
|Increase military budget?||Maybe (Centre)||No (Left)||Yes (Right)|
|Do subsidies hurt the economy?||Definitely No (Left)||No (Left)||Maybe (Centre)|
|Cut government spending?||No (Left)||Maybe (Centre)||Yes (Right)|
|Integrate more with US?||No (Left)||Yes (Right)||Definitely Yes (Right)|
|Tarsands environmental damage exaggerated?||Definitely No (Left)||No (Left)||Definitely Yes (Right)|
|Carbon Tax?||No (Right)||Definitely No (Right)||Definitely No (Right)|
|More Environmental Regulation?||Maybe (Centre)||Maybe (Centre)||Definitely No (Right)|
|More private healthcare?||Definitely No (Left)||No (Left)||Yes (Right)|
|Public daycares?||Maybe (Centre)||Maybe (Centre)||Definitely No (Right)|
|Give out more EI?||Definitely Yes (Left)||Maybe (Centre)||Maybe Centre)|
|English or French requirement for immigrants?||No (Left)||No (Left)||Yes (Right)|
|Increase immigration rates?||Yes (Left)||Yes (Left)||No (Centre)|
|More accommodation for religious minorities?||Maybe (Centre)||Maybe (Centre)||Maybe (Centre)|
|Adult sentencing for violent children?||Definitely No (Left)||No (Left)||Yes (Right)|
|Kill the gun registry?||No (Left)||Definitely No (Left)||Definitely Yes (Right)|
|Criminalize pot possession?||No (Left)||No (Left)||Definitely Yes (Right)|
|Improve access to abortions?||Definitely Yes (Left)||Yes (Left)||No (Right)|
|Preference for heterosexual marriage?||Definitely No (Left)||Definitely No (Left)||Definitely Yes (Right)|
|Euthanasia for the terminally ill?||Maybe (Centre)||Maybe (Centre)||Maybe (Centre)|
|Abolish the Senate?||Definitely Yes (Left)||Yes (Left)||No (Right)|
|Eliminate subsidies for political parties?||Definitely No (Left)||Definitely No (Left)||Definitely Yes (Right)|
|Bilingual Supreme Court judges?||Definitely Yes (Left)||Definitely Yes (Left)||Definitely No (Right)|
|Increase CPP?||Definitely Yes (Left)||Definitely Yes (Left)||No (Right)|
|Increase taxes on wealthy?||Definitely Yes (Left)||Maybe (Centre)||No (Right)|
|Change corporate taxes?||Increase (Left)||Increase (Left)||Definitely tax cuts (Right)|
In sum, the NDP have the most far left positions (13), the Conservatives had the most far right positions (9), and the Liberals had both the most uncommitted/centrist positions (7) and the least number of far ideological positions (7). Match up undecided voters with an uncommitted party, and a whole lot of people start looking Liberal.
Now I have two points. First, as I said before, it’s pretty hard to know what a political party stands for. This Compass, for instance, says the Conservatives support abolishing the Senate (leftist) and political party subsidies (rightist), but Harper has reneged on the first and is lying about the second (he only wants to eliminate the per-vote subsidies, not the orders-of-magnitude-larger tax refund subsidies). And putting them into these irritatingly ubiquitous “right-left” axes is a problem, too. Explain to me, for instance, why supporting gun freedom is right-wing, but supporting a terminally ill patient’s right to die is left-wing. Or why expecting Supreme Court judges in a bilingual country to actually be bilingual is left-wing. Attempting to divide every issue between “liberal” and “conservative” is an American idea, and it is a very silly idea. Rant over.
Second point, which is more relevant: setting aside the above, I would challenge anyone to point out a serious error in the chart that shows bias towards or against any of the major political parties. If the Vote Compass is rigged, it would have to involve making a party appear to be something it clearly wasn’t. And while I disagree with a few specific points in the chart, overall it’s hard to argue that any party is seriously misrepresented here. So I’m not buying into the bias theory, until the bias theory people actually do their homework.
I get why nobody really wants to do this kind of analysis. I do. Writing a cheap deceitful rant takes 5 minutes. Real work takes an order of magnitude more time. But still. Isn’t that what they get paid for?Tweet