Seat projections show a tight race but one thing’s (almost) certain – a minority government

Published on Sept. 15, 2015, at Global News.

The latest outlook from the Laurier Institute for the Study of Public Opinion and Policy (LISPOP) projects the NDP could pick up 120 seats, the Conservatives 116, and the Liberals 101. The projections are based on aggregated and weighted samples of polls from Ipsos, Nanos, Abacus, Ekos, Forum, and Innovative Research with a sample size of over 8,000 respondents.

Read more. 

Source Cues Significantly Reduce People’s Perception of Benefits from Fluoridation

Dr. Andrea Perrella and I have a new paper in the Canadian Journal of Public Health that reveals some interesting insights into how people process information and weigh the risks and benefits of water fluoridation. In particular, we found, through an experimental survey instrument, that people’s support for water fluoridation can be lowered, but not raised.

In our survey experiment, we found that when people were told that Maude Barlowe and the Council of Canadians oppose municipal fluoridation (this is a source cue), respondents were significantly less likely to agree that municipal fluoridation reduces cavities (We were pretty surprised at this but here is a resolution opposing fluoridation and here is a link to Maude Barlowe reiterating the same position).

Why would this be? After all fluoridation is a remarkably effective and equitable public health intervention. Fluoridating the municipal water supply is a great way to reduce cavities in a universal and cost effective way.

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There are two reasons for our result. First, people’s expressed attitudes in opinion surveys are not reflections of stable, independent attitudes that can be naively measured. Rather, they are expressions of a mix of conflicting attitudes, thoughts and feelings that people draw on to formulate a response to a public opinion survey. Second, people’s perception of risks is highly non-rational (see here). Ask people if crime is worse now than it was when they were younger and you will get a lot of people saying “yes,” despite the fact that this is almost certainly not the case (see here).

So, when we ask people whether they think fluoride reduces cavities, responses provided are a mix of conflicting durable and fleeting thoughts and feelings. Our study shows that if you provide people with one extra piece of information, such as, for example, that a well-known and largely well-regarded person and her organization (i.e., Maude Barlowe and the Council of Canadians) are opposed to it, and then subsequently ask whether they think it is factually true that fluoridation reduces cavities, even if that prior information is completely tangential to the scientific veracity of the claim or not, then you will drive down support for the factual claim.

In our case, we turned people’s responses to the statement into a scale from 0 to 1, 0 being strongly disagree 1 being strongly agree. Within the control group, which comprised individuals who did not receive a prompt, the average score was 0.636, but the average response in the Maude Barlowe/Council of Canadians experimental group was 0.565, a full 11% lower. Interestingly, we had a second experimental group of people who were told only that Health Canada and the World Health Canada supported municipal fluoridation. Interestingly, there was no increase in support for the belief that fluoride reduces cavities. In short, people basically express support for the statement that fluoride reduces cavities, but you can’t increase that support, but you most certainly can decrease that support.

Now, it’s important to note, that even in the Barlowe/Council of Canadians group, the average response was above 0.5, so there was still majority support for the statement that fluoridation reduces cavities. That’s good news. Moreover, we followed the question about the benefits from municipal fluoridation with an item asking people whether they agreed or disagreed that fluoride in the municipal water supply can cause bone disease or skeletal problems. At very high doses, fluoride can, but this is far above the level at which Canadians are exposed to. On this question, there was no difference between the experimental and the control group, so it’s possible that the impact of the source cue that was provided was a very fleeting one that really only lasted for one survey question.

Nevertheless, these findings should give municipal decision-makers cause for concern when they are presented with demands for plebiscites on water fluoridation. If you have a plebiscite campaign where the news media are careful to only publish information that is justified by existing scientific evidence and where there is a vocal, organized and competent campaign to support fluoridation, then we expect voters might get enough cues to make good decisions about fluoridation. But if, through whatever contingencies, local news media provide tangential information (like mentioning the fact the Council of Canadians opposes fluoridation) or coverage to groups whose claims are not scientifically validated, and if fluoridation opponents organize well and commit resources to the campaign while the pro-fluoridation side fails to do this, then our evidence suggests voters could easily be led astray and a remarkable public health intervention might be reversed. After all, all you need to win a plebiscite is 1 more vote than the other side.

What Should Sessionals Be Paid?

According to Gail Lethbridge, it should be equivalent to what tenure-stream professors are paid:

This is because their pay [sessionals] is significantly lower that that of their full-time peers. An average salary for a full-time tenured professor in Canada is somewhere north of $100,000. A sessional teacher with the same course load is looking at $30,000 for full-time work.

This paragraph is somewhat misleading.  It points to a $70,000 gap that simply does not exist.  What’s the reality?

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A typical tenure-stream professor is paid by the university according to the following workload: 40% research; 40% teaching; 20% service. Using Lethbridge’s numbers, that means a typical tenure-stream professor is paid $40,000 for research, $40,000 for teaching, and $20,000 for service.

A sessional is only paid to teach; there are no formal research or service obligations.  If we use Lethbridge’s numbers, then the gap is $10,000 and not $70,000.

So a reasonable argument could be made that sessionals should receive, on average, $40,000 rather than $30,000.

Of course, there are other issues at play here and that are mentioned by Lethbridge that are perfectly legitimate, including the lack of benefits, poor working conditions, and the like. There needs to be debate and action on the increasingly reliance on sessionals by many universities. No question.

But when making salary comparisons, I think it is important that we compare apples to apples.

Anything can happen in next five weeks of this campaign

Published on Sept. 12, 2015, in the Waterloo Region Record.

There’s never been an election like this one.

“The fact you’ve got three political parties so close, it’s something we’ve never experienced,” says Barry Kay, political science professor at Wilfrid Laurier University and an expert on voting behaviour in Canada.

“We’re going to see lots of (party) leaders” in the next few weeks.

Read more.

Unconventional political figures arise in the U.S. and U.K.

Published by Barry Kay, on Sept. 11, 2015, in the Waterloo Region Record

At the same time that conventional political assumptions in Canada are being challenged by the NDP’s current, if fragile, lead in public opinion polls, we are witnessing an astonishing array of unconventional phenomena occurring in other nations we frequently identify with.

A particular example is the rise of fringe socialist Jeremy Corbyn, who seems poised to capture the U.K. Labour party’s leadership this weekend on a platform of nationalizing banks, railways and energy companies, as well as withdrawing Britain from NATO.

He also regularly expresses solidarity with such allies of the workers’ struggle as Hamas, Hezbollah and the Venezuelan regime.

Read more…

Three-way race seen in Brantford-Brant

Published on Sept. 10, 2015, in the Brantford Expositor.

The current party leanings of Brantford-Brant riding voters are “too close to call,” according to the Laurier Institute for the Study of Public Opinion and Policy.

Candidates who are particularly articulate and likeable can benefit but other factors such as just how many voters turn up or tune in also matter, Kay said.

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Liberal candidate Chris Brown apologizes for offensive booze-fuelled tweets

Published on Sept. 10, 2015, in the CBC News.

Liberal candidate Chris Brown has apologized for making profanity-laced remarks on Twitter, attributing them to booze-fuelled anger over the death of his partner in an accident involving a drunk driver.

Each party has vetting processes to screen candidates, but some background searches don’t turn up all the potentially damaging material. Usually, the goal of bringing it to light is not to discredit the individual candidate, but to damage the party brand, Perrella said.

Read more.

Rural, Suburban and Urban Voters: Dissecting Residence Based Voter Cleavages in Provincial Elections

Authors: Jason Roy, Andrea M.L. Perrella, and Joshua Borden

Published in Vol. 9(1), 2015, issue of Canadian Political Science Review.

Abstract: We explore provincial-level cleavages by drawing on surveys administered during eight elections. More specifically, we examine rural-suburban-urban divisions in regards to party support within Canadian provinces. Our results show a clear division according to place of residence, even after controlling for a host of individual-level characteristics. We argue that recognition of this rural-suburban-urban division is an important and often overlooked aspect of understanding Canadian political preferences and political behaviour more generally.

Fixing Peer Review (again)!

I don’t know anybody who likes peer review.  The complaints are many but boil down to two main concerns: peer review is way too slow and the quality of the comments varies far too widely.

I want to focus on the second issue.  Part of the problem, I think, is that editors provide too little direction to peer reviewers and peer reviewers seem to have far too much discretion to assess the manuscript in whatever way they wish.  The result, in my experience, are reviewers that frequently want you to write a completely different paper or book, hammer your choice of methodological tool or theory (based on personal preference), or provide criticisms that clearly indicate that they did not read the manuscript carefully enough (to be fair, sometimes this criticism is a signal that the author needs to make things clearer or more pronounced). Continue reading

I think the days of “free for all” reviews needs to end.  Instead, editors should consider adopting a list of questions and holding reviewers to answering ONLY those questions (no more additional comments or recommendations!).

Here’s what my reviewer form would look like:

1) Is the argument presented in the paper internally consistent? If not, please identify inconsistencies in the argument.

2) Does the paper make an original contribution to the literature? What is that contribution and what is its magnitude (on a scale of 0-10, with zero being none and 10 being ground-breaking)?

3) Does the evidence presented adequately support the arguments presented in the paper? If not, identify weaknesses or areas where additional evidence would be helpful.

4) Are there any plausible alternative explanations/arguments, given the evidence presented in the paper, that the author should consider seriously?

I wouldn’t ask reviewers to recommend publication or not.  I would simply limit them to answering these four questions and make a decision based on my own reading of the manuscript and these reviews.

Why these four questions? I think peer review should be about assessing whether the manuscript makes any type of contribution (big or small) to the literature and whether the paper is sound in terms of scholarly rigour.  Contribution is important (e.g. question 2 above) since higher ranked, general political science journals, will probably emphasize larger contributions, but that should be only part of the calculation (many small contributions are just as important as one or two major ones!).  Limiting reviewers to rigour is also important because far too often, individual reviewer preferences about research topics and questions, approaches, methods, theories, and political leanings, seem to take precedence when they shouldn’t.  If I choose to do a descriptive, analytical paper, that shouldn’t automatically lead a reviewer to reject a paper just because they wish I wrote something different (normative or explanatory).  Reviewers instead should be assessing questions 1, 3 and 4.

What do you think? Would you add anything else to my reviewer form? Would this form and procedure generate different outcomes?

Liberals picking up momentum in Ontario, B.C., according to latest seat projections

Published on Sept. 8, 2015, on Global News.

The Liberal party has gained momentum, according to the latest seat projections from the Laurier Institute for the Study of Public Opinion and Policy (LISPOP), and is coming within striking distance of forming the official Opposition.

The Liberals have gained 17 seats, mostly in Ontario and Quebec, for a total of 103 since last week’s numbers. Liberal gains come at the expense of both the NDP and Conservatives, which have been hit hard, losing four seats, and 13 seats, respectively.

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An Experimental Analysis of the Impact of Campaign Polls on Electoral Information Seeking

Authors: Jason Roy, Shane P. Singh, Patrick Fournier and Blake Andrew

Published in the December, 2015, issue of Electoral Studies.

Abstract: The literature on poll effects has focused upon the impact polls have on election outcomes. To understand how polls affect information seeking more broadly, we examine the influence of campaign-period polls on the decision-making process. Based on an online voting experiment, we find that poll exposure affects information seeking, albeit under limited conditions, and that this effect is mediated according to voters’ sophistication levels. Results also indicate that party-specific deliberation can also be influenced by poll standings; candidates from parties trailing in the polls receive less attention than the leading party, although this is also conditional upon the size of the lead. We then consider how these effects on the information calculus influence voting behavior, finding a bandwagon effect when a clear front-runner is depicted in the polls.

Bloc to be shut out in Quebec as NDP momentum continues

Published on Sept. 1, 2015, on Global News.

The NDP is still projected to form government on Oct. 19 but the latest seat projections from the Laurier Institute for the Study of Public Opinion and Policy (LISPOP) show the overall numbers mask fluctuating regional support and the probable demise of the Bloc Quebecois.

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Is it another “Orange crush?” Anna Esselment comments

Appeared on Aug. 28, 2015, on 570 News.

LISPOP associate Anna Esselment appears on 570 News to comment on federal polls which show strengthening support for the New Democratic Party.

Listen here (interview begins at about the 20min, 30sec mark).

Guelph candidates taking ‘safer’ route in responding to campaign questions?

Appeared on Aug. 27, 2015, in the Guelph Mercury.

Obtaining an interview with a local federal election candidate can prove more difficult than it sounds during this campaign — even on a simple subject.

This week, the Mercury asked all four candidates in Guelph for a short in-person or over-the-phone interview to discuss the question or concern they’re hearing most from voters at the door.

Green party candidate Gord Miller responded quickly with an invitation to drop by his campaign headquarters for a chat.

Read more…