Saturday, April 30, 2011

Let's brainstorm ways to vote effectively while ignorant

The most common reason I hear for people not voting is ignorance. They don't feel familiar enough with the issues or the overall situation, but they aren't about to accept spin or partisan statements at face value. This is actually the reason behind the one time I chose not to vote. The 2000 municipal election happened just weeks after I'd moved to Toronto, and I didn't feel like I had any objective sense of the political environment. If, hypothetically (because I forget what the actual issues were), one candidate said that TTC service is woefully inadequate and needs to be improved regardless of the cost, and another candidate had said that the city was in dire financial straits and we need to cut back on TTC service to survive, I could not have determined which one was true because I'd only been there a couple of weeks and was still excited by the novelty of a subway. Even a thorough reading of the platforms and media coverage wouldn't have led me to be able to make a fully-informed vote.

General social consensus is that everyone should vote. But if you feel like you aren't fully informed, maybe it isn't a good idea. What if you fall for some spin and vote wrong?

So let's brainstorm some ways that people can make good use of their vote if they're currently too ignorant to vote informedly. I have a few ideas, but I'm hoping you guys can help me come up with more.

1. Vote for your #1 issue. What one thing that falls under this level of government's jurisdiction has the greatest impact on you, personally? OR, what one issue that falls under this level of government's jurisdiction to you feel is most important at a societal level? Consider focusing on this issue, reading a variety of comment from a variety of sources until perhaps you feel you can read between the lines on this issue, and either voting for whoever will do the most good in this one area, or against whoever will do the most harm in this one area. Note: I do NOT recommend this approach if you don't have a #1 issue at this level of government and have to kind of stop and try to think of one.

2. Vote in support of someone you care about. Is someone you care about more affected by the outcome of the election than the average citizen? Do they work for, or in a field that falls under the immediate jurisdiction of, this level of government? Are they dependent on a program that falls under this level of government, or affected by the absence of a program that this level of government should be providing? Ask them how they think you should vote. I only recommend this approach if you care enough about this person that you genuinely don't mind putting aside your own needs in favour of theirs. Unless you are closely aligned on all political issues, it's possible that the party they recommend voting for won't be the same as you would have chosen on your own.

3. Vote for an individual candidate you like. Do you find any of the candidates in your riding particularly appealing? Maybe one of them is especially responsive to your questions. Maybe one of them makes you think "THAT's the kind of person we need in public office!" If this is the case, and you don't feel capable of voting on policy, consider voting for the individual. Two caveats for this method: 1) Read the candidate's platform (and, if they've held public office before, voting history) to make sure they're not unacceptable. 2) Try to talk to the other candidates and give them a chance to impress you too, so you don't vote for someone solely on the basis of having being the first to canvass you.

Those are all the ideas I have at the moment. Anyone have any more?

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Help, I'm trapped in an echo chamber!

As I've mentioned before, elections are my favourite sport. But because I love following them so closely, reading between the lines of platforms, thinking about strategy, I've lost the ability to view them like a regular everyday person who isn't especially into elections. I just can't put myself in their shoes.

The last couple of elections, I've heard pundits say "Voters will do X in response to Y", and thought "There's no possible way the general populace is that stupid!", only to find out after election day that someone I thought I liked and respected (and sometimes even someone who's supposed to be smarter than me!) did X in response to Y. I don't know what to do with this.

Sometimes people catch a glimpse of an election-related headline and get an incorrect idea about something. And by incorrect I mean empirically verifiable as false. But if I respond with a nice readable media article, they assume it's just spin or bias. And if I respond with links to primary sources, they don't want to read all those boring documents anyway. I keep encountering people who aren't political junkies and who are voting wrong (and by "wrong" I mean "in a way that does not help achieve what it will achieve, when voting differently would help achieve their goal") and I don't know how to get through to them.

And yes, I realize that not being able to put myself in the shoes of people who aren't political junkies when I haven't always been a political junkie meets my own definition of assholery. I just can't figure out what to do about it.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

How I trick myself into eating healthier

This is a recent discover and it's working well, so I thought I'd share it.

A while back I was visiting family, sitting in the kitchen chatting while dinner was being prepared. Some cut-up veggies were placed on the table within my reach, and I mindlessly scarfed them all down while chatting. I didn't particularly want them, they were just there within reach, so I ate them all.

So I decided I need to channel that into my everyday life. I already buy pre-made salads, but I don't always end up eating them. So what I decided to do is when I get home, I have to put some salad in a bowl and put a fork in it. (I am permitted, but not required, to add dressing, and any salad-appropriate ingredients I fancy.) I then put the bowl by my computer. I'm not allowed to turn on the computer unless there's a salad sitting by it.

I don't have to eat the salad. I can start preparing whatever I'm craving or go straight for the chips. But it's there, within reach, while I stare at the screen. So I end up eating it mindlessly, which fills up my tummy and leaves less room for less healthy food.

Monday, April 25, 2011

How to vote if you're a pessimistic disillusioned cynic

Some people feel like all the parties and politicians are idiots, so it doesn't matter who they vote for or they can't imagined voting for anyone.

Here's what you do if you feel that way: rather than voting either for the best party or against the worst party, vote either for the party whose fuck-ups will hurt the least, or against the party whose fuck-ups will hurt the most (depending on your personal preferences and the prevailing situation in your riding.)

This idea was inspired by this post by Galloping Beaver. Galloping Beaver's post is partisanish, in that it focuses on the fuck-ups of one specific party and points out that another specific wouldn't make those kinds of fuck-ups, even if they do make other fuck-ups.

But this can easily be extended to a non-partisan approach towards all parties. Look at each party, look at their policies and their records and their many many flaws and how they generally spin themselves, and figure out what kind of fuck-ups each specific party would make if they don't end up giving anyone a pleasant surprise and just end up being their usual incompetent and/or malicious selves. Decide which set of fuck-ups is the worst and which is the least damaging, and then vote either against the worst or for the least worst. You're using your vote for disaster mitigation. No idealism necessary.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Brilliant Ideas That Will Never Work: require healthy food to be sold in larger-than-single servings

I previously came up with the idea of requiring unhealthy food to be available in single servings, so people don't find themselves eating more than they'd like because they have leftovers.

What if we also did the opposite and required healthy foods to be sold in larger quantities?

For the purpose of this idea, "healthy" means food where the percentage daily value of bad nutrients (saturated and trans fat, sodium, cholesterol) is significantly lower than the percentage daily value of calories, and the percentage daily value of at least one good nutrient (vitamins, fibre, etc.) is significantly higher than the percentage daily value of calories. ("Significantly" would have a specific numeric value, but I don't have the knowledge to come up with something realistic.) "Serving" means the amount used to calculate the nutritional information in the black and white box on the label.

Perishable healthy foods must be sold in packages of a minimum of two servings, which is still a perfectly reasonable amount for a person to eat in one sitting. Non-perishable healthy foods must be sold in packages of a minimum of six servings, which is either a massive pig-out for one person, or dinner for two, or a meal or two of leftovers.

Produce can continue to be sold as it occurs in nature. (In other words, you can still buy just one apple rather than being forced to buy two.)

The purpose of all this is to get people to fill up on healthier foods, and get healthier leftovers into people's fridges. If your store-bought salad is a double serving, you'll still eat the whole thing, and have less room left for potato chips. If you have leftover high-fibre multigrain pasta with organic sodium-free tomato sauce, you'll probably eat another serving sometime this week instead of ordering pizza.

The reason why this is categorized as Brilliant Ideas That Will Never Work rather than Things They Should Invent is that it has a couple of flaws. First, it's possible that restrictions on how healthy foods can be sold and packaged might make manufacturers and sellers of healthy foods decide it's too much work and just get out of the healthy foods business anyway. We really should be making it as easy as possible to make healthy foods available. Second, in the cases of foods that can have both healthy and unhealthy variations (such as the pasta and tomato sauce example above), the unavailability of smaller sizes (especially if we also require unhealthy food to be sold in single servings) might make people who don't want leftovers make unhealthy choices.

But still, it would be awesome if we could pull it off.

The weird thing about social conservatism

All economic policy needs to be implemented on a societal level, so it makes sense for that to be part of politics. Social liberalism needs at least tacit consent or utter indifference from government - they basically need to not make laws that meddle in people's private lives, and eliminate any such laws that are still on the books.

But social conservatism doesn't require any government involvement at all. Citizens are free to be as socially conservative as they'd like, regardless of whether this behaviour is enshrined in law.

As an example, the most socially conservative thing about me is I am monogamous. As it happens, I live in a culture and a city and a neighbourhood where casual sex is socially acceptable and freely available. But this in no way hinders my being monogamous. Regardless of how much casual sex is permissible and available, I can quite easily not avail myself of it. Similarly, I'm vegetarian, but meat is freely available and socially acceptable. I'm carfree, but cars are readily available and socially acceptable. I can quite easily live this way without asking the government to outlaw meat, cars, and casual sex. It wouldn't even cross my mind to ask the government to outlaw things that I'm not into.

And yet there are a lot of very loud people who try to do just that. Where is this coming from?

Friday, April 22, 2011

Why "Canadians don't care" is a good reason to promptly sign onto royal succession reforms

I was really surprised to see this:

Britain’s Telegraph newspaper reports that Canada has expressed opposition to changing any legislation that would alter the principle of male primogeniture — the custom that makes the firstborn son of a prince or king heir to the throne, even if the child has an older sister. The report did not specify who in Ottawa opposed such a change.

When asked Monday about the government’s opposition to the change, Conservative Leader Stephen Harper said Canadians aren’t interested in a debate on the monarchy.

“The successor to the throne is a man. The next successor to the throne is a man,” Harper said during a campaign stop in Yellowknife, N.W.T. “I don’t think Canadians want to open a debate on the monarchy or constitutional matters at this time. That’s our position. I just don’t see that as a priority for Canadians right now at all.”

Because, speaking as a Canadian, it seems to me that if Canadians don't want to open a debate on the matter and don't see it as a priority, that's a damn good reason, for this particular issue, to simply rubber-stamp the changes and let them go through without fuss.

As I mentioned before, Prince William has a weird job, where one of his duties is to have a biological child with his lawfully wedded wife. In fact, as soon as the vows are uttered, that becomes the most pressing of his duties. Not that it's desperately urgent - they're only 28 - but, as long as either the Queen or Prince Charles is alive, anything else that might fall under the purview of Prince William's duties could either be done by someone else or could be skipped entirely, even within a system where royal duties are generally deemed necessary. This is the one thing in the world that he can't fob off on someone else, and where the deadline (presumably Ms. Middleton's menopause) is absolute.

If your duties included producing a biological child within marriage, and you were a 28-year-old independently wealthy newlywed, you'd probably want to get around to it sooner rather than later, just in case you do have trouble conceiving or there are some other unforeseen health problems.

However, the royal couple basically has to wait until the succession question is resolved before they can start their family. If they have a daughter before the debate is resolved and then a son at a later date, things would get even more complicated. The sensible thing to do would be to wait a bit until everything is sorted.

The rules of succession affect all the Commonwealth countries, the rules of succession affect the royal couple's family planning, and the royal couple's family planning affects all the Commonwealth countries. Therefore, any delay in implementing changes to the rules of succession puts the entire Commonwealth on tenterhooks.

That's a really assholic thing to do out of indifference, isn't it? If we don't want a constitutional debate, let's not have one. Let's just cheerfully and promptly sign onto perfectly reasonable changes like making succession gender-blind. People who don't care still won't care, and people who do care can then get on with it..

At this point, some people are thinking "But I don't even want a monarchy!" Totally reasonable position! And you're absolutely free to keep on working towards extricating Canada from the monarchy. But it will be a long process, and everyone affected by changes in succession will still be there and still be affected by it after we leave. So why make things difficult for them if we're leaving anyway? All we'd be doing by signing onto the succession changes is saying we agree that gender-blind primogeniture is better than male primogeniture. This in no way precludes believing that no monarchy whatsoever is even better.

And yes, it is true that we already have the next two generations of heirs apparent to the throne. But, with the youngest heir apparent about to marry, it is the natural time to start thinking about the next generation. That's why it particularly surprises me that Stephen Harper of all people would act like this is unimportant and undeserving of Canada's attention. Monarchists tend to be conservative, and Stephen Harper is the leader of the Conservative Party. His base includes the people who think this is important, and we're in the midst of an election where Mr. Harper's strategy seems to be to focus heavily on his base. All he'd have to do is remain open to signing onto this innocuous change whenever it happens to come before the Commonwealth. Instead, he's telling the monarchists in his base that this issue that's important and time-sensitive to them (and of no concern either way to those who oppose them) doesn't even deserve enough of his time to put his signature on a pure ceremonial formality.

Refusing to sign onto succession changes because you're anti-monarchist is like a parent refusing to sign their kid's report card because they think a five-year high-school curriculum would be better. It's like the custodian of the building where the polling place is to be located refusing to open up on election day because they think the first-past-the-post system is suboptimal. It just stalls things for people who have a job to do and a deadline by which to do it.

The only valid reason for any reaction other than promptly signing onto the changes is if you genuinely believe that male primogeniture should be kept. (And is there anyone, anyone at all, who actually thinks that in a country that has had a female monarch for 127 years of its 144-year existence?) If it's simply a question of indifference, sign the paper and stop delaying things for the people who do care.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Weird solution to ipod stuck in recovery mode

Last weekend, itunes offered me a software update for my 3rd generation ipod touch. Unfortunately, it froze while installing the software, and itunes told me I'd have to restore the ipod.

I clicked on the restore button, it went through the process, and I got a pop-up saying it had been restored to factory settings. But then I got another alert in itunes saying the attached ipod was in recovery mode and it would have to be restored. So I tried restoring again and got error code 37.

Thereafter followed multiple attempts at troubleshooting and restoring. Rebooted computer, tried different USB ports and cables, updated USB drivers, did a hard restart on the ipod (pressing and holding the two buttons), tried updating itunes, tried disabling my security software, nothing worked. Sometimes I'd get a message saying it had been restored followed in quick succession by another message saying the ipod was in recovery mode, sometimes I'd get error code 37

Then, on my final attempt, just as my next step was to google up the nearest Apple store, I accidentally discovered that when the message saying the ipod has been restored to factory settings pops up, you have to click OK. It says this message is going to disappear in 10 seconds so I'd just been letting it go. But when I clicked OK, the ipod restarted normally and it was fine.

So the moral of the story is: click OK on your itunes pop-ups rather than waiting for them to disappear.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Why not voting doesn't send a message

Sometimes you hear people say that they choose not to vote in order to "send a message". But there's a problem with that strategy:

Suppose you're the most responsive politician in human history. There's an election, and, yay, you win! Then you notice that, say, 30% of the eligible voters didn't vote. Being the most responsive politician in human history, you're insightful enough to think that maybe they were trying to send you a message.

But what specific message were they trying to send you? What can you do to address their concerns?

You have no way of knowing, do you? For that matter, you have no way of knowing how many of them are trying to "send a message" as opposed to having moved out of the riding or died since the last enumeration or gotten hit by a bus on the way to the polling place.

The way to send a message to politicians is, quite literally, to send them a message. Email them about your specific concerns when they're campaigning, and again after they're elected. On top of this, you can sign (or start) petitions or otherwise engage in activism about your specific concerns, and work towards electoral reform if it addresses your concerns.

But choosing not to vote will achieve nothing. The only message is sends is "Meh, whatever you guys want is fine."

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Survey methodology FAIL

So apparently the Do Not Call list is working.

The Harris Decima telephone study of 2,035 Canadians on the registry, commissioned by the Marketing Research and Intelligence Association — the industry organization that represents pollsters and research groups — found that eight in 10 consumers report getting fewer such calls.

Yeah, brilliant. Telephone survey to see if the Do Not Call list is working. Know what demographic's missing from that survey? People who are so annoyed by unwanted calls that they screen. And I can tell you firsthand, as a member of this demographic, that I don't feel that the list is working well enough.

How to communicate: state fact before opinion

One serious communication error I see people making quite often is stating their opinion in response to a request for facts, without first providing the requested facts.

To take a recent example, I was mildly interested in the recent possibility of the US government shutting down, basically because I wanted to see what would happen if it did shut down, but on the day of reckoning I unexpectedly had to work so I wasn't following the news. A couple of days later, I realized while I was out and away from the internet that I hadn't checked to see what happened. So I asked the people at the table with me if the US government ever did end up shutting down. (Turns out it didn't, in case you weren't following the story but are now curious.)

"Why would the US government shut down?" asked one person who hadn't been following the story.

"Because the Democrats couldn't get their act together," said another person, who apparently had very strong opinions on the matter.

Now before we even start thinking about the accuracy of this answer, the problem is that it wasn't in any way useful to the questioner. The real question being asked is "Under what circumstances could the US government shut down? That sounds like a big serious thing to happen, and I don't think we have anything equivalent here." (And since we were all Canadians having this conversation in Canada, it should have been obvious to all involved that it was a question of how their government differs from our in this respect.)

So the opinionator not only failed to answer the questioner's question (by providing no information on how the US government might shut down), but also failed in sharing their opinion and convincing the questioner of the validity of their opinion, because the questioner still doesn't have any information about the process as a whole or the what exactly the Democrats did or failed to do.

A more effective and useful communication approach would have been to first describe how, in the US, the government cannot operate if the budget is not approved in time, then give a brief overview of the current situation and the positions of the two parties. Only then is it useful to get into the effectiveness of a particular party's approach.

This would also have the advantage of making the opinionator look knowledgeable and informed, rather than making them look like a comment thread loudmouth as jumping straight to opinion is inclined to do.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Why do politicians want to appear popular?

During election campaigns, politicians try to get people to put up signs showing support for them. And recently on twitter, there were some accusations being bandied about of candidates setting up fake accounts to make it look like more people were talking about them.

Which makes me wonder: why do politicians want so much to appear popular during election campaigns?

Your instinctive answer is probably "Because being popular is good, duh!"

But think about it as a voter. If the party you most strongly oppose appears very popular, wouldn't you be more inclined to vote strategically to defeat them? If the party you most strongly support appears very popular, wouldn't the idea of staying home on election day be more tempting?

I can see why parties that are considered fringe might want to look more popular, so they can be considered viable mainstream candidates. But if you're already a mainstream candidate, I can't imagine how appearing more popular than you actually are would help get out the vote in your favour.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Historical portrayal of beauty and insecurity

Conventional wisdom is that people have more body insecurity today because such high standards of beauty are depicted in the media. But I find myself wondering whether this happened even more in the past.

I've blogged before about what it felt like to be a hairy preteen in a world where no other girl or woman around me was hairy. During one of those hairy preteen years, my family went to England. We went to a lot of museums and art galleries there, and I saw a lot of nude paintings (nothing sexual - renaissance/classical era Serious Art). I had never seen nudity before. I had seen women nursing, and I knew from knowing where babies come from that men have penises and that I would get pubic hair when I got older, but I went from never having seen full nudity before to seeing dozens of depictions a day.

And it made me feel ugly, because none of the women in the paintings were hairy like me. Some of them had pubic hair, although many didn't, but there were absolutely no depictions of the armpit hair that was currently troubling me. From this, I concluded that it was unnatural for a woman to have armpit hair, and I must be some kind of freak of nature.

This all came to mind with Elizabeth Taylor's recent passing, when the news was full of gorgeous old black and white pictures of her. She looked flawless in these pictures, because people tend to look more flawless in low-definition black and white. My most recent driver's licence photo was black and white, and my skin looks perfect in it! If I'd ever been in a position where I was comparing myself to a black-and-white Elizabeth Taylor, I would have felt hideous because my own real-life skin has flaws that I and everyone else can see.

But with current high-definition photography, you can see more of the actor's or model's flaws. Off the top of my head, in Ocean's Twelve you can tell that Catherine Zeta-Jones has acne scars under her makeup. She still looks gorgeous, of course, but the fact that her skin isn't 100% flawless is visible in the high-definition photography where it wouldn't be in Elizabeth Taylor's black and white days. I'm seeing flaws that I can identify with in portrayals of beauty on screen, which I wouldn't have seen in the 1950s watching Elizabeth Taylor, or in the renaissance period looking at Botticelli's Venus.

On top of this, there's the fact that we have access to more beauty and cosmetic products and technology today. In the renaissance era, I wouldn't even have been able to bathe regularly, to say nothing of removing my body hair with any degree of long-term effectiveness. But in the 21st century, I can be clean and shiny, and shave or wax or tweeze or bleach or epilate anything I want on a daily basis - plus there are dozens of businesses in my neighbourhood alone where they'd be happy to do a more professional job for an amount of money that I probably have in my bank account right now. I have a tube of touche eclat in my purse right now, they sell medical-grade foundation in my local drugstore, and I'm fully aware of the wonders of photoshop. The gap between beauty portrayed in the media and what I can achieve with the resources available to me is narrower than it has ever been.

So did people in the past have insecurity about their physical appearance because of media depictions? If not, why not? And why would it be happening today?

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Why you shouldn't report graffiti on private property to 311

I recently saw at the bottom of a City of Toronto ad a friendly little note saying "If you see graffiti vandalism in your neighbourhood, call 311."

Doesn't that sound helpful? After all, we all know that 311 is extremely helpful. So doesn't it sound like the nice 311 people will send some nice helpful city workers (maybe these guys?) to clean it up.

But it turns out that if the graffiti's on private property, you'll just be getting the property owner in trouble.

According to the City of Toronto website:

When City staff enforce compliance with the graffiti bylaw they try to provide owners with as many ways as possible to comply.

An bylaw officer will educate the property owner or occupant about the issue and require graffiti removal. The officer may issue written notice. The owner is given fixed time period that they have to comply (remove the graffiti), e.g. 72 hours. If the owner provides justifiable reason for not complying within an appropriate period of time (cannot paint when it is raining, freezing, etc.), the bylaw officer will adjust the complying period.

Note: If the property owner does not comply within the specified compliance period, the City will remove the graffiti and the cost will be added to the tax roll.

Therefore, if you report graffiti on private property, by-law officers will come and force the property owner to remove it promptly, and if they don't they'll be forced to pay for it.

The property owner is already the victim. They already know they have to get rid of the graffiti, and they're probably already trying to figure out how to clean it off or scrape up the money to get someone else to do it. Sending by-law officers around to nag them is unproductive, and, frankly, a dick move.

The City cleans up graffiti on City property, so reporting that is productive. But I would strongly recommend not reporting graffiti on private property. I'd much rather live in a city with graffiti around than live in a city where victims of crimes get nagged by law enforcement to recover faster.

Friday, April 08, 2011

What if schools were evaluated on long-term results?

I was reading this article on the problems with standardized tests, and it got me thinking about more effective ways to evaluate education. And it occurred to me that the true measure of education is long-term results.

For example, my high school was rather proud of the fact that 80% of its graduates went on to university. But what percentage made it past first-year university? We don't know. If, hypothetically, only half of us made it past first-year university, there's probably something wrong with the high school. And a high school where only 60% go to university but they all graduate is probably doing better.

Obviously, there are many problems with using long-term results. You'll lose track of some people, and you're more likely to lose track of students who have slipped through the cracks. It doesn't signal problems until it's far too late to do anything about them. It introduces the likelihood that outcomes will be affected by variables beyond the school's control.

But still, it seems relevant. It would be so useful if they could figure out a way to incorporate long-term outcomes as part of the evaluation.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

How to Vote Strategically

This is part of my Voter's Resources post.

Some people vote for the party whose platform they find most suitable (the Best Party). Other people try to prevent the party whose platform they find most harmful (the Worst Party) from being elected, by voting for the party that's most likely to defeat the Worst Party (the Compromise Party). This is called strategic voting.

The most important thing about strategic voting is that your strategy has to apply to the reality in your riding. The media feeds us national polls for breakfast every day, but they're not directly relevant. Regardless of what the rest of the country is doing, your vote will only be used to elect your own MP. If your riding is already disinclined to elect the Worst Party, there's no point in a strategic vote - you'd just end up making the Compromise Party look more popular than they really are.

So here's what to do if your priority is stopping the Worst Party from winning:

1. Ask yourself: "If I don't vote, who's going to win in this particular riding?"

If the answer is a party other than the Worst Party, vote for the Best Party. If the answer is "the Worst Party" or "it's too close to tell," go on to step 2.

2. Ask yourself: "If I don't vote, who's most likely to defeat the Worst Party" in this particular riding?

This is your Compromise Party. Read their platform. If it's acceptable, vote for the Compromise Party. If it's not acceptable, vote for the Best Party.

Remember: ignore the national polls; think only about the situation in your riding!

So now you're thinking:

"But how do I figure out what's going to happen in my riding?"

There are many many resources this time around. Check them all out and see what they say about your riding.

- The Election Prediction Project
- Hill and Knowlton Election Predictor. (You need poll data for this. The site provides some, more is available all over the media.)
- DemocraticSPACE
- ThreeHundredEight (riding predictions in the right-hand column)
- How did your neighbourhood vote? (If you're voting strategically, you still have to look at the whole riding rather than the individual polls, but this is still interesting)
- Project Democracy is designed specifically for those considering a strategic vote against the Conservative party. If this includes you, it might be of use. If not, stick to the other predictors.
- Too Close To Call

Prediction sites update constantly, and I will be updating this list as I find more prediction sites, so check back again closer to election day.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Who is the target audience of coalition scaremongering anyway?

Apart from the fact that coalitions are perfectly normal and constitutional in our form of government and scaremongering about the possibility of a coalition shows ignorance of how our system of government works and insults the electorate's intelligence, and apart from the fact that they're talking about coalitions instead of policy, leading me to wonder if there's a dearth of policy, the weird thing about all this coalition scaremongering on the part of the Conservative Party is that I can't imagine why it would lead to any additional Conservative votes.

Because the scaremongering focuses on the possibility of coalition of Liberal, NDP, and Bloc following a minority Conservative win, I'm going to focus on that model in this post.

If your politics align most closely with the Conservative Party's, you're going to vote Conservative anyway. No impact.

If your politics align most closely with the Liberal Party's, you might prefer for there not to be a coalition because you'd rather have a purely Liberal government. However, if the Liberal party wins the election and forms a government, they wouldn't need a formal coalition because they'd already be in government. However, if the Conservatives win, you'd rather have a coalition than not because then (assuming seat ratios follow historical patterns) you'd have a Liberal-led coalition government. So either way it would be best for you to work towards getting Liberal votes. Any Conservative votes would make it less possible for your party to get its policies implemented.

If your politics align most closely with either the NDP or the Bloc, and assuming based on current polls and historical outcomes that you're not going to form a government, a coalition would give your party more power, so it would be a good thing. Insofar as a potential coalition might affect your vote, you might choose to cast an Anything-But-Conservative strategic vote if you live in a tight riding so as to prevent a Conservative majority and thus make a coalition more possible. But nothing would be gained by voting Conservative.

So who's the target audience of all this? Who would be likely to vote Conservative because of the prospect of a coalition who isn't doing so already?

Things They Should Study: income range for which additional tax credits would actually make a difference

All this election talk of tax credits makes me wonder how many people they're actually useful for.

People at the low end of the income scale hardly pay any tax anyway, and most of what they do pay gets refunded, so they wouldn't achieve any additional savings with additional tax credits.

But the more money you have, the more the savings from a tax credit become negligible. For example, I currently don't feel the tax credit I get for my TTC Metropass. If it disappeared, I wouldn't notice. However, I still feel my RRSPs. Someone who makes ten times what I make might not feel their RRSPs either.

Tax credits whose goal is to modify behaviour (fitness, home renovation) tend to apply for things that require a certain amount of disposable income. If your budget is so tight that you just can't find room for a kickboxing class or a new kitchen, you aren't going to be able to benefit from these.

And, of course, the more tax credits you already have, the less impact any additional tax credits will have. When I was in university, my tuition deduction and educational tax credits were huge (relative to my income at the time - now they'd be nothing more than a nice little bonus). But because of this, any additional credits would have been useless to me. I was already paying no taxes and getting money back, there was nothing left to deduct!

So someone should do research: for what segment of the population are tax credits useful, and for what segment are they useless? How big do they have to be? How many people have room for those kinds of expenditures in their budgets?