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Polling the pollsters: The top political stories of 2010

We polled the national pollsters for their top political story of 2010. Not surprisingly, they couldn't agree. Rather, they each offered a unique view of how their top picks played out on the national scene this year, choosing the disaster and expense of the G20 summit, a new Tory strategy to cement a majority government, the failure of Michael Ignatieff to "relaunch" and the power of aging, angry voters as the top stories of the year.

The four pollsters we polled: Ipsos Reid's Darrell Bricker, Nanos Research's Nik Nanos, Frank Graves of EKOS Research and Michael Marzolini of Pollara (he's also the Liberal pollster).

Here's what they had to say:

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Darrell Bricker, Ipsos Reid

Mr. Bricker's top political story of the year involves the two main party leaders, Conservative Stephen Harper and Liberal Michael Ignatieff.

"Love him or hate him (there's a few in the middle) he just keeps rolling on," Mr. Bricker says of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, noting his "resilience" as the Harper enters its fifth year.

Mr. Ignatieff is a different story.

"In spite of his … he remains mired in third place as Canadians' preferred PM," Mr. Bricker notes, referring to the brief success Mr. Ignatieff enjoyed after his summer "Liberal express" cross-country bus tour.

In addition to the political leaders, Mr. Bricker puts Canada's economic success as his third top story.

"Sure we can crab about some things, but looking at the rest of the G8, we're doing pretty well. Politically, this is also one of the issues that keeps the incumbent government afloat," he says.

Frank Graves, EKOS Research

Class conflict is the story of the year for Mr. Graves.

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"From the detainee issues to the red-hot ire over prorogation to concerns with G20 security and spending, right through to a surprisingly serious backlash over the elimination of the mandatory long-form census, all of these tempests seem to have settled back into the placid, some might say frozen, voter landscape we see today," Mr. Graves says.

He concludes that the real story is the emergence of "a new and potent expression of class conflict, which underpins the new and hardening divisions in the political landscape."

Indeed, polls show little movement since the beginning of the year - the Tories are still in minority territory, with the Liberals stalled at about 30-per-cent support among Canadians.

Mr. Graves sees a shift as "economically anxious, aging voters" challenge the status quo.

"We now see previously unthinkable disputes about the role of evidence and science underpinning major debates about climate change, crime and punishment, the census and empirically based decision-making," he says. "The most notable conclusion here is that the values and interests of an effectively mobilized and emotionally engaged cohort of aging, angry voters is reshaping the political landscape."

He points to the emergence of the Tea Party movement in the U.S. and Rob Ford's "stunning" win in the Toronto municipal election.

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"This the really big story of 2010," Mr. Graves says.

Michael Marzolini, Pollara

For Mr. Marzolini, the story of the year is the violence and tremendous of the Group of 20 summit in Toronto. It made Canadians shudder, he says.

Although he lives in Toronto, he insists this is not a "Toronto-centric" view.

"They [Canadians]said, 'This isn't us. … This isn't Canada," he said.

Instead, it was the "raw aspect" of the violence. Canadians have seen riots before - around hockey triumphs and losses, for example - but Mr. Marzolini says the violence in Toronto this summer was different.

"It wasn't the event they would have expected," he says.

More than that, the sheer cost of the summit added to Canadians' distress, making them wonder if the expense was worth it.

The government budgeted $1.13-billion for the G8 and G20 summits - in Huntsville, Ont., and Toronto, respectively - revealing later that $1.9-million was spent on a "fake lake" pavilion and $14,000 for glow sticks.

Meanwhile, the Ontario Ombudsman, in what many observers criticized as over-the-top rhetoric, characterized the policing at the Toronto summit as "the most massive compromise of civil liberties in Canadian history."

Nik Nanos, Nanos Research

Mr. Nanos has seized on a new Conservative strategy to win a majority government - which he calls "slice and dice" politics - as this year's top political story.

"We see now the emergence of the -riding, regional-majority strategy," Mr. Nanos says, noting that the Tories are abandoning their previous strategy in which they sought to divide the opposition parties on a national scale.

"The Conservatives have had difficulty staying in majority territory for a prolonged period of time," he says. "To meet his challenge, it seems as if they are now looking at dividing with smaller clusters of ridings." He believes this will result in the more "piecemeal incremental policy priorities for 2011, which are very targeted."

The debate over the long-gun registry, Mr. Nanos contends, is an example of the Tory cluster strategy.

"The long-gun registry was seen as an effective wedge to appeal to rural NDP and Liberal seats knowing that it did not necessarily have strong broad national appeal."

He believes the cluster strategy will make the Tory vote more efficient.

"In this scenario, also expect regional issues to have a disproportional impact on the national political scene as the Conservatives do the political calculus to try to move toward a majority," Mr. Nanos says. "The outcome of this new, very focused 'slice and dice' strategy has been to make Conservative popular support more efficient than in the past."

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About the Author
Ontario politics reporter

Jane Taber is a reporter at Queen’s Park. After spending three years reporting from the Atlantic, she has returned to Ontario and back to writing about her passion, politics. She spent 25 years covering Parliament Hill for the Ottawa Citizen, the National Post and the Globe and Mail. More

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