The Bogus “Fair Referendum Calculator” – Spotting the Ad Scam

Front-page ad in the Vancouver Sun Wednesday from the “Fair Referendum BC” organization. Paid for by the KNOWB4YOUVOTE society. The hook was a “Result Calculator” that purported to give people the chance to figure out how fair the upcoming referendum is.

The quote is “Use our Result Calculator to find out if a clear majority of British Columbians will determine our voting system.”

Which started me laughing, until I realized they were serious. I mean, when has anyone in the FPTP camp ever dared to mention “clear majority?”

So I thought I’d look into it, keeping my Spidey senses alert for what was really going on. Here’s what I came up with:

  1. I’m immediately suspicious of an organization that gives itself a name too close to the name of someone on the other side. As in “Fair Referendum” as opposed to “Fair Vote BC.” Who are they trying to fool?
  2. What is the possible purpose of an organization whose stated intent is to persuade everyone that the referendum is unfair? Isn’t that the usual recourse of losers after they lose? “This vote is unfair,” is pure Trumpism. After he won, he changed his tune.
  3. Then I started playing with their calculator, which seems to be mathematically accurate. However, there are other ways to manipulate data.

What’s Really Going On?

When you are looking at any form of advertising, it is useful to ask yourself, “Who is the audience, and what is the ad really trying to say?”

 

And at this point I’m giving you the out. If you have no interest in the numbers and know darned well that they’re just gobbledigook that can be used to prove anything, you may, with a good conscience, jump to the bottom of the article and find out what the ad really said. Away you go. I won’t mind. My feelings aren’t easily hurt.

 

But those of you that actually care enough to look at the calculator, here’s the URL: Look at it, but don’t change anything. Scan down the default numbers all the way to the last line, to see what the ad is really saying. And it turns out that, if you leave their numbers all the same, it indicates a squeaker of a win (52% – 48%) by FPTP. No surprise there.

Now go to the start and predict a similar squeaker win on the first question by the other side. Then jump to the bottom and see what the last paragraph says. This is the point the ad is trying to make.

The bottom line of the Results Summary suggests the change will be made on the basis of of 36% of the ballots received. And if you go to the bottom of the body of the ad, it indicates that the decision about our new election system was made by 21% of the voters!

Oh, gosh! How unusual! A minority of the voters deciding what the province will do!

Statistics Management

We have to know how the numbers were manipulated to decide what the results really say. And of course, here’s where we find the scam.

If you are doing a chain of calculations in statistics, there has to be a direct logical line from the data to the result. YOU CAN’T CHANGE THE RULES IN THE MIDDLE OF THE CALCULATION.

And that’s what these statisticians have done.

You see, this article takes the results of the first question – In our example, a 52% win by the PR side – and lumps it all in with the second question – a second-round majority of votes cast for one of the options, it doesn’t matter which one – and comes to a grandiose statement that British Columbia will change our system based on 21% of the eligible voters in the province.

What’s Missing Here?

First, the fact that 52% of the votes cast made one choice (to change.) 21% made a different decision. (what we were changing to). They are quite a different questions  – the first one is far more important than the second – and you can’t just jumble the statistics together. They never idicate how their calculator combines these numbers, but we’re not suppposed to ask silly questions. We don’t understand. We just accept what Daddy tells us.

Eligible Voters or Votes Cast?

Then, if you want to compare apples to apples, the article conclusion is talking about the percentage of the ELIGIBLE VOTERS. In all elections, no matter what form they take, democracy is messed up by the fact that an unhappy percentage of the population choose not to vote. NOBODY uses them in their statistics unless they indicate it specifically. As we have already noted in the last paragraph, our friends at KNOWLESSB4YOUVOTE love these non-voters, because they can add them in or take them out at will. One of the objectives of Proportional Representation is to make people feel their vote counts, thus encouraging them to vote. These guys are happy when people don’t vote. Less voters are easier to control.

So the Calculator now adds non-voters in a second time (at the start of Part B) assuming that some people will answer the first question on the ballot and not the second. It’s a fair assumption, but how many? Impossible to guess. Their default number is 30%. If you remove that statistic by assuming a 100% second vote, the bottom line jumps from 21% to 30%. That’s almost a 50% change. And then they do it again for Round 2, which, if made void, brings the total to 31%. Then they assume that while MMP won the first round, DMP would win the second choices, which is another iffy suggestion. If we remove it, we’re now up to 32%. I’m beginning to like this Calculator more and more. I don’t have to play with the possibilities very long before I’m back to a 51% majority of votes.

When you have your final answer hugely dependent upon statistics that shaky and methodology that stinky, the whole house of cards is in danger. Which leaves us wondering. If the Calculator is such a crock, what do the FPTP people really want to say?

What’s the Real Purpose of This Ad?

Okay, picking up with all the speed-readers jumping down from the top. Be honest, now. In your opinion, how many people who read that huge ad on the front of the Sun actually care enough to go online and use this Calculator thing? A tiny percentage. Maybe just me, for all I know. How many of those will play with the numbers and say, “Gee, how interesting. This tells me the vote is unfair. I better stick with the good old tried-and-true party line.” An even tinier percentage of that already miniscule group. On a dollars-per-vote basis, I’m sure the Liberals and their henchmen in the ad department can find all sorts of better ways to spend their $20,000.

So Was the Ad Useless?

Oh no. Not so fast. What if the ad was really meant to do something else?

Let’s look at the whole line. “A referendum should not take a rocket scientist to understand…so we created a calculator.”

And there we have it. This ad has nothing to do with the fairness of the vote or the numbers of the majority. It’s all to do with the paternalistic, pat-on-the-head game that the Liberals always play with their voting base (see last week’s post).

What the ad is really telling us is, “This referendum is much too complicated, but don’t fret; we will fix it for you.”

My guess: this ad was aimed at Liberal sympathizers who the party hopes will read it and say, “Yep, this whole thing is just too complicated. See? My Party has it all under control so I don’t have to think about it.” And then they will turn to the Sports, Fashion, or Comics page and forget about democracy.

Of course, this only leaves the Liberals with their traditional 37% or so of the vote, and the Greens and NDP with the rest. Add in the non-partisan types like myself who don’t follow any party, and we have a good possibility of a positive outcome. Come October, let’s overwhelm the postal system with ballots!

 

 

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