The Olympic bump

It has been speculated by various sources at various points that there is some benefit to the Conservative side in putting off an election until after the Olympics in Vancouver. That the resulting surge of patriotism will result in a similar surge of optimism about the country and support for the government that happens to be in charge at that time.

This perhaps sounds very plausible. Or perhaps it doesn’t. Either way, it would be nice, just this once, to sort out whether there’s any data to support this particular adventure in amateur strategizing.

Canada has twice hosted the Olympics.

In 1976, the Summer Games were in Montreal and Pierre Trudeau’s Liberals were in power. We won five silver and six bronze medals. But it would be another three years, though, before Trudeau faced the prospect of re-election. And when he did, his side was promptly dispatched in favour of Joe Clark’s Progressive Conservatives, who promptly threw away their hold on government and were replaced by Trudeau’s Liberals.

In 1988, Calgary hosted the Winter Olympics with Brian Mulroney’s Conservatives in government. We won two silver and three bronze. And we had an election that fall. Mulroney’s side held on to power, but claimed 42 fewer seats than it had in 1984.

Still, perhaps the Olympics had momentarily boosted Mulroney’s fortunes. Perhaps Mulroney would have suffered outright defeat had it not been for the country’s infatuation with Elizabeth Manley.

Well, here, courtesy of Carleton’s archive of public opinion research, are the findings of Gallup for 1988 under “preferred political party.” The exact dates of each survey don’t appear to be available beyond the month, but given the results and the question here, it wouldn’t seem to matter. The Olympics that year were held in mid-February. The federal vote was held in mid-November.

Liberal 27.6
NDP 23.4
PC 23.1

Liberal 31.4
NDP 24.3
PC 21.1

Liberal 27.6
NDP 24.8
PC 21.1

Liberal 29.0
PC 23.9
NDP 21.3

Liberal 27.0
NDP 22.0
PC 19.7

Liberal 30.3
PC 24.2
NDP 22.9

JULY (1)
Liberal 27.5
PC 26.7
NDP 19.7

JULY (2)
Liberal 28.6
PC 26.2
NDP 20.8

Liberal 27.9
PC 26.8
NDP 23.4

Liberal 28.4
PC 24.0
NDP 19.9

PC 30.9
Liberal 21.6
NDP 14.7

PC 31.4
Liberal 22.9
NDP 20.5

PC 30.7
NDP 21.6
PC 17.9

PC 29.0
Liberal 23.4
NDP 13.9

Liberal 40.3
PC 28.8
NDP 19.4

Liberal 32.7
PC 31.9
NDP 24.6

PC 36.6
Liberal 33.5
NDP 20.8

Now, it is entirely possible that data exists, somewhere else, that supports the original thesis. It’s even possible that, if you look deeper into Gallup’s data, there is better evidence of some Olympic bump. On both counts, I welcome, nay plead for, any applicable precedent.

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