“Premier Dunderdale has the highest personal popularity of all Atlantic Canadian Premiers” the Tory faithful tweeted and retweeted on Thursday night to help ward off the chill of recent polls. It was the 21st century equivalent of clicking their ruby slippers together and whispering that there was no place like home.
Sadly for the darlings, they did not have Toto and this is not Kansas, anyway.
The toll the Tories mentioned came from Angus-Reid. In it, 46% of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians approved of Kathy Dunderdale’s performance while 44% disapproved. She may score the highest of the Atlantic Premiers but with the population evenly divided on her, she is not doing all that well. As your humble e-scribbler reminded them, what they were really saying is that their hero du jour just didn’t suck as much as Darrell Dexter. Big deal.
The reality the Tory twaddle-mongers were trying to avoid is that their party sits at 34% of respondents in the most recent CRA poll. The NDP are at 23% and the Liberals are at 13%. The CRA poll reminded them that Danny has left the building and neither he nor his peculiar magic are coming back any time soon.
Both the local Tories and the NDP don’t see those numbers. They see the NDP at an all-time high of 33%. What they don’t see is that the situation is actually much more precarious than it seems. The hole the Tories are in is really a bit deeper than it appears.
To start with on our little journey into the ground, let us first of all look at the CRA polling numbers adjusted to show party choice as a share of all respondents.
Let’s see if we can figure out what the trends might mean.
To start at the bottom, the Liberals are moving along the same line. let’s leave them at 13%. The NDP have been moving up by about two percentage points every quarter. Let’s move them from 23 to 25. The Conservatives have dropped an average of about seven points over the past couple of quarters. Let’s move them down by that much to 27.
Since the NDP picked up two of that drop, the rest goes to undecided: 30% becomes 35%.
The NDP would now be a mere two percentage points away from the Tories. For all intents, the two would be tied.
That’s how close things are. Even the CRA distortion of describing only the decideds can’t mask the results if you just carry on the current trending. They’d show the Tories at 41% down from 49% and the NDP at 38% up from 33%, using the same starting numbers. Neat, eh?
So what does that mean in practice?
Well, CRA numbers are useless, for the most part, so they mean as little really as they ever have. Pretty well all these horserace polls are basically about marketing for the firm. We won’t even get into the methodological problems and other issues with them.
The problem for the Tories is that they have created a mythology about themselves based on polls they helped to goose. People believe in them. CRA went along with the whole exercise. That belief is what drives the response. The response to the most recent poll is anxiety in some bits of the Tory camp and wild enthusiasm among the NDP.
The NDP will just get on with their plans. The Tories will probably spend as much time disputing among themselves what the polls means that they will have a hard time doing the stuff to counteract the perception of a downward spiral.
You’ll probably see the most Tory anxiety in St. John’s. That’s where the Tories took a huge political hit last fall. It’s also where the NDP is ramping up to take a run at city council, currently dominated by Tories. These are the guys who are on the front line, in effect, and they are looking over their shoulder wondering if the Tories in the provincial party really understand the threat they are feeling on the front.
Then they see Kathy Dunderdale’s comments to reporters and know the answer:
"I would go to an election tomorrow on these numbers," she said.
"You know, these aren't bad numbers. Look where my opposition is."