07 September 2012

Who wants to play Brutus? #nlpoli

Just as they ate up the Corporate Research Associates’ quarterly poll when the numbers favoured the local Conservatives,  the local media have reported the latest CRA numbers with equal enthusiasm now that the Tory numbers are lousy.

To put it simply, the numbers confirmed the general thrust of two recent polls and the local media have reported them faithfully. As CBC put it:

Kathy Dunderdale and Newfoundland and Labrador's Progressive Conservatives continue to lose ground among voters, a new tracking poll suggests.

The  CRA trend fits with the Environics poll from last June.  If you take out the CRA distortion and look at the party choice numbers as a share of all respondents, CRA and Environics are both showing the Tories in the low 30s.

Environics and CRA have the Liberals in roughly the same spot.

The difference was in the NDP.  CRA has a higher undecided than CRA and a lower number for the NDP.  Environics was the opposite.

The big news in the latest CRA poll is the leader choice numbers.  Undecided and none of the above combined went down from the last quarterly poll and Kathy Dunderdale went down as well: 37%, down from 44%.  NDP leader Lorraine Michael went from 23% to 31%.  Given that the poll’s margin of error is 3.5 percentage points, the two leaders could be tied.

Kathy Dunderdale now has a much bigger political problem than she had earlier in the year.  Her numbers haven’t improved. And as much as her office can rely on the standard line that real leaders don’t government by polls, the fact those words came from a prepared statement and not Dunderdale’s lips shows them for the smoke they are.

Everyone knows that low polling numbers show that people are very unhappy with Dunderdale and her party.  Dunderdale and her party will have a hard time getting political support for anything they want to do.  Selling the troubled, costly Muskrat Falls project, for example, will only get more difficult in the weeks ahead.

The province’s tight financial straits limit the Tories’ ability to spend their way back to popularity. They will have to limit public spending, which inevitably will mean potential layoffs or wage freezes in the public service.  That will tick off the public sector unions and increase the sort of discontent that will drive more voters to other political parties.

No one is naive enough to believe Kathy Dunderdale is not worried about her polling numbers, not even the people who typed up the statement about what real leaders do and e-mailed it to news media.

Not so very long ago, a mere two years ago, the provincial Tories could do no wrong.  People in a political party that falls so far from public favour so quickly usually get very nervous.  The longer the slide continues, the more nervous they get.  The longer the slide goes on, more people will get more nervous.

To people outside, they will talk bravely. Privately they will murmur about the need to change things.  All that chatter will distract the party leader and the cabinet from their job of running the province.  And the longer the numbers stay low, the more likely it will be that some people will talk privately about how much better it would be with another leader. 

They might even start to cast around for someone new.  No one would be surprised to find out that some Conservatives are already sketching out retirement scenarios. Maybe some are checking for leader-wannabes already. After all, Kathy Dunderdale was never anyone’s first choice as leader.  She has always been nothing more than the beneficiary of a backroom deal. Kathy Dunderdale has always ruled not because she won a contest but because others agreed to let her have the job.  As her political popularity wanes, so too will she have less and less of a grip on her caucus.

No politician in the Tory caucus with any sense would volunteer to play Brutus at this juncture.  But make no mistake: there are always plenty of lean and hungry types about in any political party. They, the truly ambitious,  will profess their love for the current Caesar whenever they get the chance.  The louder the profession of faith, the deeper the ambition.

The serious players know that now is not the time to move. 

They will bide their time.

The Ides of March comes soon enough.


Update.  Here’s the e-mailed statement, via CBC:

"Responsible leaders do not govern based on polls. We will continue to govern according to the vision, principles and platform on which we were elected," Dunderdale's statement said.

"Our government remains committed to working for the people of Newfoundland and Labrador and ensuring that the province's economic and social success continues to grow."

When polls are high, the stock response is that  - responsible leaders don’t pay attention to polls, harrumph, harrumph - the numbers confirm the government is on the right track and the people appreciate it.

When the polls are down, you just get the harrumph and the self-congratulatory bullshit about what responsible leaders do.