Nowhere has this been more obvious lately than in its second quarter polling in Newfoundland and Labrador.
Report the numbers as CRA released them and you get what CBC and the rest of the conventional media will tell you: big Conservative drop; Liberals and the NDP in a tie, with the NDP down slightly, but within the margin of error for the poll. Liberals up a bunch
Here’s a chart of the CRA party choice numbers from November 2011 to the one released on Monday, using the responses as a share of all, not just the decideds.
The story everyone else is focusing on is the Big Conservative Slide.
That’s old news for SRBP readers who have been tracking the decline in party support for the Conservatives in CRA polling since February 2010. Unfortunately for Conservatives, they’ve been using the CRA numbers that inflate all the results.
Sure the Conservatives are down: 10 percentage points from last quarter, from 28 to 18. That’s a drop of about one third in three months. They are down from 34% in November 2012 and from 46% in CRA’s November 2011 poll.
If you want a sense of what this could mean in seats, then look at labradore.
These kind of numbers in a general election would produce a Conservative Party firmly in control of third place with between seven and 10 seats. Either the Liberals and NDP would be able to form a minority government with between 19 and 21 seats each.
Just to put paid to the idea that the Dippers control the metro region while the grits own the bays, look no further than this sort of trending analysis. It shows significant Dipper gains in parts of the province beyond the Overpass, down the Burin peninsula and heading out to Clarenville and towards central Newfoundland.
The Dippers would also pick up a pair of seats in Labrador.
Even the Conservative bastion of Ferryland the legendary yellow goat would be flirting with the Orange. The Liberals would pick up seats throughout central Newfoundland.
To put that in perspective, the Conservatives took all but four seats in 2007 with 43% of eligible voters backing them.
Undecideds Up and Dippers Dropped
What produced this shift is a combination of two things. First, the Conservative support dropped by 10 points and the NDP support dropped from 29% to 24%. Second, the Liberals picked up six of that and the rest went to the Undecided/Will Not Vote category.
Note, though, that all three parties are within seven points of each other (if you use the Conservatives as the floor) and that’s basically within the total range provided by this poll’s margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.
Then look at the Undecided, now at 35%. It’s been at 30% before so this isn;t an outrageous number. What’s important in this for the parties is that for the past year or more, CRA numbers show the Liberals and NDP are not gaining the bulk of the Conservative support that is bleeding away. There are lots of people – now the largest single block – who just aren’t picking either of the three parties.
This is a huge for the NDP and Liberals that they need to sharpen up. Some research would show them what is going on and give them an indication of how they need to adjust their messaging and position to attract those voters. The fact that neither party has done that or is even considering it is a sign of their internal problems and why the Conservatives are still in power.
Again, that’s nothing new.
This poll just affirms it…if you look at the right numbers.
Another clue to all this is in the leader numbers.
You can see Kathy Dunderdale headed for the basement with an 11 point drop. Lorraine Michael of the NDP is up three, well ahead of her party. Dwight Ball gained seven roughly on par with his party.
Imagine if people knew who Ball was. There’s potential there but Ball will have to start looking like he is an alternative leading a bunch of alternatives if he wants to start getting the Conservatives who are still deserting their party in big numbers. The fact the bulk went to the Undecided category should actually be a sign that the Liberals cannot be passive if they want to win bug in the next election.
Ditto for the NDP. If they’d actually done something in the past year to sharpen up their messaging, the NDP could be at a real 37% instead of 37% made up sizeably of a few clicks of a calculator.
The Figurehead of a Coalition
The Conservatives aren’t out.
Well, they could theoretically come back.
The Conservatives could come back if they didn’t have their own problems. That’s not in the polling as such but it is in the Conservative messaging about the crappy poll numbers.
Check out Jerome Kennedy’s scrum on Monday, via CBC. His initial response to the first question is vague. His next couple of replies rambled around about a message in the poll, which he couldn’t define, and about public dissatisfaction with some issues like the budget or Muskrat Falls.
At about the 1:30 mark, though Kennedy gives us a huge clue to what is happening inside the Conservative cabinet. He’s replying to a question about maybe dumping the leader. They are a team, Kennedy insists. When times are good, the leader gets support. When times are bad he or she gets criticism.
Kathy Dunderdale is not the sort of Premier anyone is used to in Canada. As SRBP has argued since December 2010, she is the figurehead put in place to avoid a leadership contest the Conservatives themselves fear. She has no agenda of her own nor any way of implementing one.
The Conservatives have a collective leadership. Kathy Dunderdale is the figurehead representing the internal coalition inside cabinet. That goes a long way to explaining the number of times since 2010 where she does not seem to have any idea what is going on or, as in the trade talks fiasco, where she was over-ruled on a fundamental issue of policy.
Kathy as Figurehead also explains why she has no definable agenda of her own, as leader, that is different from what has gone on for the past decade. In speeches, Kathy does not talk about her record or the Conservative record since 2010. She starts counting in 2003. That’s not the style of the Premier. That’s what you get from the spokesperson for the group.
In that scenario, the Conservatives won’t dump her until they have some resolution to their internal balance of power. If they think they can find a leader without causing internal rifts, they’ll make a change. Until then, they’ll tough it out. Well, that is, unless Kathy decides to quit herself.
The other problem for the Tories is clear from the general pattern of Kennedy’s scrum. He has no consistent answers. Times are tough and so we get criticism. Except that times are good, counters David Cochrane. Kennedy then launches into another soft shoe routine as he tries to dance away from the question and the implication of his own comments. Later on he talks about listening to people but not revisiting decisions since they are all in the best interest of the province.
They need to change but will stay the course. They will start listening but won’t actually do anything beyond listening. There is a message in the chronic bad polling but Kennedy cannot define it. That’s the kind of incongruity that is neither impressive nor persuasive.
Kennedy continues with the same basic approach throughout the scrum, relying ultimately on the claim that they will just make the right decisions and persuade people by “engaging” them. You can sense at some points that Kennedy and his colleagues pin much hope on the recent Liberal win in BC that defied the polling. Perhaps the Conservatives are infected with the Liberal hope that they just have to wait and magic will, happen.
That too is something SRBP has noted before.
And it is also consistent with a cabinet (party) that is riven internally such that it can only focus on today and, as Kennedy mentions, making the best possible decisions they can (among themselves).
In the future, Kennedy seems to think, magic will happen.
Confident Parrot Update: CBC found Kathy Dunderdale delivering a speech in Clarenville. Polls are not important. She's confident she'll be judged on her record in four years. She's not worried about her caucus and all this is the natural result of tough decisions. Hard to keep the polls up in tough times.
All good stuff, but it is basically the stock line they Conservatives have been using since their polls started falling two years ago. At some point, it wore out but the Conservatives keep using it. This adds to the fundamental Conservative communication problem: the credibility gap.
People don't believe what they say because the gap between what they say and what is going on are two different things. We don't don't govern by polls say the Conservatives even though they demonstrably do.
- On the tough times thing, these aren't tough times. Jerome fell into that hole last night and never got out. Got another incredible excuse?
- On public support in hard times, check out 20 years ago when things were tough. Then check party choice. Compare to the current situation. We'll wait while you pick your chin up.
- The Premier believes people will come to understand everything as she explains herself in speeches and such. Problem: The polls don't show that. The more she talks, the worse the numbers get. The slide has been happening for as long as she has been explaining.
It's a credibility gap thing.