Anyone who wants to get insight into the political landscape in Newfoundland and Labrador need look no further than the Abacus poll commissioned by VOCM, the first bit of which was released on Thursday.
Provincial Conservatives may be running around consoling themselves with all sorts of notions but the reality of their position is starkly revealed by Abacus. Don’t look at the party choice numbers. Although that’s bad enough news for Conservatives and New Democrats, that’s the simple stuff. Look instead at all the data below that.
Ahead across the board
The Liberals are ahead in every region of the province. They are ahead of the Tories by 22 points in Labrador and western Newfoundland. They are leading the Conservatives by 13 points in St. John’s and the Avalon. And in eastern and central, the Liberals are ahead of the Conservatives by 11 points.
The Tory slide may have stopped and the Liberals aren’t getting any stronger, but realistically, the Liberals couldn’t expect to get more than the half of likely voters they already have. That’s because the Liberals have not only held onto their own supporters in 2011, but they’ve also taken equally large chunks out of the Conservatives’ and New Democrats’ former voters.
The Liberals have the largest pool of potential voters – 66% of respondents - while the Conservatives are running second in that question. Taken together with the vote shifting, you need only look to what Abacus said on that point to get the picture absolutely clearly:
While 52% of eligible voters would consider voting PC, it faces a popular Liberal Party with a substantially larger pool of accessible voters (66%). Moreover, the Liberals have an advantage on all the key issues voters think are most important to the province.
Ahead on Top Issues
And that last one is the clincher.
The Conservatives have made a huge deal about accountability and transparency since 2003. Since 2012, they’ve been driving it even harder, right down to the recent umpteenth oversight committee on Muskrat Falls.
The Conservatives have also been big on leadership. They’ve got it supposed and no one else can compare.
Well, voters clearly disagree. Only 13% of respondents to the Abacus poll picked the Conservatives as the party best able to deal with leadership and accountability.
The Liberals are also ahead on jobs and the economy, but only by nine points. They are also ahead on health care, but there the lead is 15 points.
Whoever told the Tories to talk about accountability clearly didn’t have solid polling to back it up. Either that or the accountability campaign has failed in an historic way. One thing is sure: the Conservatives need to stop talking about accountability and leadership now. They don’t own those issues and have no discernable chance of turning them around. Any Conservative leadership candidate talking or tweeting about consultation and increased accountability - that would be all three of them - is just in the wrong spot. Voters aren’t listening.
The Conservatives could consider switching their focus to the economy or health care, but even there, they’d be starting from a deficit. The up-side to those issues is that they are not quite so far behind as on leadership and accountability and the pool of unsure voters is large enough that they could pick up ground. The down side is that the Conservatives are the incumbents who have spent ungodly sums on both and yet the public is already giving them second place on the issues.
Again, though, even if they shift their messaging, that leadership and accountability demon just sucks the life out of any initiative the Conservatives might come up with in those areas. It’s a hard spot to be in, but, as in 2003, other parties have been there before and felt the same pain.
The most the Conservatives might be able to do is hold on beyond October this year, by which time the majority of the current caucus will be pensionable. After that, they won’t care so much about winning or losing. That sucks if you are someone like Sandy Collins or Vaughn Granter but Kent, Ottenheimer, or Davis could walk away from even a Kim Campbell-style debacle with a nice annuity coming to them.
In one way or another, that’s the fundamental problem the Tories have had for some time now.. as SRBP has noted before, the Conservatives need to change but the party continues to be dominated by people with a vested interest in keeping things as they are. Those people just want to talk about change not actually do it. Frank Coleman and the Virginia Waters fiascos came out of exactly that crowd of people and by the looks of things, that is where the party will head again.
So yeah, the Abacus poll is bad news for the Conservatives. That’s not just what your humble e-scribbler is saying, it’s pretty much what Abacus said as well.
It’s not over yet. Friday’s poll is likely not going to bring any good news to the Conservatives either.