09 June 2015

A lot can change in three months #nlpoli

The Liberals and the Conservatives dropped in the most recent Corporate Research Associates poll and all that vote went to the New Democrats.

Let’s look at the party choice numbers without the skew of looking only at decideds.  Here’s a chart showing the CRA results since the last general election, including Monday’s numbers.

Red = Liberal

Orange = NDP

Blue  = Conservative

Thin blue/black = Undecided,  do not know,  won't answer.

The Liberals

Liberals are down four points from 39 to 35, which is, incidentally exactly what your humble e-scribbler said on Sunday would be a likely result.

Based on the more recent CRA polling, there'd be no shock of the Liberals were in the mid 30s. That's where they have been for most of the past year and a bit. 

In itself, that’s no big deal.  The Liberals are still far ahead of either of their opponents.  The problem is that they have dropped seven points in two quarters.  The CRA version has it at 10 points.  That’s a significant decline, either way.

It reflects two things.

First, the Liberals have had a bad six months thanks to a string of goofs and gaffes, mostly by leader Dwight Ball. 

Second – and more importantly – it reflects the fact that the Liberals haven’t done anything else. They have ignored the strategic, political need to build a case for people to vote for the Liberals beyond just “we are not them over there.” 

All the small ball crap they’ve been getting on with simply doesn’t resonate with people.  That’s because none of it has been on issues the public are genuinely concerned about as vote-driving issues.

And when the Liberals have talked about important things,  like some health-related policies,  they haven’t done anything to make the world aware of it.  Well, that is outside the world of people who went to expensive fundraising dinners.  Nothing on the website.  No follow-up information of any kind.

That’s made it easy for the media and others to raise doubts about the Liberal preparedness. Those sorts of things seem to have stuck in people’s minds. Things like the Liberal promise to roll back a proposed hike in the provincial sales tax gained them exactly nothing.

The challenge for the Liberals is to turn that around.  They’ve hired a new communications staffer and that should help. But the problem here isn’t with communications:  it’s in strategic political direction.

Everyone will now be looking to the August CRA poll that comes out in early September.  It will be the last one before the general election, now set for the ridiculous date on Monday, November 30.  The Liberals need to stop the slide if only to avoid the chatterati from wondering if the party really can make it to the end of November and still win.

Before you start protesting that everything is fine in Liberal land, just think of it this way. The reality of what is going on behind the scenes isn’t the issue here. What we are talking about is the perception of things among the people who drive public opinion.  The appearance of a slide will send the party into the election with questions about its potential to lose.  It should be heading into the election with everyone  - except Liberal partisans – assured of a Liberal victory.

You don’t think these changes matter?

Consider that the Liberals have dropped seven points in six months.  The New Democrats are up seven in three months.  Extend that trend forward to September.  Then you’d have the Liberals down from 35 to 31.

 The New Democrats, meanwhile, would move from 16 to 23. It isn’t unusual at all to see shift in votes during an election a lot larger than the one needed to close the eight point gap you’d have at that point between the NDP and the Liberals.

A lot would depend, in that scenario, on the outcome of the federal election. The provincial special balloting will start before the federal polling day even with this November 30 date. The provincial NDP can get a huge boost in campaign horsepower and messaging from their federal campaign and that could make the difference in seats in metro St. John’s, for example.  Seats the Liberals would have won handily in an election with the numbers from even three months ago might now be up for grabs.

The Conservatives

“Knowing that we came through a budget where we had to make some very difficult decisions,”  Premier Paul Davis told reporters on Monday,  “ I expected to see that we would take a drop in the polls, that the numbers would reduce." 

That’s a pretty pessimistic view for a guy whose party basically held onto its satisfaction numbers and only dropped two percentage points in party choice.

Go back and look at the chart. The Tories have been hovering around the 20% mark since early 2013. in the CRA poll.

Davis’ glumness likely isn’t caused by the poll.  Davis announced on Monday that the next election will be held on St. Andrew’s Day.  For those who don’t know,  St. Andrew was reputedly crucified on an X-shaped cross.  Maybe there’s something in that imagery of death and X shapes  that Davis finds unsettling, given that the polls suggest he is headed for almost certain defeat.

Davis also announced on Monday that he will be changing the provincial election laws to remove the requirement to hold a by-election in the event of a resignation within six months of a general election.  We know of at least one Tory itching to quit.  There are rumblings of another and even Davis knows that any members of his caucus who are already pensionable  might bail on him long before election day.

The New Democrats

That’s MQO polling for 2012.

At their peak in the days right after the Bill 29 affray,  the province’s New Democrats surged to more that 40% in MQO polling.  They were miles ahead of everyone else.

That didn’t last.

The public support for the NDP started to fall long before the caucus split in late 2013.

Look at that set of polling numbers.

Notice that all three parties were higher in January 2013 than the New Democrats are in the most recent CRA polling.  The New Democrats have quite a ways to go to climb back to the point where they might even dream of the heights reached in 2012. The situation in the summer of 2012 is very different from the one two years later.  The party is rebuilding after a devastating and lengthy leadership crisis that only ended a few months ago.

That said, the NDP jump in the second quarter of 2015 bodes well for the New Democrats into the future. If the current trend continues or even if the Conservatives suffer a loss of a number of strong candidates through resignation, the New Democrats could well wind up as the official opposition after the November general election.

People looking at the New Democrats have to bear in mind a few recent trends that will likely impact NDP performance in the next general election.

First of all,  the public has already crossed over the point where they had some reservations about the Dippers.  They’ve elected a couple of NDP members of parliament and, as the MQO polling shows, the NDP were actually in first place for a good chunk of 2012. 

Second of all,  notice that Blue voters go to the Orange team in Newfoundland and Labrador.  The three parties in this province don’t split along left-centre-right ideological lines. These days, there’s not a lot of space between the parties on most issues. The Dippers and the Tories are actually closer ideologically than the Conservatives and the Liberals on some issues.

That said, if the Conservatives suffer a collapse in the fall, odds are good their votes will go to the NDP.  They will move to the NDP as long as the NDP looks better than the Conservatives.

Third of all,  remember what has happened in Quebec and Alberta.  People will vote for New Democrats as long as they have a candidate who is breathing.  People can get snobbish about NDP candidates but the truth is they are no better or worse than candidates for other parties.  Voters will back them for them the same as the vote for shitty candidates from other parties. 

There’s a touch of sarcasm in that. The NDP will likely have some very good candidates in the fall. As they rebound in the polls, the NDP might actually start to get candidates who might have gone to the Conservatives. In other words,  don't underestimate the NDP.

People will be watching the August CRA poll to see what happens to the Liberals.  They will also be watching intently to see what happens to the New Democrats. 

A lot can happen in three months.  Just look at the past three months to see just how much.