09 July 2015

The long summer campaign #nlpoli

Liberal leader Dwight Ball kicked off a 10 week campaign swing around the province this week.

It’s basically a tour of the local festivals coupled that the party leaders do every summer.  This one is a bit different.  Ball has a few planned speeches mixed in there somewhere and Ball will be driving a white car with a big picture of him on the side.

As the Telegram’s James McLeod reported on Tuesday, Ball told reporters that the tour will “be about the economy and jobs. It’ll be about health care. It’ll be about education and many other things.”  Those are the top three issues with the public as identified by public opinion polls.
Mostly, Ball said, the aim is to have a “grassroots” summer of meeting with people and talking about the issues that affect the province — and talking about how the current government is letting people down. [Telegram]
Mostly, the tour will be about real consultation.

What will be most interesting this summer is to see where the party leaders go and what they talk about.
The leaders should spend more of their time in the close races or where they’ve got a shot at changing numbers than. Half the seats in the new configuration are east of Goobies:  that is, they are on the Avalon peninsula.  The other half are in the rest of the island and in Labrador.Abacus regions NL

If you use the latest Abacus numbers as a guide, then you’d expect all three party leaders to spend more time east of Goobies than west of it.  The Liberals are miles ahead in every region off the Avalon.  The only exception is western Labrador, where the Dippers are strong so we should expect to see both Earle McCurdy and Dwight Ball in Labrador West a fair bit.

Other than that, they should be hanging out near St. John’s and right in town.  Abacus has the race closest in the Avalon and St. John’s.  And in truth,  the closest numbers of all are in metro St. John’s.

The Tories need to shore up the seats that they might win, which are all in the metro region.  The NDP need to push hard because the best chance they have to pick up seats is in St. John’s.  And the Liberals need to push hard to hang onto their seats in the metro region and pick up a few new ones.

As for what they will talk about,  we should hear lots about the economy and  health care if the Abacus poll is any guide.  Parties should line up with popular opinion.  That’s typically what parties do.  Those two issues are the big ones is pretty well any recent poll.

That might not be what we get, though.  In 2011,  the parties spent a huge amount of time talking about Muskrat Falls.  The project never topped any list of top issues in a public poll.  it never cracked the top three or even the top five.  And yet the parties went on and on about it.  They talked about it even though all three parties supported the project.

Take a look at an interesting paper by Kelly Blidook and Matthew Kerby if you want to get a sense of how the parties handled policy discussions in 2011.  The researchers mapped public opinion and the party positions and then compared the two.

blidook and kerby 2011
That dark spot represents the spot where the largest mass of public opinion sat, in the way that Blidook and Kerby mapped public opinion.  Think of it like a topographical map.The slightly larger ring is the 75th percentile.  The next ring out represents where 50% of respondents were. 

Notice that all three parties are in that 50th percentile.  Not in the centre or even slightly off the centre.The NDP were closest to the 75th percentile ring but both the Liberals and NDP appear to be about the same distance away from the darkest ring.
Both parties finished with almost exactly the same number of seats.  The NDP had 24% of the popular vote, while the Liberals had 19%.  The Conservatives – farthest of any party from the centre of public opinion and only barely on that 50th percentile area got 56% of the votes that turned out and won 37 seats.

That doesn’t match up with what you would expect based on how people think elections go.  That doesn’t mean that the elections here are right or wrong.  It’s just interesting to see the outcome when Blidook and Kerby applied a particular new technique to try and understand party policy and public opinion in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Interestingly,  the official figures are what help Blidook and Kerby point to the inefficiency of the NDP vote or, as they put it, the problem with the first-past-the-post electoral system.  What they are pointing to is a discrepancy between the vote share and the number of seats. Dippers came in second in vote share but third in number of seats.

If you look at the votes as a share of the eligible vote, you get a slightly different perspective.  Eligible vote would be the number of people officially listed as being eligible to cast a ballot.  The NDP got 14% of the eligible vote and the Liberals got 11%.  The Tories were still way out ahead of that but they got 32% of the eligible vote and 37 seats.

The discrepancy between the Liberals and NDP isn’t all that big, if you look at it this way.  The NDP still come out one seat behind the Liberals but their percentage of votes was not as great if you look at all the votes they could have received.

What that suggests is that it might be more informative to look more closely at the seats themselves.  The NDP base is in St. John’s where they would need to rack up more votes to win.  After all, the population in the metro districts is higher than some of the rural seats.  That just a suggestion, by the way, not a statement of anything approaching a fact.  It’s just pointing to something that might be worth thinking about.

It’s one of several things we should be thinking about and watching now that the election campaign is in full – even if unofficial – swing.