16 September 2015

Political Calculations #nlpoli

As you look ahead to the fall election, the bigger political addicts among you are likely trying to figure out different aspects like how the parties might run the campaign.

We got a clue this week with the debate story.  Apparently the front-runner Liberals never thought of forcing the media outlets to pool together and have one debate.  Instead they took the requests one-by-one until they hit their quota of two.  Anyone who came along after that, including the largest private radio network, were shit-out-of-luck.

The episode reveals a curious bit of Liberal political strategy but it made your humble e-scribbler think about a bunch of other calculations that we should likely all keep in mind.

Let’s look at the numbers.

There are 40 seats in the House of Assembly.  As it turns out 20 of them are on the Avalon peninsula and 20 of them are west of Goobies, so to speak.

In order to form a majority government, a party needs to have 22 seats.  That gives them one for a Speaker and a clear majority after that, if everyone shows up.  Anything beyond 22 is gravy if your goal is just to hit the bare minimum.

West of Goobies


The numbers are a wee bit old but the regional breakdown from the June Abacus Data poll are the most recent figures we have for provincial voter intentions in Newfoundland and Labrador.

The Liberals are ahead of everyone else by an enormous margin across the island.

labradorIn Labrador,  the Liberals are ahead of their nearest rivals by a margin of two to one.  The New Democrats are particularly strong in western Labrador.  They’ve held that seat before and it wasn’t a one-off.

For the purposes of our little calculation here,  let’s allow the NDP will win Labrador West.  If you look at the rest of those numbers, it is not looking too good for anyone else.  Let’s go out a bit on a limb and say - without using any seat calculating formula – that the  Liberals get 17 out of the 20 seats west of Goobies f those numbers hold.

To recap:

Magic Number = 22

Likely Liberal = 17

That leaves us looking for a mere five seats.

On the Avalon

The numbers are a lot closer on the Avalon. Avalon The Liberals are still in front but the NDP are only nine points behind. The Tories are at 24%.

We don’t have any other numbers to compare these with but intuitively they sound reasonable.   The NDP are strong in metro St. John’s and the Avalon is the traditional Conservative bedrock.

As it is right now, the Liberals have five seats on the Avalon.  All the incumbents are likely to win re-election.  So without doing anything else,  the Liberals are poised to form a majority government. It would take some sort of radical shift of the kind that seldom happens in a couple of months to change that.

If the Liberals had another five seats beyond that, they’d be more comfortable.  That would give the Liberals 27 seats in total, with the other 13 seats split between the Conservatives and the New Democrats. 


If the Liberals wanted to win more than the five Avalon seats they currently have, they’d need to wage a pretty heavy campaign there.  That would include platform planks to appeal to voters on the Avalon, lots of appearances by the leader, and plenty of advertising.  You’d expect the party to already be campaigning heavily, in fact.

Interesting then, that the Liberals haven’t done very much to date  from the party level.  Individual candidates have been working hard but the party is pretty well silent.  What the leader has been doing, for example, appears to be as far from St. John’s as you can get.  That’s not to say that they are following a minimalist strategy. We don’t know what sort of strategy the Liberals will run  It’s just curious that their generally low-key approach is consistent with what you’d expect from a plan to try and coast across the finish line based on the lead the Liberals built up a while ago. If the Liberals were following a minimalist strategy, they’d also have to hold a bunch of other beliefs to support it.  The Liberals would have to believe the other parties are so far out of the game in cash and organization that they can’t do anything to catch up.  In other words, the Liberals would have to believe that the recent polls are just not right.  There’s something for you to check out the next time you talk to a Liberal activist.

Doing the Strategic Sums

Your humble e-scribbler wouldn’t have said any of that until recently, but after a while, the evidence starts to make you rethink.  It’s like the potential for the NDP to pick up a few seats in St. John’s. They didn’t actually climb in the last CRA poll and there is still quite a distance separating the parties provincial in CRA’s polling. So last week, there didn’t seem to be much of a chance for the NDP to climb.

But then you have the debate gaffe in which the Liberals turned down debate invitations from all but two media outlets because time didn’t allow for all. What seems to have happened is that the Liberals didn’t have a media strategy of their own.  They just let the media come to them piecemeal, took two invites, and then declined the rest.

The alternative never seems to have crossed anyone’s mind.  All it took was for the party to say that there was no time for the piecemeal approach.  That would be unfair to the media outlets and to the voters.  Put the onus for sorting out the invitations on the media themselves. They’ve done it before. They’d have done it again.

What the Liberals have done is given up the chance to get the coverage from VOCM and Rogers.  The Liberal head shed may have reasoned that they had enough media but that would be a pretty shallow bit of thinking. They need to get coverage every one on the major outlets. Frankly it doesn’t look like anyone thought in terms of coverage and the implications at all.

What the Liberals didn’t need is the gift of a talking point to both their opponents.  The Liberals didn’t need to give VOCM an excuse to tighten access for candidates to their audience.  Like it or not, VOCM has the biggest radio audience in the province. They do carry a chunk of influence.  If your media strategy included the ability to call open line shows, you might not have such an easy time of it once you’ve refused to participate in the network’s debate.

Plus, the Liberals have gifted the other parties with free air time on province-wide radio in the middle of the election campaign to pound the living crap out of Dwight Ball for two hours or however long the debate is. The promotion of the radio debate will remind people the Liberals have decided to stay away and then VO can run the clips of the NDP and Conservatives pounding the crap out of Dwight Ball and the Liberals for as long afterward as they want.  That’s a lot of free anti-Liberal air time courtesy of the Liberals themselves.

Put that together with the Dipper campaign launch in St. John’s West and you have the making a problem in the metro seats for the Liberals. Here’s why that is important and James McLeod at the Telegram picked up on it  in his blog post on Tuesday.

Closer than they appear

It wouldn’t take very much in metro to shift around the political landscape.  According to Abacus, the Dippers are only  nine points behind the Liberals.  The Dippers would need to merely shift five points to change the ground out from under the Liberals in St. John’s and the surrounding areas.  They aren’t likely to win the government in the process, but they could wind up being the opposition:  a very aggressive, motivated opposition.

You see, provincially, they’d have a hard time shifting the points to swing the province as a whole.  But in metro, the numbers are probably even closer than the five points you’d need from the Abacus poll.  Those are old numbers.   Even two or three points could help the Dippers pick up a seat or two extra. In the landscape as it is this week and as it will look the week of the NDP.and Tory Grit-bashing festival on VOCM during the election, those two points are just going to be that much easier to get.

The Dippers don’t even need to win supporters. They just need to hold what they have and get them to the polls.  If the Liberals run a lacklustre campaign and their voters don’t turn out,  the NDP can profit.  That’s more likely if they just look fired up and ready while – for argument sake – the Liberal campaign is off bussing around the bay where the Liberals are already as solid as they would ever get.

The NDP can potentially mine a few votes here and there from disaffected Conservative voters and those Liberals who switched in the CRA polling from Liberal to “undecided.”

The media won’t miss the NDP in 2015 like they did in 2011.  They will be watching the NDP campaign right in their own backyard.  The major media will cover the Dipper campaign effortlessly and be back home for supper. That sort of exposure can offset what the NDP lacks in money and volunteers. 

The big picture of the campaign seems to have been painted.  The Liberals should be able to win a majority government come November. The Dippers are looking much more likely to form the opposition this week than they did last week.  And if the Liberals actually are running something like the minimalist strategy,  the Dipper fortunes are going to get even better.  No one would have even thought such a thing until the Liberals gifted their opponents hours of advertising time in the middle of the campaign to beat on Liberals for as long as they want.