17 October 2015

DHDM 2: St. John’s East #nlpoli #cdnpoli

If the numbers from the Liberal campaign in St. John’s East are right,  then New Democratic Party incumbent Jack Harris is in serious trouble.

Asked if which candidate they would vote for,  the 1,000 respondents to the IVR survey conducted over 48 hours late last week picked Harris by one point over his Liberal rival Nick Whalen.

This would be remarkable on a number of levels, not the least of which is that Whalen is a relative unknown in politics.  Harris, by contrast,  first got elected in 1987.  Whalen was 15 at the time.

Harris is a likeable fellow and his appeal cuts across party lines.  That broad appeal is why he has won the two federal elections he’s been in by sizeable margins:  74% of votes cast in 2008 and 71% in 2011.  That second huge victory shows that the internal feud within the Conservatives had nothing to do with his victory in 2008.

But now we apparently have Harris running neck and neck with Whelan in a race everyone, including Liberal insiders, figured Harris could phone in.  NTV gave air time to candidates in Avalon and St. John’s South – Mount Pearl.  Both ridings are reputedly in contention.  But NTV couldn’t find time to fit in the candidates in St. John’s East.

Pollsters have surveyed the other districts and the media have flagged St. John’s South- Mount Pearl as a fight to watch.  But St. John’s East?  Jack’s cake walk.

Apparently not.  Even without this poll from the Liberals,  a keen observer would have noticed that Harris has been pounding the radio spots on VOCM the past few days. That’s not something a comfortable incumbent would be doing. 

And anyone who watched Harris and Whelan in the CBC debate would have seen Harris having a hard time, on occasion.  Mostly, Whelan and Harris traded sharp points. 

What’s most interesting in the Liberal numbers are the questions about preference for prime minister and party preference.  For PM,  52% wanted Justin Trudeau, compared to 21% for Tom Mulcair.  For party,  49.5% chose Liberal while 21.3% picked NDP.

That looks a bit odd, but if you think it, through, the numbers are not necessarily so unusual.  For one thing, the MQO poll in SJSMP  found a similar phenomenon.  More voters in SJSMP wanted Trudeau as Prime Minister than were showing an intention of voting Liberal or New Democrat.

That means that voters who like the local candidate want another party to form the federal government.  There’s nothing necessarily odd about it, especially in a district like St. John’s East where Harris comes to the race with enormous personal popularity. 

The different responses to the questions also suggest that there’s a disconnection in how voters see the candidates and their parties.  Basically, they don’t link the two.  That is weird, especially since Harris had been the long-serving leader of the provincial New Democrats before going federal. 

On the face of it, though, people seem to think of Harris as a thing on his own while they consider Tom Mulcair and the NDP as something else. They like Harris significantly more than either Tom Mulcair or the NDP. The Mulcair versus Trudeau thing seems to be a reflection of the national race.

That leaves us with a potentially fascinating set of questions about how the NDP and the Liberals ran their campaigns in the northeast Avalon.  If the Liberals had given more resources to Nick Whalen, might he have done better earlier on?  Certainly if Whalen had campaigned earlier on or done something to raise his profile,  it seems this might have been a sharper fight earlier on.  After all, we might be too close to the end for the Liberals to pull out all their potential vote on Monday.

If the New Democrats had given Jack Harris a stronger regional role might that have made a difference?  Parties have been running different regional campaigns across the country for years. Playing up Jack Harris might have been the ticket. Of course, it would have challenged the sort of campaign the federal parties have been locked into lately.

But if these poll numbers are right,  Jack Harris would have been a more saleable commodity than Mulcair. In the aftermath of the “Newfie” comment,  people might have blown it off faster if the NDP had deployed Harris with a different message as a the local attack leader.  Harris might have been able to change the channel.

All told, the riding to watch on Monday would seem to be St. John’s East.  If these Liberal polling numbers are right,  we could see a massive upset in a seat that everyone – your humble e-scribbler included - figured Jack Harris would win in a heartbeat. If Whalen wins, what happens in Avalon and SJSMP should just be a passing comment in election summaries. 

Even if Harris wins, unless he crushes Whalen along the lines of his previous victories,  the bigger the vote Whalen pulls the more of a problem the NDP will have next time out. 

Frankly, though, if these polling numbers are right, there’s a dead heat in St. John’s.  And if there’s a dead heat, incumbent Jack Harris is dead meat.