09 September 2016

A clear course to dangerous political shoals #nlpoli

Lots of political activists are looking at the latest CRA quarterly poll.  The Liberals think it is great that they are rebounding so quickly.  Supporters of the other two parties think it is wonderful the three parties are tied and Paul Davis thinks it is great he is doubling Dwight Ball in popularity.

And sure, you can see that if you look at the numbers.  Here's the usual SRBP chart, updated to include these figures.  Bear in mind,  we've given the party choice here as a share of all respondents.  That puts the Grits at 23 with the Dippers and Cons tied at 22.

Reporters have been talking up the Liberal numbers, saying the party has rebounded.  And Paul Davis is vowing to stay on and fight the next general election based on this poll.

All lovely stuff and all of it really superficial.

The Muddle

All three parties are in a muddle in the low 20s.  That is precisely where they were in April 2016.  The drop in the middle between those two dates is within the margin of error of any of the polls.  There's nothing in these changes over the past nine months that anyone should think of as what political insiders would call "good."

The low 20s means that each of the parties has their rock-solid core of fanatics plus a very small number of others.  Neither of the parties is garnering any support from the majority of residents of the province.

That's not surprising because - in classic local fashion - the party in power is in trouble.  The other two are content to stand aside and let them fall rather than actually stand for something.  It's the same passive aggressive way the parties have run for the past 15 years or so.  It's just a variation on what they did when the Tories were wildly popular, just flipped around.  Back then the Liberals and NDP didn;t stand for anything either.  They just kept silent and went along with what was popular.  Now they are just doing what the Liberals did after 2011.  They are just standing around while the others slide.

Liberals Line Up

When you look at the Liberal Party choice number as a share of all respondents,, an interesting thing shows up.  Only 19% of the population are even vaguely satisfied with the government.  Only 17% of respondents thought Dwight Ball was the best choice to be Premier.  And 23% would vote Liberals. Draw a line and you can make them fit pretty easily.

Dwight Ball will probably have an easy time winning the leadership vote as the fall convention based on that kind of consistency.


Everybody is vulnerable

A committed candidate could challenge Dwight Ball for the leadership and beat him or rattle his cage pretty badly.   The timelines are tight to the convention but it is possible.  The thing is that the likely challengers will wait and see what happens to Dwight on his own. There's that passive-aggressive thing again.

With numbers like these, though, all three parties are vulnerable to an aggressive play.  All three parties are barely distinguishable one from the other both in absolute terms of in the way voters perceive them.  That's why they are all tied up - yet again - with a plurality of voters in the undecided or won;t say category.  There's also a chunk of soft vote in each of the Liberal camps.

The right campaign could split the current political landscape wide open and reduce one or two of the current parties to irrelevance in a heartbeat.  All it would take is someone interested in doing it.

Davis and Kent

Paul Davis thinks he is salted away.  True, the guy is running well ahead of his party and is the only party leader to be in that spot.  But seriously, 34% is hardly a run-away endorsement.  Paul Davis owes his current popularity to Dwight Ball. Frankly, Ball's statement in response to the poll results is so out-to-lunch, odds are Ball will quit within the next 12 months.  That will give the Conservatives a whole new set of problems to face.

The Conservatives need to revamp their party and their program.  Davis could run again.  The odds are against it, unless he can serious change direction soon.  Davis is vulnerable and there are already signs of a bad split between Davis and Steve Kent.  The only thing Kent has more of than hair gel is ambition. Expect some dramatic shifts in Tory ranks upwards of 18 months out.  Kent isn't about to wait forever for his shot at the Premier's chair.

The Adventures of Garden Gnome Earle

The NDP and their leader have about the same level of public support.  They have no money, no plan to develop their party, and nothing to distinguish them from the other parties.   A well-constructed campaign could collapse their support among progressive voters concerned that the province is headed toward bankruptcy and that the NDP is really blind to the implications for the most vulnerable in our province. NDP boss Earle McCurdy is past his political best-before date.  His summer program of visiting every library in the province netted the party precisely nothing.  This poll confirms it.

Still to come

The financial update in October will be the next big indicator of Dwight Ball's political future.

After that, we should watch the Liberal convention.  While it looks like Ball will win,  the party will have to release the results of the vote.   The size of his vote will tell you a lot about his longevity.

Then there are the bond rating agencies.  The provincial government's rating is already the worst of any provincial government in Canada.  Any further cuts will severely limit the government's ability to borrow.  That's the kind of financial crisis that would test a strong administration. We can only watch and see what would happen to an administration that has severe problems (the polls show it) and no intention to deal with them.