10 September 2016

Best Choice for Premier #nlpoli

Premier Dwight Ball has the lowest leader choice numbers of any Premier in Newfoundland and Labrador since November 2000.

The chart shows the Corporate Research Associates numbers in every quarter for every Premier in that period.

To help situate you in the long sequence,  there are a couple of points marked out.  That first peak is November 2003.  There was a big drop right after as Danny Williams and the Conservatives tried to trim spending.

Notice that next higher peak.  It was February 2005, right after Williams left Ottawa with a cheque for $2.0 billion.

Reading from left to right, the next marked spot is Kathy Dunderdale's low point of 21% in April 2013. Scan slightly left to a peak of about 48 that she hit the previous spring, right before Bill 29. Then go back right and you can see that she recovered quite a bit in the next few months.  Then #darknl hit and things fell apart for the Conservatives.

Keep scanning right and you will see the huge jump in the fall of 2015 as Dwight Ball hit the scene. Then his numbers actually went slightly higher in February.  And then right after the budget,  Ball  plummeted from around 50 to 18. That's the largest quarterly drop for any of the Premiers in the last 16 years.  Ball has stayed there.

In itself,  keeping such a low number for two quarters is unusual.  There's usually been a bit of fluctuation since 2003.  Roger Grimes' leader choice numbers stayed pretty steady around 30% for most of his time in office.  Danny Williams had his ups and downs initially but once Roger Grimes quit (right after Williams' second spike) Williams was far and away the public choice for Premier.

Everyone calls these different things:  approval numbers, popularity, and so on.  You'd be mistaken, though, if you looked on these numbers as something as something superficial. Dwight Ball did that in his prepared statement on the CRA poll.  He said that governing the province is not about politics or popularity.

Well,  governing the province is about those things precisely.  Politics is the authoritative allocation of values, to recycle an old political science definition.  Politics involves people who are asked to make choices about what person or what idea they support.  The definition of popularity includes what people support.  If something or someone is popular, it or she has lots of support.

The CRA question shows a choice people made.  That's what the polling question asks:  given these three leaders, which one do you think would be the best Premier?  You can see fluctuations in the results that line up with events in the province at the time.  New Premier after a party change gets a big jump.  But, as with Williams in 2004,  if the government is doing things folks don't like, the numbers drop.  Dunderdale's numbers dropped radically after Bill 29.  The leader numbers dropped again after darknl.

Dwight Ball's support dropped this spring for a whole bunch of reasons. Reaction to the budget was part of it. The Ed Martin fiasco was another big part of it.  The thing is,  politicians need support to be able to govern effectively.  Public support helps the politician get tough decisions through his cabinet and caucus.  Support helps bolster his position in the face of opposition whether its from other politicians outside his party or with bureaucrats.  

So when you hear about a politician making tough decisions,  consider how much public support he or she has.  A politician with a lot of popular support - like say 50% in a leader choice question -  can make tough decisions and get them in place.  But a politician hovering around 17%?  What do you think he can do.