03 November 2016

The polls remain discouraging for Liberals #nlpoli

Heading into their convention this weekend,  the provincial Liberals have another poll that confirms what all the other polls have said for the past six months or so.

For those misled by reports about the MQO poll like CBC's initial one, see the bit down below.

Here's what you get when you take all the polls over the past six months together,  and make allowances for variations like the margin of error.

Three points:
  • Only about 16% of respondents think Dwight Ball is the best choice for leader.
  • If an election were held tomorrow,  somewhere between 20% and 25% of voters would pick the Liberal.  
  •  About 60% of people think the government is headed in the wrong direction.
Not good.

All the reboots and changes and visions have done precisely nothing to change public attitudes about the Liberals and their leader.

We don't know what people think would be the right direction  - no one has asked them - but we can say that people don't like the way things are going now or are unhappy with the way the government is going.

People really don't like Dwight Ball.  Period.

Liberals will endorse Dwight Ball this weekend if only because they won't air their dirty linen in public. There is no reason to believe, however, that Liberals feel any differently about Dwight than everyone else.  In some respects, they have a greater concern since - as the party choice numbers suggest - the stink rubs off.

The bigger political problem the Liberals have, as we've noted before, is that Ball's low polling numbers give him the reverse Midas touch. Jesus could appear in the Hotel Gander the weekend with the cure for cancer in his robes and people would doubt the Saviour was back just because Dwight was standing next to him.

In a more practical example,  Ball brings nothing to the table in the event of a crisis.  He couldn't have done anything but cave in to demands about Muskrat Falls.  And if Stan Marshall's comments inadvertently prompt another crisis,  Ball will have no political authority to move people in the right direction, let alone the direction that is right only because he wants it.

Same is true on the budget.  Ball has precisely no capacity to persuade people that what he is doing is right.  That is nothing but bad since he will generate political opposition to anything except caving in in the face of any opposition. The teachers' union, for example, thinks they can push Ball to get rid of Dale Kirby as education minister because Ball is at 16% in the polls.  And just to confirm that he is politically weak, the Premier's Office sent out a statement on Tuesday distancing the Premier from Stan Marshall.  A political leader with influence and confidence wouldn't need to remind people who was in charge.

The regional breakdown in the Abacus poll isn't surprising.  The NDP have a slight lead on the Avalon, especially in metro.  The Tories are slightly ahead of the Liberals in central and the Liberals dominate the least populous parts of the province. Overall, most people either wouldn't vote or don;t know who they would vote for.

Looking ahead:  
  • In all likelihood, all three political parties will have a new leader before the next election.  
  • That might make a difference to the direction the province is headed in, but most likely it won't. So far, we have had five and a half Premiers from two different parties since 2003 and the government's strategic course remains unchanged.  Since all three parties support the same basic policies, it is hard to know whether those changes will matter.
  • All three parties and all three leaders are mired at the bottom of the polls.  They are all vulnerable to a new face and a new voice saying new things.
  • The Conservatives will change leaders first.  They will also have a policy conference and they stand a good chance of electing a lot of new faces. They stand a very good chance of being the party with strong momentum going into 2019.  
  • The NDP are chronically unable to capitalize on public support and turn it into seats.  That's because they don;t want to.
  • And for the Liberals, they will face a very tough slog if they continue on the same path.  Basically, their polling numbers have stayed the same since last spring.  The longer they delay making substantial changes - leader or agenda or both - the more difficult time they will have recapturing any substantive level of public support.  When you are the incumbent and all three parties are circling around the same low number, the odds are against you getting re-elected. After all, even the MQO poll shows that more than 70% of voters either wouldn't vote or would pick a party other than Liberal.  That's only changed by a handful of points since last spring, despite all the Liberal "changes" thus far.

MQO:  CBC ran a story Wednesday afternoon that claimed MQO polling had shown a huge rebound in Liberal support, up to 41 from 31 in July.  Big red flag:  neither CBC nor MQO provided anything looking like the actual polling data. CBC reported results as a shared of decideds. NTV had a similar report but used party choice as a share of all respondents.  The numbers didn't match, if you did the math.

Abacus reported 36% Liberal support as a share of what it calls "committed voters" with 31% undecided.  CBC presented the MQO numbers as 40% Liberal support with 31% undecided, according to CBC. NDP was 27 and Tories at 31.

For all that, let's compare apples to apples, using the NTV version of the MQO numbers.

Liberals:  23 (Abacus)   25 (MQO)
PC:   19  in both
NDP:   22 (Abacus)  17  (MQO)
UND:  31 in both

MQO polled 600 people between 18 and 22 October.  Abacus polled 604 between 20 and 27 October.  Margin of error on both polls is roughly plus or minus four percentage points 95 times out of 100.

These numbers are pretty close to one another.  More importantly, they are consistent with other polling over the past six months or so.  If you look at the margin of error of the polls over time by the same company or even compare from firm to firm over time,  you are looking at polls in which the total change in the Liberal number, for example, is about seven points.  It's gone from 17 in May to 24 now. Essentially that's within the range of variation in the margin of error.

You can make something out of that if you want but really the polls are not sensitive enough to reliably pick up a variation of less than eight points.  The fact that all three parties are clustered within that variation is also a warning against reading too much into a really slow climb in the Liberal numbers (one percentage point per month).  Again, the "focus" on the polls is a bit fuzzy.

Here's a chart of the polling to date.  We've added the MQO and Abacus numbers into this as an average.

Libs are 24 with PC and NDP at 19.