10 February 2017

The Doldrums #nlpoli

MQO conducted a little poll in late January and found the party standings among voters remains where it was in November.

No surprise.

Nothing has happened in the past few months to move support for either of the three parties in the province up or down.  We are in the lull before the provincial budget coming in March or April. That lull isn't happening by accident.  The Liberals retreated last summer in the face of massive public rejection of their spring budget.  Since then the ruling Liberals have been virtually silent, cancelling planned budget cuts and other measures to cope with the government's financial crisis.

That silence resulted in a very slow climb in Liberal support from a low of 17% in May 2016 to about 27% of all respondents by the fall.  But look at the Conservative number.  It's basically the same as the Liberal one, given that the margin of error for the poll is plus or minus four percentage points.

Just to put some visuals in this, here is a chart that shows party choice numbers in all polls released since 2011.  The numbers are shown as a share of all respondents to make comparison easier.

Support for the Liberals is obviously shallow and fragile.  The Liberals got where they are today by retreating on major policy issues and by kicking a very big financial problem down the road a ways. Premier Dwight Ball's big policy announcement produced precisely nothing for him at all in the polls.  If people like you best when they don't see you, they really don't like you at all.

Look at it another way: the Liberals won the 2015 election with a decisive level of support.  Within six months, they had reached an unprecedentedly low level of support for a brand new government. About a year later,  the Liberals  have the support of about the same number of voters as a party that got us into the current mess,  that voters tossed from office a little over a year ago, and that is currently run by a lame duck leader.

We are in the mid-winter political doldrums. Things may not stay that way for long. The spring budget will contain some additional layoffs and spending cuts,  if current hints from finance minister Cathy Bennett are anything to go by. That might be enough to remind people how much they disliked the budget last year and send the Liberal numbers plummeting again.

If the Liberals make this a good news budget, then we can know definitively they have decided to take a very big risk that the economy will not take a downturn or that oil prices may stay very low. That is essentially what the Conservatives have been doing since 2009. It's another example of lowest common denominator politics.

The Liberals are not quite as bad as where the Conservatives were in 2013,  but the absence of major initiatives suggests they must work hard to keep a consensus among themselves.  Inertia drives most government decisions in that kind of world.  It's not the recipe for longevity as everyone burns out very quickly or burns up in a Bill 29-style self-immolation or another financial crisis.

For now, though, the only storms are coming from the weather.  In politics,  we are just in the calm that comes before the winds pick up again.