Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Canada Votes 2015: The Big Shift

Canada Votes 2015

The Big Shift's Éric Grenier has been running the CBC's Poll Tracker over the course of the 2015 Canadian federal election campaign. (The Poll Tracker is, essentially, 308's poll aggregator system, ported to CBC).

One of the interesting developments over the first month of the campaign is that the federal Liberal and Conservative parties (henceforth LPC and CPC) have traded places: where in early August (when the election was called), the CPC was polling neck-and-neck with the New Democratic Party (NDP) and the LPC was trailing by a significant margin, now the CPC is trailing and the LPC and NDP are neck-and-neck. (Indeed, the most recent Nanos poll gives the LPC a slight, if statistically indistinguishable, lead.)

This trend is supported by 7 of the last 10 polls noted in the aggregator, suggesting it is a "real thing". Between the Duffy trial, a series of gaffes stretching back to the night of the first debate, a fairly unrelenting effort on social media by opponents of the Conservative government, the government's ham-fisted response to the Syrian refugee crisis, especially after it exploded into public consciousness last week, and polling over the summer suggesting Canadians wanted change in government at the federal level, it seems that the CPC's attempt to leverage its financial advantages over a prolonged campaign has backfired, as has its effort to paint LPC leader Justin Trudeau as "just not ready": his approval ratings have bounced back recently from a steady decline, paralleling the LPC's own fortunes in the polls (although they do not appear to be as good as in the "honeymoon" period following his win of the party leadership), and are at any rate well above those of PM and CPC leader Stephen Harper. (See here for example.)

Lest anyone suggest that this might lead to a renewed CPC government due to vote splitting, the CPC is polling 10-12 points down from its levels in the 2011 election and the months leading up to it - at 25-27% support, which is probably close to the party's electoral "floor", it is probably 5% out from being in a government-winning position due to vote splits. Crucially, while the Poll Tracker suggests the CPC is doing much better than the NDP in Ontario, it is trailing the LPC quite badly, which suggests little chance of "coming up the middle" in key Ontario ridings. What's more, the CPC has low "vote potential", that is to say, it has little potential for growing its vote.

Of course, there's plenty of election campaign time left, and now that the summer is over, it's widely considered that the "real campaign" has only just begun.

Despite having been on the back foot, particularly over the last two weeks, the CPC could find its way again with any of the following:
  • Some "sticky" attack ads. If it can come up with some ads that knock the other two main parties (or their leaders) down a peg, it could reduce turnout for those parties, giving the CPC an edge with its more committed voter "base".
  • Reported economic recovery, especially in manufacturing & exports. One of the reasons CPC support has declined is because the Canadian economy is, strictly speaking, in a recession (two consecutive quarters of economic contraction) in 2015. If third-quarter results show a bounce-back, the CPC could see overall support shifting back its way.
  • Low turnout overall. The CPC has the most committed supporters of the biggest three parties, and loses the least if overall turnout is low. (Indeed, one of the most damning criticisms of the Conservative government has been its moves to suppress electoral turnout.)
  • An LPC or NDP flame-out. Under what circumstances such a thing might occur, I feel unable to speculate. However, such an event would presumably boost the CPC's fortunes, so I am mentioning it.

Of course, it's also possible that the CPC will find that it is the party that experiences a late flame-out. However, it's hard to see how its support levels can get any lower - as I have mentioned, 25% is probably the party's electoral "floor".

For their part, the NDP and LPC have many challenges ahead. The NDP's own polling has been stagnant (or even declining from a mid-August peak), and their polling in Ontario specifically is dreadful. The NDP can, perhaps, secure a minority government without leading in Ontario, but the path to a Parliamentary majority leads through Ontario. The LPC has made some big gains recently, but it's an open question whether they can hold on to them.

The campaign has had one big shift so far. Time to see whether there are any more, and what they herald for the fortunes of the political parties.

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