Wednesday, February 18, 2004

Post Auditor-General's Report Polls

The Ottawa media are salivating. After a decade of boredom the collapse of Liberal support in recent polls (two Ipsos-Reid, a National Post/Compas and a CROP poll in Quebec) has built expectations of a competitive election and, who knows, maybe even a change in government.

However, a key factor one would expect to find in this dramatic narrative is missing. The thing that strikes me about the latest polls is the weakness of Conservative support. Nationally, compared to the 2000 election the Conservatives are down from the combined Alliance-PC vote of 37.7% to 27% in the latest Ipsos Reid poll even though the Liberals themselves are down 5 points from 2000. Some analysts are obtusely refusing to aknowledge the reality that the Conservatives are just not as strong as some think they should be.

The Conservatives are weak for a number of reasons. First, they are dead in Quebec and not likely to revive. Quebec, however, was key to the last PC majority won in 1988. It also appears that, as the idea that the new party is a Reform-Alliance takeover sinks in, support in Atlantic Canada is weakening. The Conservatives registered 37% in the January Reid Poll but just 32% in the most recent poll. NDP support in 2000 in B.C. was unusually depressed by the unpopularity of the Glen Clark/ Ujjal Dosanjh government. The NDP now appears to have taken back a more traditional level of support there, probably mostly from the Conservatives.

The two parties that have gained support are the NDP and the Bloc. The NDP, in particular, are being overlooked partly because the media has spent years consigning the party to oblivion, before its phoenix-like rise from the ashes after electing Jack Layton as leader. It has risen from 8.5% in the 2000 election to 17% in the latest Reid poll, which I actually think understates the real level of NDP support. Reid started adding the Green Party to its ballot question about 18 months ago, because so many people were volunteering support for it. Since then Layton took over as NDP leader, started recruiting from the Green Party leadership, and adopting an aggressively Green agenda. I suspect many of the Green Party's adherents are younger voters who will probably gravitate to the NDP once an election is called. Add say 4 out of the 5 Green points to the NDP and suddenly its poll number is 21%, a level I think is more realistic and relativly high compared to recent history.

All this points at the moment to a Liberal minority with exceptionally strong showings by the NDP and the Bloc. But this muddies the media narrative and complicates the story.

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