Monday, August 01, 2005

Polls in mid-summer

There may be nothing much going on in federal or provincial politics at the moment but the pollsters have been in the field, and there were four federal polls published in July – two by Pollara, one by Environics and one from Decima.

It seems to me that when there is little news to influence preferences what we see is a reflection of medium or long-term preferences. We even see the Paul Martin tormentors complaining about him not providing grist for the mill by keeping a low profile.

Since elections actually occur in the context of a massive amount of communication both paid messages and free media, the current situation is quite artificial. And it can be misleading – think of how in the summer of 1993 many thought Kim Campbell and the then Progressive Conservative Party would cruise to victory in the fall.

Nevertheless this period provides a context worth knowing and there are a few observations to be made:

1. After a spring beating by Gomery hearings, the Liberals are moving gradually upward in Quebec. See especially the table on Quebec in this Decima news release. Given that there is generally a pro-Bloc tilt in the polls – the so-called hidden federalist vote – it actually suggests that Liberals may not actually lose that much ground in Quebec when the election is finally held.

2. There is persistent Conservative weakness in BC. Liberal support may be getting boosted a little by the proximity to the spring provincial election but by July that effect should be fading. I can’t say I understand this but it is potentially significant and being overlooked.

3. The leadership numbers in the Environics poll are interesting. Clearly Jack Layton is making a good impression on the electorate and Stephen Harper is not. My own sense is that Martin, whose numbers continue to fall, has nevertheless arrived at a sort of grudging acceptance on the part of the electorate, and could even benefit in the coming months from the enormous fall in expectations about his performance that accompanied his first year in office.

4. I have calculated seat numbers for the Pollara and Environics polls. I need all the regional numbers and Decima does not provide them. I average the three polls and ran them through my seat calculator. The detailed numbers are here. Compared to the last election, we find the Bloc and the NDP up, the Conservatives down and the Liberals about the same – losses in Quebec are offset by gains in B.C. I am doubtful that the Liberals are as strong and the NDP as weak in Manitoba/Saskatchewan as the projection suggests but that is what comes out.

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