The two post-Gomery polls from Ipsos-Reid and Strategic Counsel have bad news for everyone. I initially thought the report might not have much impact. I was wrong.
Clearly, after the impact of the spring hearings and the election that never was courtesy of the Stronach defection, public opinion drifted back to a default distribution that left the Liberals ahead. However, it must not be forgotten in these situations that the preferences at the margins are quite soft. In the new configuration that remains true.
So how is this bad news for all?
1. It is obviously bad for the Liberals who lost about 9 points from the three most recent pre-Gomery polls and currently are well below the 36.7% they received nationally in 2004.
2. The bad news for the Conservatives is that their support, while it recovered by about 2.5% from the pre-report polls, is barely above the 29.6% they received in 2004 a figure that is within the margin of error of the two polls even when combined.
3. The NDP on average is up 3.8% from the 2004 election and 2.8% from the pre-report polls. My seat estimate for the Ipsos-Reid polls suggests they would win 43 seats. The NDP would do best in exactly the scenario portrayed by the polls, a strong third place in the context of weakness for both of the leading two parties.
So isn’t this good news? The problem for the NDP is that it sets up a classic strategic voting paradigm. The Liberals can now stir up fears of a Harper victory with the prospect of attracting soft New Democrat voters more fearful of a Conservative win than upset by Liberal ethics.
4. Surely it is good news for the Bloc, at least. Again the answer is no. The Bloc has had trouble cracking the 50% popularity barrier in any significant way (since June they have averaged 51%). The Ipsos-Reid poll gives them 52% and Strategic Counsel 57% but most of the 13 point Liberal drop in the Ipsos-Reid poll in Quebec went to other federalist parties while in the Strategic Counsel poll the report did not change the results much from a mid-October poll.
When the election comes it will be the Liberals, who are organized in Quebec with strong candidates, not the Conservatives and the NDP so the Liberals, despite all the negative fallout from Gomery, could potentially equal their total of 21 seats won in 2004.
I would not expect the Gomery effect to last given that it has decayed on two previous occasions. However, the Conservatives, the Bloc and the NDP can now use the findings of Gomery in political communications such as TV ads during the election campaign. Perhaps the worst news out of these polls for the Liberals is that the exoneration of Martin in the report has been discounted by a public looking for someone to blame. Strategic Counsel reported that only 33% believe Martin’s contention that he was not involved in the scandal.
The colourful Chrétien sideshow grabbed media attention, but as the former PM will not be running in the next election, his effort to clear his name has no broader political significance.
Today it appears Layton may be ready to provoke an early election. An election campaign to watch during the holidays would be a great Christmas present for T.C.