Thursday, November 24, 2005

Regional numbers – West to East, beginning on the west coast

Now that it is clear that an election campaign will commence next Monday I intend to begin laying out a series of regional assessments about where the parties stand going into the election. I want to continue the before and after Gomery comparisons but also look closely at current poll performances compared to the results of the 2004 election.

Overall the region that appears to have changed the most since the 2004 election is British Columbia. There have changes elsewhere but it is on the west coast where the potential exists for a large number of seat switches.

As in the case of every other region, the Liberals lost support in B.C. between their September-October average prior to the release of Gomery and in surveys conducted afterwards, losing an average of 3.4%. However, we also find that the Conservative party also lost ground between the two periods, dropping 1.5%. The NDP picked up 3.1% and the Greens gained 1.3%. This is representative of the bigger picture. Compared to 2004, if we consider post-Gomery polls we find that the Liberals average 36.1%, 7.6 points higher than in the 2004 election, the NDP averages 31.1%, 4.6 points higher than 2004, while the Conservatives at 24% are 12.1 points below their 2004 result. If this prevailed on election day, B.C. would elect 18 Liberals, just 8 Conservatives and 10 New Democrats.

However, there is a history of the Liberals not holding their pre-election support. In 2000 the Liberals averaged 38.5% in a group of polls in the weeks before the call of that election, but on the day of the election the party received just 27.5%, a loss of 11 points. Could it happen again? The Liberals under Paul Martin have been aggressively chasing votes on the west coast. I would expect some drop off for the Grits, and indeed some recovery on the part of the Conservatives. However, in 2000 the pattern across the West was identical to B.C. This year the Liberal support post-Gomery is below their 2004 performance elsewhere. In 2000 NDP support in B.C. in the pre-election polls essentially predicted its election performance, while the then Canadian Alliance increased its support strongly at the expense of the Liberals.

Recent developments in provincial politics do augur well for the NDP. They did better than expected in May 2005 provincial election (receiving 41.5% of the popular vote), and more recently, benefited from the mishandling of the teachers’ walkout by the Campbell government. The NDP’s weak performance in 2000 was linked in part to the unpopularity of then Clark/Miller/Dosanjh governments. Apart from purely federal considerations, the NDP benefits from the current provincial context.

I don’t have regional numbers on leadership but at the national level Harper’s negatives are high, 58% in the October Strategic Counsel poll. The same poll notes that his negatives were increasing in Ontario at that time. My guess is that the same was true of B.C.

When I look at other regions’ numbers it does not seem a stretch to me to think that the 2006 election could produce numbers similar to 2004. At the starting gate, British Columbia looks dramatically different.

Addendum: I forgot to note in this post that B.C. has a history of being the most volatile, politically diverse province in the country. Back in the fifties and sixties, B.C. was represented in the House of Commons by four different parties, Liberal, Progressive Conservative, the CCF-NDP and Social Credit. In different elections, the Liberals, PCs, NDP, and Reform have dominated, winning at least 70% of the constituencies in at least one election each. Its unpredictable character, unlike say Alberta, makes it always intriguing.

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