Saturday, January 07, 2006

Converging Numbers

Numbers are beginning to converge in this campaign. I have done a weighted average of the Ekos, Léger Marketing and Ipsos-Reid polls released this week, and applied my seat forecaster.

There is a clear Conservative lead that would produce a minority government with the NDP almost holding the balance of power.

The numbers are:

Conservative – 127
Liberal – 92
NDP – 27
BQ – 62

The problem for the Conservatives is holding this lead. My guess from looking at the polls is that they have minimal upside potential. They are already at 40% in English Canada and while they have been successful in Quebec in taking support from both the Bloc and the Liberals, they don’t have much room left for growth. In any event, the Conservatives are a long way short of a majority.

Now they begin to face the questioning. Today’s column in the Globe by Jeffrey Simpson directly challenges their likely budget path, and the Star’s Thomas Walkom has an excellent assessment of Harper, which notes the following from the Conservative Leader’s statement that supposedly endorses medicare: We must treat all patients equally for essential health-care services, regardless of ability to pay; anything less is un-Canadian. Sounds good but there is a tiny almost unnoticed qualifier, “essential health-care services”. When a National Citizens’ Coalition type conservative uses a phrase like that, it is potentially weighted with great meaning. The other parties should be asking pointed questions about this.

I noted earlier today the admission by the Conservatives that they would eliminate one of Martin’s tax cuts. Conservative bloggers like this one protest that this is all “much ado about nothing”. Why? Because in his December 1 2005 statement promising a GST cut Harper said: We would suspend their future measures in order to deliver broad-based and responsible tax relief…. These are pure weasel words that leave the impression that only some future tax cuts would be cancelled. I suspect that many of the other Conservative press releases are full of similar language.

This is precisely the sort of campaign tactic that, whatever its short term benefits, is sure to bring grief in the long run should they make it into government.

It is clear that the damage to the Liberals is mainly the result of the income trust affair feeding the ‘Liberal corruption’ narrative. It came at a time when Canadians had just tuned in to the campaign and become engaged, and it is mainly helping the Conservatives who have trumpeted this theme far more strongly than the NDP.

The Conservative lead is deeply threatening not just to the Liberal government, but also to the NDP. Strategic voting would not show up in the polls at this time. Remember most of those decisions were made in the last weekend of the 2004 campaign.

However, if there becomes a consensus that the Conservatives would win anyway that might deflate some of the strategic voting, and if the race ends up being exceedingly close between the Liberals and the Conservatives, that represents an ideal scenario for a third party provided its support is not bled away.

I do think the Globe’s lead story today on the Conservative campaign and its successes is worth reading. I think the one part of the Harper campaign that impresses me the most is its strategic use of small, targeted promises aimed at either a particular segment of the electorate (the article mentions fishers) or is of symbolic value (for example the urban transit pass tax credit) even if it isn’t actually of much real value.

In a real sense it is the end of week one of a three week campaign. There are two to go.

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