Thursday, December 27, 2007

2008 Federal Election

There was a new poll of federal party preferences released today by Probe Research in Manitoba. It produced numbers that are almost a replica of the 2006 Election:

C – 44% (compared to 42.8% in 2006)

Liberal – 26% (identical to 2006)

NDP – 24% (compared to 25.4% in 2006)

You get the picture. These numbers would likely produce the same 8 C, 3 L, 3 NDP result in Manitoba as in 2006.

The national polls fluctuate depending on news but I suspect there is a core of truth in the Probe poll that applies more broadly. Most likely the campaign will shape the outcome in which case the underlying reality, which appears to have changed little since January 2006 despite the ups and downs of government and opposition in 2007, will matter little.

As this CP report summarizes:

When the year began, Harper's Conservatives were sitting at 34 per cent in public opinion approval, according to Harris-Decima, just ahead of the Liberals at 31 per cent. The NDP was at 15 and the Green party at eight per cent.

As 2007 draws to a close, Harris-Decima's rolling three-week averages had the Tories hovering around 34 per cent, the Liberals at 29, the NDP at 15 and the Greens polling 11 per cent.

In Quebec, Bloc Québécois support has dropped to around 36 per cent from 43 at the start of the year.

However, the government does look to be finishing 2008 on a down. The most recent Ipsos and Angus Reid polls report weaker numbers that appear to be a result of the Brian Mulroney-Karlheinz Schreiber show. According to my forecast model, the Ipsos poll would give us a Liberal victory with 140 seats while Reid’s numbers would put the Conservatives ahead but with just 117 seats. Blending the two sets of numbers gives us a narrow Liberal win of 127 seats to 118 for the Conservatives and 16 for the NDP.

The holiday season has driven the Schreiber affair from the headlines so its influence may not persist. More ominously, for Harper and the rest of us, the government is now acknowledging that it faces serious economic pressures. However, such early warnings will not exempt it from the inevitable political fallout (which may well still be some months down the road).

On the opposition side I suspect (but can’t prove) that Dion is consulting closely with Jean Chrétien. If so he is keeping it very secret. He has appointed John Rae and David Smith, two of Chrétien’s key political operatives, to key posts. The media interpretation emphasized their 2006 leadership connections, but I think the links to the former PM are more important. This has the potential to be a real source of strength for a leader whose weak grasp of the English language remains his greatest liability.

All the polls have shown growth for the Greens compared to 2006. Even though I think this support is overstated, it is important. The Angus Reid poll numbers actually produce one Green seat (but it is not Central Nova). I feel certain that in some way, shape or form, Elizabeth May will endorse the Liberals towards the end of the next campaign and this could potentially have a significant impact (if every Green vote had gone Liberal in 2006 Paul Martin would still be Prime Minister). Most prognoses ignore her role in this regard despite the fact that she has a deal with Dion and has defended him in the media. It is completely untypical of a party leader (bizarre is one word that comes to mind) because the potential to help the Liberals is equally the potential to hurt the Greens. Its abnormality is precisely what makes it difficult to weigh its impact. Although it is generally overlooked now, it might make a great deal of difference in a campaign.

Also somewhat overlooked is that the NDP’s numbers have generally held up (despite their weakness in the last Ipsos survey). They are averaging about a point below their 2006 showing (recent Liberal and Conservative fortunes have been worse). The growth of the Greens has hurt all parties including the NDP. Although Layton continues to vastly outpoll Dion and May in the leadership stakes, TC regards leadership polling numbers as a relatively weak predictor of electoral success. The NDP enters the electoral season, however, with no obvious weaknesses: it does have good leadership, strong organization and adequate finances. It needs issue leverage to make progress (and avoid losses) but it isn’t obvious how that could be accomplished.

Bloc numbers are down somewhat but not enough yet to make a significant difference in the outcome in Quebec despite Stephen Harper’s fawning attentions.

In the U.S. the underlying poll numbers make it clear a political sea change is underway. The future in Canada is not nearly so obvious.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Mulroney-Schreiber and the Polls

As we head into Christmas week we have now heard from both Brian Mulroney and Karlheinz Schreiber on the Airbus/Bear Head affairs. The key political impact TC thinks is likely a neutralizing effect on the next campaign: it takes scandal off the table as a tool the Conservatives could use against the Liberals. TC did not actually believe that running on sponsorship again was viable but the Conservatives have continued to brag about the Accountability Act and may have entertained thoughts of using the issue again. Effectively sponsorship is neutralized because if the issue arises many will start thinking of Mulroney-Schreiber. The winners then would be the NDP and the Bloc so the two major parties look like they will try to stage an electoral battle on other issues.

Where are we at in the polls? On November 20 Harris Decima declared:
A new Canadian Press Harris/Decima survey shows that the Conservatives have opened up an eight point lead over the Liberals, and are so far escaping harm from the fallout of the Mulroney-Schreiber dispute.

Then on December 8 Ipsos weighed in with a released headlined “Tory Brand Splashed As Schreiber Mud Flies” that said:

it would appear that the Harper Conservative brand has taken a hit with support dropping to 35%, mainly as a result of sagging Tory fortunes in Ontario and Quebec.

When I averaged those two polls along with the Globe and Mail Strategic Counsel poll published on December 10, I find that the national numbers for the parties are all within 2 points of their performance in January 2006 with the exception of the Greens who are up around five points. TC thinks the polls (especially Strategic Counsel) overstate Green support so it seems likely the parties are closer to the last election result than even the polls suggest.

The two issues to watch for in an election that seems certain for March or April (and which is even more likely if the Mulroney inquiry proceeds because it would occur prior to any public phase of the investigation) are climate change and the economy (the pending U.S. recession may start to loom larger and larger).

But is there more to the Mulroney story? His former Chief of Staff Norman Spector seems to think so. Here is what he said about the Bear Head project today on CTV’s Question Period (see it here:

..the reason that ministers and in particular the prime minister have staff around them is to keep dubious people and to keep dubious projects well away from them yet here you had the prime minister's first chief of staff championing this project, even after leaving government. Mr. Doucette formed a lobby firm and was championing Karlheinz Schreiber's project… I dealt with this project when I was in the prime minister's office and steered it into a deep ditch. I thought it had been killed, Mr. Mulroney said it was dead, but here's a project that kept coming back time after time after time, rising like the phoenix from the ashes… I think it's one of the reasons, along with the cash, that many Canadians believe that there's got to be more here than meets the eye.

There appears to be much more to this story and I suspect we haven't heard the last of it.

While the issue seems unlikely to touch Harper directly, it means he can’t be seen conferring or consulting Mulroney on Quebec. Harper has invested so much political capital (TC thinks this is a futile effort) to replicate Mulroney’s 1984 and 1988 results in Quebec that not being able to consult closely with Mulroney is a real handicap. Mulroney may not be the politician in Canada with the greatest integrity but he does know Quebec politics.