Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Conservative Budget/ No Election

The focus on reaction to the budget has been on why the Liberals have chosen not to bring down the government, but TC thinks this is gazing in the wrong direction. There is no doubt whatsoever that the Conservatives had been moving toward an election. It now appears that, just like last spring, they have developed cold feet. The fixed election date does not absolutely prevent them from simply calling an election. In the end it is a political not a legal issue.

The question is why are the Conservatives reluctant?

TC suspects two reastons:

1. There are indications out of Alberta that are not encouraging for their provincial brethren. This Angus Reid poll reports that twice as many Albertans disapprove of Stelmach as approve of him. It characterizes the voters in Alberta as an "uneasy electorate". There are many other indicators (although not party preference numbers yet) to suggest an impending disaster of some sort in this traditionally one party state. An electoral setback for close provincial cousins would not have been good for Harper as a campaign was about to start.

2. It also appears (in part from the budget) that the Conservatives are losing hope of big gains in Quebec, and are shifting more attention to Ontario, something they should have done right after the last election. If they have made a calculation of this nature, they will need time to do something about it, and that would have contributed to the decision.

There is a very big risk for Harper in this call. The budget is tight, and if the economy performs any worse than anticipated, he will likely run a deficit, a real embarrassment for a conservative. More importantly, at some point he will blamed for the economic pain of a downturn.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

New Nanos Research Poll

When I average the findings of the last two Nanos Research Polls and run them through my seat forecaster, the results suggest it might be advantageous to the Liberals to bring down the Conservatives on the budget.

Although the latest poll has the Liberals and Conservatives deadlocked at 34% with the NDP 14%, the BQ at 10% (40% in Quebec) and the Greens at 8%, my seat estimate is as follows:

Liberal Cons. NDP Bloc Green Other
144 97 18 49 0 0

The national tie disguises the fact that the Liberals lead substantially in Ontario (I estimate 77 seats there for them) while the Conservative vote is inefficiently distributed nationwide.


That is the line-up for the this year's presidential contest.

Some interesting insight into why Obama and not Clinton summarized by Frank Rich in the New York Times this morning:

The gap in hard work between the two campaigns was clear well before Feb. 5. Mrs. Clinton threw as much as $25 million at the Iowa caucuses without ever matching Mr. Obama’s organizational strength. In South Carolina, where last fall she was up 20 percentage points in the polls, she relied on top-down endorsements and the patina of inevitability, while the Obama campaign built a landslide-winning organization from scratch at the grass roots. In Kansas, three paid Obama organizers had the field to themselves for three months; ultimately Obama staff members outnumbered Clinton staff members there 18 to 3.

In the last battleground, Wisconsin, the Clinton campaign was six days behind Mr. Obama in putting up ads and had only four campaign offices to his 11. Even as Mrs. Clinton clings to her latest firewall — the March 4 contests — she is still being outhustled. Last week she told reporters that she “had no idea” that the Texas primary system was “so bizarre” (it’s a primary-caucus hybrid), adding that she had “people trying to understand it as we speak.” Perhaps her people can borrow the road map from Obama’s people. In Vermont, another March 4 contest, The Burlington Free Press reported that there were four Obama offices and no Clinton offices as of five days ago. For what will no doubt be the next firewall after March 4, Pennsylvania on April 22, the Clinton campaign is sufficiently disorganized that it couldn’t file a complete slate of delegates by even an extended ballot deadline.

UPDATE: Also see this post from Atrios.

TC doesn't think the fall campaign will be close. The polling on "Is the country on the right track/wrong track?" shows that overwhelmingly Americans are unhappy with the direction their country is taking. That is fatal for the incumbent party even if they have a so-called straight talking maverick as the nominee. And it is now clear that the McCain coziness with a lobbyist scandal is not going to go away. See here and here.

I do think that hidden racism might be a problem for Obama (the issue of race gets some discussion in the Washington Post here) but the results of this poll (summarized here) suggests that it is not all that obscure and mainly an issue in the deep south where no Democrat is going to win many states anyway(McCain gets 5 percentage points more white votes if he faces Obama rather than Clinton in Alabama but the 5 points fewer in California). The poll showed that Obama is ahead of McCain by 27% overall in California.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Election Eve?

It is TC's sense that the Liberals have been dampening election speculation as we head into Tuesday's budget. However, it is clear Harper wants one. I think it likely that he will try to insert a pill in the budget, poisonous to Liberals but not to the electorate. It is a balancing act but the Conservatives must be concerned that the Liberals are not going to push them into the election they clearly want and expect.

The polls on their face don't look particularly favourable to the Conservatives. An average of all the national polls conducted since the start of 2008 produces the following result:

Liberal Cons. NDP BQ Green Other
32.0 33.6 15.2 9.0 9.3 1.1

The source of Conservative confidence appears to lie in Dion's weak leadership numbers. It is likely, however, that they are also worried about what lies ahead for the economy. Certainly they will be giving every impression of confidence in the numbers on Tuesday but I for one won't believe them.

The Dion Liberals made a mistake when they agreed to collaborate with the government in extending the Afghanistan mission. For one thing, they can't be certain what four more years of military involvement there will bring. For certain, it is a gift to Jack Layton that potentially could be important to the outcome of the next election. Pundits like Chantal Hébert seem to think only the Liberal view on Afghanistan among the opposition parties matters. In a recent column she said:

Less than a year ago, it seemed that nothing except winning a majority would allow the Conservative government to pursue a military mission in Kandahar beyond next year. Now Harper has not only secured Liberal support to do so but on the most explosive issue of his tenure, he will also spend the next campaign under the relative protection of an opposition shield.

While conceding Layton benefits from the Liberal accord with Harper, Hébert simply overlooks what might happen if the issue blows up either during the campaign, or before. It is not as if the news from Afghanistan gives the proponents of the war cause for optimism. This Sunday New York Times Magazine article makes that clear. There are war opponents in Canada and the NDP and the Bloc will give them voices in the campaign but Ottawa pundits are far too prone to funnel all politics into a Liberal/Conservative filter.

That said it is not clear to TC what would dominate the campaign if it happens this spring.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Alberta Election: Stelmach Headed for Disaster?

The headline on a story on cbc.ca says "Voters cranky in Fort McMurray", and its about Stelmach's tour of the region. These two quotes might sum up the campaign:

"They're really not happy. There's a lack of affordable housing, there's a lack of health care. Waiting lists are horrendous at the hospital," said senior Glenna Morris, listing some of the complaints from people in the community....

But despite the feeling by many that the government should be doing more, many people still said they think the Tories are the best choice to look after the region's interests.

TC has lost track of the number of negatives cropping up during this campaign for the Alberta Conservatives. In any other province one would say the government is heading for defeat, but Alberta has only changed governments twice in the last seventy-five years - in 1935 and 1971.

All the polls so far are pre-election numbers that give Stelmach a big lead. You can see them here. But something is afoot and it seems likely to have an impact on election day one way or another.

Probably the most significant recent development in Alberta politics structurally is the merger of the two right wing parties, the Alberta Alliance and Wildrose, into the Wildrose Alliance. The dominant political culture in Alberta is small 'c' conservative. The governing Progressive Conservatives have not during their rule faced a significant threat from the right. While it may be too early for this new entrant to have much impact, any votes it steals will help the centre-right Alberta Liberals, if not to win government, then simply to stir up trouble for Stelmach in the cities.

Unlike most Alberta election campaigns this one is worth watching.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Rideau Election Fever

It now seems certain that we will have a spring election in Canada. So what are the polls saying? Well it is not clear:

The most recent polls have trended away from the Conservatives toward the Liberals and the NDP (which is ahead of its 2006 pace in the three most recent polls even while it is clear that the Green Party is bleeding away some supporters). Overall, however, the numbers aren't all that far away from 2006.

And though the polls are bit better now for the opposition, it appears that the focus of the Tories on crime and Afghanistan is simply an effort to create some noise in order to persuade Canadians that an election is inevitable.

It is TC's assessment that Harper thinks he can easily handle Stéphane Dion and that now is the most propitious time for an election. It will probably be a non-confidence vote on the Conservatives' February 26 budget that will trigger an election call, likely for April 21.

The Conservatives' present calculation seems to be that they can make the economy the issue and that they can market themselves as the party most capable of handling the looming economic storm clouds. In fact this does seem ideal timing for Harper. For Canada economic difficulties are mostly something one reads about in the Report on Business as the recession is in its early days compared to the situation in the U.S.

And the first instinct of many voters in this context is to opt to support a more conservative party that believes in the efficacy of the market and capitalism to deal with a downturn. A year into a recession that kind of belief would be replaced by sheer hostility directed at the government for screwing things up economically, but it takes some time for a failing economy to produce powerful political effects. Other things being equal the current circumstances favour the re-election of the government.

TC does not believe what most pundits do: that it is all about Harper's leadership versus Dion's personal popularity. Issues are what matter. Early in the last Ontario election campaign, a poll by Strategic Counsel (page 13) found that by a 37 to 31 margin Ontarians thought John Tory would make the best premier. But the election wound up turning on an issue: Tory's promise to fund religious schools, and Dalton McGuinty cruised to a second majority.

While it appears likely that economic issues will dominate, that is by no means certain (who knows, maybe Afghanistan or global warming will be major issues) There are sure to be some wild cards such as an endorsement of the Liberals by Green leader Elizabeth May. It is all clouding the picture in TC's crystal ball.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Super Tuesday - Media Buzz and the Numbers

The media buzz on this contest leans heavily to Obama, but each time I've looked at the numbers I have seen Hillary clearly ahead - until today.

Chris Bowers of Open Left now sees at the least the possibility of an Obama win tomorrow.
The polling picture for Super Tuesday is starting to fill out now. With only 34 hours until polls close in California, it appears virtually certain that we will have a split decision in terms of delegates. Currently, by multiplying the average polling margin by the number of delegates in each state, I arrive at an estimate of Clinton 889 delegates, Obama 799 pledged delegates earned from Super Tuesday itself. However, in virtually every state, more recent polls show better results for Obama, which should improve his standing almost across the board. At this point, a 90-delegate victory for Clinton on Super Tuesday is probably her best-case scenario, and the margin should less than 50 delegates in either direction. A narrow Obama victory on Super Tuesday is even within his reach now.

UPDATE: This chart from MyDD illustrates why I say that when you look at the numbers, Clinton is ahead.

TC has mixed feelings about all of this. While both candidates would produce progressive presidencies it appears that Obama is clearly more progressive on foreign policy. For example, Ezra Klein argues:
From the early arguments over negotiating without preconditions to his more recent statement that "I don't want to just end the war, but I want to end the mindset that got us into war in the first place," Obama is previewing an aggressive stance against the fundamental sicknesses in our polity that led to the war in Iraq, and will lead to future, equally ill-considered invasions. If he can lead the country towards, at the least, respecting an alternative foreign policy vision, he will have enacted great change.

However, Obama seems weaker on domestic issues, especially health care. For a Canadian the lack of accessible health care in the U.S. would seem to be their problem, but the pressures for privatized health care here might be more easily resisted if the U.S. was moving toward a more universal health care system.

Paul Krugman originally endorsed John Edwards' health care plan and thought Hillary Clinton's was almost as good but not so Obama's:

Obama’s plan fell short — but I was initially willing to cut him slack, figuring that it could be improved. But then he began making the weakness of his plan a selling point, and attacking his rivals for getting it right. And in the process he has systematically trashed the prospects for actually achieving universal coverage.

The Obama plan is still vastly preferable to plans that rely on tax credits and the magic of the marketplace. But from where I sit, a dream is dying — and progressive Obama supporters, caught up in the romance of his candidacy, don’t understand that he’s actually undermining their cause.

The whole contest is close enough that one sees many suggestions that it could go to the convention to decide. I think that is unlikely. My expectation is that tomorrow's results should be pointing us in the direction of the ultimate nominee, and the next U.S. President. I have written before that it looked like the Democrats would win this year. This looks to be more and more the case with each passing day. Both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are strong candidates and while McCain is probably the best the Republicans can do this year, it won't be enough.