Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The politics of gun control

The gun registry lives on.

While one can understand the intense media interest in this, the commentary of the pundit class does drive one to distraction.  There are two particularly idiotic examples here and here (both of which ask us to accept that despite the Conservatives being poised to win the vote for many months, losing actually helps them). The clip of Harper on tonight's news says otherwise.

The whole issue matters much less electorally than meets the eye. To accept that it matters, one must believe there are a large number of voters in the constituencies of the NDP and Liberal members who switched their vote tonight to support the registry who, a), did not vote Conservative last time, but b), feel so passionately about this issue that they will hold that concern all the way to the next election, ignore all the other issues that come along, and support the Conservatives due to this consideration either primarily or alone.  Was this a big vote determining issue in 2006 in these places or 2008?  TC does not think so.  In any case most of the rural seats inclined to go Conservative are already safely in that party's camp.

The Liberals recognized the second time around the issue would not hurt them and could give them an advantage by being unified while the NDP was divided, all the while driving soft urban small 'l' liberal votes their way.  The wonderful Pundit's Guide has a detailed listing of the Liberal and NDP members who voted last time with the Conservatives to kill the gun registry.  If you look closely at the results in just these constituencies, there are no more than three or four that could be classified as both rural and holding real potential as Conservative gains in a new election.  The most obvious candidates are the NDP held ridings of Western Arctic (3.8% lead over the Cs) and Skeena (13.8%) and, among the Liberals, Malpeque (4.9%) and Yukon (13%).

There are a few other contests where the Conservatives might think about a challenge but in most constituencies, the principal challenger to the NDP is the Liberal candidate and vice-versa, or, as in the case of Esquimalt-Juan de Fuca and Welland the ridings are not rural (and presumably therefore not obsessed with gun control) - Esquimalt has a rural component but is mostly suburban Victoria while Welland is mainly industrial and urban.

In the end the vote was a victory for Jack Layton (who I suspect had at least one more vote in reserve).  The potential for a significant setback for the NDP was there, so he should be wiping his brow.  The Liberals might well have been able to use the gun registry vote as a tactical voting metaphor in urban areas in the next election.  In this case the difference between winning and losing was crucial.  In addition, losing is not good for the government (except possibly in fund raising if one accepts their claims) - there is always at least a brief negative honeymoon associated with a strategic defeat in a contest that they had expected to win.

Notwithstanding all the ballyhoo, TC does not expect this to be an issue or key voting consideration in the next federal election.