Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Is Harper Sliding into Third Place?

The following is also posted at iPolitics:

A new Ekos poll released on the weekend delivered some bad news for the Harper government. With just 25.6% of preferences the Conservatives badly trailed the the Liberals, leading with 38.7 %. When I apply the Ekos numbers to my seat projection model the Conservatives are pushed into third place in terms seats won - behind the NDP. Thomas Mulcair's party had 23.4 % of preferences - but the New Democrat's vote efficiency boosted them past the Conservatives into second place in seats.

Here are the poll and seat numbers together:

At first glance it might seem incredible that the Harper government could fall so far, so quickly - from a majority government to third party status. In part its seat total is a product of the remorseless logic of a first-past-the-post electoral system.

And don't forget - we have seen this movie before. On October 25, 1993 the Kim Campbell PC government fell to just two seats, with 16% of the vote. The Reform Party got just two percentage points more of the votes cast that day - enough to give it 52 seats.

It isn't just Tory weakness that matters here. Part of the NDP's extra strength in this poll is a product of the weakness of the Bloc Qu├ębecois.

The Bloc's new leader, Mario Beaulieu, is from the party's strongly pro-independence wing. He campaigned on a pledge to put sovereignty above all else, despite evidence from the recent Quebec election that this might not be the most successful of strategies. Ekos reports the Bloc at just 16% in Quebec, a level of support that suggests the Bloc risks losing all its seats in the House of Commons in the next election, losses that would largely benefit the NDP.

Other aspects of the Ekos poll suggest little potential upside for the Conservatives. The poll places Stephen Harper's approval rating at just 29% and reports that just 29.9% of Canadians think the government is heading in the right direction. This latter data point simply the continues a negative trend for Harper that first became evident as early as 2012.

Often, incumbent governments benefit from an assumption among many voters that if they won the last election they're likely to win the next. That may no longer apply to the Harper Conservatives.