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WEEK TWO: BALLOT QUESTION CLARIFYING, OUTCOME NOT – April 8, 2011

CONSERVATIVE SUPPORTERS MOST COMMITTED

[Ottawa – April 8, 2011] – As the race winds its way to the midpoint, we find the poll numbers have returned to the position we had in our poll released the day before the writ was dropped. The similarity of the top line numbers occlude major shifts which have gone on under the surface. There have been very significant changes in the regional and demographic constituencies for the parties. The basic ballot question which will decide the election also appears to be coming into much clearer relief. What isn’t clear is what the final outcome will be but, looking back after the second week, we see a quite different picture than what we saw at the conclusion of week one, which in turn was quite different than the starting positions.

We will return to the defining electoral issue momentarily but let’s just quickly review the numbers. The races started with the Conservatives in a clear but not commanding 7-point lead, enjoying an important advantage in Ontario. Immediately out of the gates, the Conservatives opened up a powerful 11-point lead over the first weekend which they more or less held onto for the first week of the campaign. Meanwhile, they strengthened their lead in Ontario. Apart from some threatening numbers on the direction of federal government indicator, the Conservatives seemed to be in a good position to convert on its demand for a majority government to fend off the claimed instability of a reckless and uncertain coalition.

As week two concludes, a number of indicators suggest that their self-defined goal of majority is looking quite elusive. First of all, the lead has retracted back to the significant but modest lead that they had at the outset of the campaign. Furthermore, this diminished lead is now being propped up by growing strength in their western fortress (which will yield no additional seats) and a newfound parity in Ontario and competitive erosion of their position in Quebec. Unlike the mere vanity points associated with doing better in Alberta and Saskatchewan, the new numbers in Quebec (and particularly Ontario) point to significant potential seat losses. So after the yardstick of success was set as a majority, it now appears that the current results would yield a reduced position in Parliament, which may well trigger the very dire scenario that they have been cautioning Canadians about repeatedly for the past several months. In fact, the current numbers would not only diminish the Conservative’s lead in the last parliament, they would produce more cumulative Liberal and Conservative seats. This is a very different proposition than at the end of week own where the Conservatives would have nearly 60 more seats than the Liberals, who would have more than 20 seats over the NDP and Bloc combined.

A deeper probe of factors such as directional confidence, issue priorities, relative competitive positioning for the parties on the issues and leaning tendencies of those who might shift, all indicate that there is reason to doubt the Conservatives will achieve a majority. Despite these concerns for the Conservative Party, there is evidence of a huge Conservative advantage on the “commitment” level of their voters, which means they should receive a premium beyond the numbers they achieve among all eligible voters. It still appears that even with that advantage they will be disappointed in their aspirations for a majority.

One of the more striking findings of the poll is how divided the country is on the performance of the federal government. While the country is largely seen as moving in the right direction (emphatically so among Conservative supporters), there is no corresponding confidence in the direction of the federal government. Outside of Conservative supporters – who overwhelmingly think the government is on the right track – voters are severely dissatisfied with federal trajectory (satisfaction ranges from 15 to 20% versus the 85% for Conservatives). Overall, there is a general sense of “the country is okay and the economy is fine but the federal government isn’t”. This view is the foundation of the ballot question: “do we risk the adventure of a new government, possibly an untested and unstable coalition or do we stay the course and preserve our current trajectory?”

The analysis of dominant issues adds further insight to this national electoral dilemma. The top two issues are the economy and social investment. They are effectively tied but have very different constituencies and they help define the sense of competitive advantage and disadvantage of the parties. Less important (but significant) are the fiscal issues followed by issues of ethics and accountability which have risen as an issue, particularly for Liberal supporters. These results are now around the level of the 2006 election where they played a pivotal role. It may be the height of political irony that the Liberals now see themselves having an advantage among those who select ethics as their top issue and the Conservatives, who seized power from the Liberals by virtue of their superior position on that issue, now find themselves on the opposite side of that equation. On the economy (and fiscal issues), the Conservatives have a huge advantage. On social issues and ethics, the Liberals (and the NDP on social issues) have similarly huge advantages. The fault lines on the issue salience mirror the fault lines on party preference.

We see a deepening East-West divide emerging, as well as a relatively new and more active generational divide. Older Canadians (boomers and seniors) are opting for security and stability. Younger Canada (gen X and gen Y) are missing from the Conservative ranks and possibly seeking a different agenda. University educated Canada is leaning decidedly Liberal, while college educated Canada likes the Conservative Party. Women are twice as undecided as men and appear relatively underwhelmed with both the Liberals and the Conservatives where they are underrepresented. How they eventually weigh in will be a crucial factor.

The regions are all in different stages of flux as well. British Columbia sees a Conservative lead, but they are in close pursuit by the NDP and the Liberals, with the Green Party showing enough strength to possibly signal a breakthrough for Elizabeth May. As noted earlier, growing strength in Alberta and the Prairies is overkill for the Conservatives and Ontario is clearly where the election will be ultimately decided. Quebec is very unhappy with federal direction and most of the federalist options. There are some signs of life for the Liberals and the NDP are running well and the Liberals stand as the preferred second choice of all Quebeckers (particularly among Bloc supporters). The Atlantic Provinces aren’t very happy with the federal government and they are showing low enthusiasm for this election. They are oscillating between the Conservatives and the Liberals, and the NDP have some chances there as well. In looking at the performance of the Conservative Government and which issues are seen as most important (as well as which party is best poised to deliver on those), we end up with a pretty deadlocked situation.

The final part of this analysis looks at the prospects for movement and the opportunities for further shifts in the electorate. The conclusions of this exercise suggest that the politics of commitment may be working contrary to the politics of growth. By commitment, we refer to how likely one is to actually show up and vote for one’s current choice. By growth, we refer to the question of how likely it is that parties can expand their current position beyond where they stand now. All parties are seeking growth, but this is a zero sum game and we need to contrast who is likely to move, and where, to understand what are the likely outcomes of this election.

Commitment is a crucial predictor of whether someone will actually vote and whether they will stick with their current choice. We are going to be calibrating our commitment measures to try and isolate which part of our sample are the most likely to vote. In the interim, we can tell you some clear conclusions. First, the Conservative vote is dramatically more committed than all other votes (with the possible exception of the Bloc vote, which is also highly committed). The Conservative supporter is most likely to have voted for the same way in 2008, least likely to offer a second choice, and most likely to say they will absolutely vote and will not change their minds. They are also by far the most enthusiastically committed to their choice. This is a formidable advantage that suggests that they the current poll understates how well they will do on Election Day (in fact, this happened in the late polls in 2008 which underestimated final conservative support).

When we turn to the opportunities for growth we look at current trajectories and also the issue of second choice. Here, the prospects are not nearly so encouraging for the Conservatives. Not only are they backing up (namely in Ontario and Quebec), but they are now showing very little appeal outside of their current constituency. So while their current supporters are more tenaciously attached to them their opponents have far more theoretical opportunities to grow. Only 8% cite the Conservative Party as a second choice, which is less than half what the Liberals and the most popular second choice – the NDP – achieve.

Overall, it appears that both the NDP and Liberal Party have the most opportunities to grow, although a fair bit of that would be cannibalizing each other (according to the breakdowns of second choice by current preference). All of these dynamics will be altered and viewed with heightened attention in the second half of the campaign. In particular, the strategic implications of a possibly diminished Conservative minority and the permutations of various formal and informal coalition strategies will become a major focus; assuming the Conservatives don’t continue to slide to the point where the Liberals will be in a minority position. While unthinkable, over the course of the last week, this campaign is showing an interesting and unexpected life of its own.

Click here for the full report: full_report_april_8_2011

8 comments to WEEK TWO: BALLOT QUESTION CLARIFYING, OUTCOME NOT – April 8, 2011

  • Seventhson

    The LEFT LEANING main stream media has cause to worry, as Sun TV News is about to air April 18th. News from a perspective Canadians are not familiar with……FAIR AND BALANCED…..I pray for a Conservative Majority to rid Canada the daily madness spewed by the Liberal/NDP/Bloc consortium.

  • Mike Brittain

    My question here would be: Looking at trends from past election what are the chances of, and which way might a major swing occur closer to the end of the race?
    The Conservative campaign so far reminds me a lot of the last Martin campaign where the energy is not quite what it was in the past. As well they don’t seem to be getting many new ideas accross other than boogie-man type attacks which may not work this time(again similar to the Martin campaign.)
    To me it seems a significant swing to the Liberals may be more likely than a Conservative majority so long as the the Conservatives do not turn their campaign around.
    Mike Brittain – Rockland ON

  • Boris Gorzalka

    In looking at the poll results posted on April 8th, I see that 888 of the respondents have a university education whereas 1148 do not. This means that 43.6% of respondents are university-educated. I suspect that this percentage is significantly higher than that of the general population. Have your data been statistically weighted to take this into account? If not, LPC respondents, who are more likely to be university-educated, might be skewing the results.

  • Wascally Wabbit

    Frankie – “Overall, it appears that both the NDP and Liberal Party have the most opportunities to grow, although a fair bit of that would be cannibalizing each other (according to the breakdowns of second choice by current preference).”

    You keep avoiding the undecided – who – to follow your rationale above – are not seriously committed i.e. Conservative supporters.

    If one assumes that the people who did not vote in last (two?) elections comprise at least in part jaundiced Liberals – cannibalizing is less important than re-energizing those folks who have sat out last election(s) isn’t it? Therefore you should be counting (and commenting) on them!

  • egide

    sounds good to me … bring on the right minority… a Liberal majority would be best.

  • Naveed

    Interesting conclusions for end of week two. My own feeling is that the Liberals will continue to close the gap, and that miraculously we may indeed have a very close call in seats, with a Liberal minority government. The debates should help, and more student votes than last time for the Liberals.

  • Liberal lover

    I have been programmed by the liberal media and my university professors ( in basket weaving 101- I.e history) to vote liberal. I want them to spend. I want to pay taxes. I don’t need money. Just enough for vaseline so my crack doesn’t get sore

  • andrew macgillivray

    800,000 liberals sat out the last election because they couldn’t support Dion. Guess what – they’re back!