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ROBO SHMOBO – December 17, 2012


[Ottawa – December 17, 2012] – Consider the following paradox. Confidence in direction of the federal government and country are at near nadir levels (in recent history). Economic outlook, both short and more particularly long term optimism, is at the lowest levels it has been in decades. Only about one in three Canadians think they will be better off five years from now and only half that think the next generation will be doing better than this 25 years from now. On long term tracking of values, we see the country moving away from social (but not fiscal) conservatism and we see a more polarized ideological landscape where the center has largely evaporated. Of those increasingly picking ideological sides, it has been the small-l liberal camp which has been growing as the centre drifts more to the left in this new polarized environment. Add to this serious short term troubles on challenging files such as the F-35 and a position on the Nexen takeover which is wildly offside all accounts of public opinion save those of the Prime Minister. Throw in a dash of a percolating vote suppression scandal that has the possibility of not only eclipsing Sponsorship, but perhaps Watergate and we might expect to find a recipe for imminent government disaster. Yet this is not the case.

Despite these longer term tensions and short term travails, the Conservative Party is in a pretty good position. It may be hard to imagine how having the support of less than one in three voters and having fallen nearly eight points from the last election could be considered a “pretty good” position yet we feel this is an accurate assessment for at least two reasons: First, the Conservatives have consistently shown that their vote is the most fiercely committed and most likely to turn out. Our current polls shows continued evidence of this formidable political advantage and it is also the case that voters in polls tend to understate their true support for incumbent “conservative” governments.

Secondly, consider the strengthened array of the centre-left options in Figure 1. While support for these choices is cumulatively up from 2011 election, particularly the Liberals (up 5.5 points at 24.4 per cent) and Greens (8.4 per cent, up from 3.9 in 2011), NDP support has diminished and the party now registers at about the same level as the rising Liberal Party at 25.8 per cent (down 4.8 points from 2011).

The Conservative Party may well benefit from a perfect progressive storm of vote splitting and futile (seat-wise) Green Party rise in votes resulting in scant or no seats as in 2008 when almost seven per cent failed to produce a single seat. The slightly invigorated Liberal Party and the slightly diminished NDP will now saw off about 50 per cent of voters and the lion’s share of the progressive vote. An even more popular Green Party is still far away from levels where this popularity equals seats under the first past the post system. So it may well be the case that a relatively stagnant and diminished Conservative Party is positioned to post another majority with even lower numbers than they had going into 2011.

The real changes are that the Liberal Party (perhaps in anticipation of Justin Trudeau’s ascendance to leadership) has pulled into a dead heat with the NDP. The Green Party is recovering to the levels they achieved in the lead up to the 2008 and the final centre-left party, the near dead Bloc Québécois, is now leading slightly (insignificantly though) in Quebec. All in all, there is little evidence that the forces considered in the opening paragraph are having much effect and if they are it is being channelled into a center left political logjam that shows no signs of relaxing Mr. Harper’s minority majority grip on parliament. Perhaps a consideration of voter mobility since 2011, or the second choices of voters will provide further insight into whether this paradoxical stranglehold is in any real jeopardy for the Prime Minister and his supporters.

So where are these modest shifts since the 2011 election coming from? Looking at Figure 4, we see that Conservative supporters have remained fiercely loyal, with the party retaining 78 per cent of its 2011 support. Liberal, NDP, and Green supporters, meanwhile, have shown a much greater degree of liquidity and promiscuity in their constituents. The churning among centre left parties suggests much more tepid connection to their current choices. This casting doesn’t augur particularly well for any of any of these opposition parties jumping into the lead as the clear home for frustrated centre left voters. For example, the Green Party has bled nearly half of its past supporters, but the influx in former Liberal and NDP supporters, as well as new voters, have more than made up for this loss.

Additionally, data on second choice (see Figure 5) reveals that Conservative supporters are largely entrenched in terms of their support. The plurality of these respondents is unwilling to even consider voting for another party. Turning to the other end of the political spectrum, however, we see that the Liberal and NDP camps are much more open to supporting each other. Green Party supporters are open to voting either Liberal or NDP while Bloc voters are open to the idea of voting NDP.

Consequently, the parties on the centre left fare very well in terms of growth opportunities. If a ceiling is the addition of current and second choices of national parties the Conservatives would be at 43.2 points, the NDP at 46.8, the Liberals at a virtually identical 46.6, and the Green Party in a pretty seat rich 19.5 territory. Despite the allure of these figures, nothing in the current churning patterns suggests that we are going to see much different than two near equally matched Liberal and NDP parties producing a saw off and a slightly more muscular Green Party which would be further siphoning off the centre left vote in a pretty seat-inefficient manner. So the new political arithmetic suggests that the new minority-majority, which is increasingly offside with most Canadians, will continue to be majority government for some time.

The political reality is that while the NDP and Liberals are both looking relatively strong compared to recent history, this probably precludes any real chances of even an informal deal before the next election. This leaves two wild cards. One is either the NDP or the Liberals creating some kind of deal with the Greens to vault them into a clear lead position. This is a pretty low rent option compared to the inertia underpinning in the deep institutional party histories standing in the path to a NDP-Liberal deal. Green supporters might be enticed to show up in greater numbers with a chance of more seats and a seat at the cabinet in a future government bolstered by them. The second wild card would be a meltdown in one of the current hot potatoes the government faces; F-35s perhaps, but this hasn’t really captured the public imagination-indignation yet. The sleeper is the so called Robocalls Scandal which has flown under the public radar so far but has the potential to become very explosive. If the allegations are proven, this could well become Canada’s Watergate. There is no evidence this has gripped the public at all yet.

One final threat which we will deal with in our next release is a profound darkening of both short term and long term economic outlook. No incumbent can survive the steady grind of worsening economic outlook indefinitely and if this mood worsens or perhaps even persists even the auspicious political arithmetic of the current political landscape may not be enough of a refuge. Putting aside all these ifs, the government appears to be in really good stead for continued political success.

Click here for the full report: Full Report (December 17, 2012)

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