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Libs grip slipping?

Posted by padams under All, Media Commentary, Political Strategy

Paul Adams

The Liberals have enjoyed an edge in the polls throughout the late winter and spring, and that advantage has been even more marked when you project the poll results onto seats, largely because the Liberals have been gaining in Ontario and Quebec since the last election, where every vote may count towards winning more seats, while the Conservatives have been increasing their stranglehold on Alberta and parts of the rural West to no additional advantage, since they already own these regions.

However, the race is tightening.

This morning EKOS Research (with which I have an association) released a new seat projection based on its most recent weekly poll. It shows the Liberals leading with 123 seats, but the Conservatives only a smidgen behind with 111 seats. The NDP have 30 and the Bloc 44.

If you look at the THREEHUNDREDEIGHT website — a site whose name is an homage to the legendary American polling site FiveThirtyEight — which does projections based on a number of polls, they have the race even tighter.

Now, here’s the thing. The Liberals nose-dived on the last night of EKOS‘¬†weekly poll, which was Tuesday, presumably on the news that the Liberals were prepared to force an election if certain demands weren’t met.

The Liberal-created crisis received huge publicity — in the teasers on The National, for example, and on the front pages of newspapers. The resolution of the crisis on Wednesday received no such attention. It played prominently on the news channels, but if you wanted to watch the story on The National, you had to wait (until after the first commercial break if I recall correctly), and it was buried in the front section of the Globe and Mail.

This could meant that the Liberal loss from the election threat will endure past the resolution of the crisis and the end of the parliamentary session today.

Even if the Liberals do rebound from their slump, it is an indication of how tenuous their grasp is on their current support. Right now it appears to be based more or less exclusively on hostility to Harper and economic uncertainty. We know that some of the higher income groups (which the Liberals have been successful at wooing from the Tories lately) are influenced in their economic perception more by the stock market and broad measures of economic growth. These are the economic indicators most likely to improve first (indeed the stock market has already rebounded very substantially since the beginning of the year).

For many Canadians the real measure of economic recovery, however, will be a falling unemployment rate, which isn’t likely to come for quite a while, and so far the Liberals have not had the traction they need among the economically vulnerable middle and lower classes, and the youth.

If one strong puff of wind can blow the Liberals off their perch, as it did, at least momentarily earlier this week, they do not yet have the grip they need to win in the long run.

This could be a tough summer for the Liberals. The absence of an election allows the Conservatives to use their huge advantage in money and organization. And there are all those infrastructure projects to announce (and re-announce and re-announce).¬†This forces a strategic dilemma on the Liberals: do they respond with short-term expenditures on advertising, for example, to meet the challenge? If they do so, it will slow down their efforts to re-invest in their fund-raising and organization — crucial elements in their longer term success.

Canadians may not have wanted an election this summer, but they are going to get a campaign anyway, and it is one in which the government party has a definite edge.

Paul Adams teaches journalism at Carleton. He is also executive director of EKOS Research Associates.