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Storyline alert! NDP campaign in trouble…

Posted by padams under Election 2011, Election 2011 Campaign strategy, Election 2011 Media commentary, Media Commentary, Political Strategy

Paul Adams

Jack Layton had a press availability in Sudbury this morning after his event-of-the-day, on recruiting and training more doctors to practice in smaller centres. The questions showed that there is a new storyline emerging among reporters on the NDP plane.

Reporters who had been on Layton’s previous campaigns pointed out that he has not been speaking to large crowds as he has done in the past, and that he is doing fewer events each day than the other leaders.

What they are probing for, of course, is whether Layton’s health — he is suffering from prostate cancer and a recently fractured hip — is inhibiting his capacity and performance on the campaign trail.

Now, it seems extremely unlikely that anyone outside the NDP campaign bubble will have noticed this, assuming the journos’ assessment of his campaign is correct.

However, it is easy as a storyline develops to connect disparate, unrelated events. The daily Nanos daily tracking polls (apparently the only daily tracking we will have, at least early in this campaign) has shown the NDP dropping a few points — just outside the margin of error.

If there is indeed a dip in the NDP’s numbers confirmed in other polls in the coming days, it is almost certainly due to the Tories and Liberals having made this a two-way fight for government — a frame they both have an interest in promoting. This theme has been sustained by the media, first with the frenzy over the “coalition”, started by Stephen Harper, and more recently by the foofaraw over the possibility of a one-on-one debate, kept in play by Michael Ignatieff.

It is extremely unlikely that the size of Layton’s crowds, especially early in the campaign, or the number of his events, is having any effect on the numbers.

However, the issue of Layton’s health, the management of his campaign tour, and the NDP’s performance in the polls will inevitably merge into a single storyline unless something — a bounce in the polls, or a change in the rhythm of the tour — intervenes. (There’s little Layton can do about the health issue itself, but reporters will see the vigour os his campaign as a surrogate for this.)

At this point, this media storyline itself is becoming yet another stressor on the NDP campaign.

Paul Adams is an associate professor in the School of Journalism and Communication at Carleton. He is a former Parliament Hill reporter and worked in the polling industry. You can follow him on Twitter @padams29