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National parties all short of goals as debates start

Posted by padams under Election 2008, Election 2008 Campaign strategy

Paul Adams

I wrote this piece for the EKOS election website this morning. Our daily tracking poll results for today were:

Conservatives   34%

Liberals           25%

NDP                20%

Greens            11%

BQ                  10%


As the party leaders prepare for their debates, in French tonight and English tomorrow night, only Gilles Duceppe can claim to have met his objectives in the campaign so far.

The Conservatives – Stephen Harper’s Conservatives established an early lead and have held it, often at wide margins over the second-place Liberals, but while a majority seemed tantalizingly close at times, it is once again seemingly slipping away. Harper needs to revive his party’s standing in Quebec – so strong at the beginning of the campaign; the Tories are now in a dogfight with the Liberals for a weak second place in the province. Meanwhile in Ontario, the party has lost the edge it has enjoyed at times over the Liberals, and even in British Columbia, its commanding lead is looking less formidable than it did just two weeks ago.

The Liberals – Stéphane Dion’s first job was to save the furniture and at best he has saved some of it.  The Liberal vote has stabilized and crept up a bit. In Ontario, the Liberal Party is giving the Conservatives a race, but no better, in its traditional heartland. In Quebec, the Liberals are fighting it out with the Conservatives for second place (though still well behind the BQ). Even in B.C. and the West, the party is creeping back up behind the NDP. However, the party remains well short of being a real competitor with the Conservatives to win the election, and shockingly short of what would have been considered its core support just a few years (months?)  ago.

The New Democrats – Jack Layton has lifted his party up to the top of its traditional range of support. But it is not yet in Broadbent territory. The party is running very well in British Columbia, particularly in Vancouver, and continues to benefit in Ontario not only from healthy support, but also from a three-way fight in that province. But the New Democrats have yet to break through to become a contender for power – their stated aim – or even to displace the Liberals as the natural alternative to the Conservatives, which many regard as their real strategic goal.

The Greens – Elizabeth May has led the Greens on an exceptionally successful campaign by their historical standards. They are at more than twice the level of support they enjoyed in the last election, and have at times peaked near triple their support in 2006. However, that support is broad but thin, and in many parts of the country they will have trouble mounting an on-the-ground campaign that is competitive. May accomplished a major interim objective getting included in the debate. But even at the party’s peak, in the second week of the campaign, it probably would not have won a single seat. A lot rides now on May’s debate performance.

The Bloc Québécois – Gilles Duceppe started the campaign confronted with a widespread impression that the sovereigntist movement in Quebec was dead or dying, and that whatever support had not already been lost to the Tories might start bleeding to the national parties on the left. Publicly, Duceppe framed his campaign as a crusade to deny Stephen Harper a majority. So far, so good. The Bloc revival in Quebec since the campaign began, mostly at the Tories’ expense, has put the BQ back on track to win the majority of seats in Quebec, and that in itself is one very good reason why the Tories now seem to be tracking short of majority territory.

Paul Adams is a former political reporter with the CBC and the Globe and Mail, and is now a member of Carleton’s journalism faculty, and executive director of EKOS Research Associates.