Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Poll Position: Greens

It is very difficult to properly gauge the levels of support for the Green Party. For all intents and purposes, they are a marginal party with marginal support. While they often have as much national support as the Bloc Quebecois, their voters are diffused from one coast to the other, making it very difficult to elect any MPs. Having a national support of 7% in a country of 32 million is impressive, but less so when you consider that 7% is more or less what the party receives in all 308 ridings.

The Greens present a problem for pollsters. There are so few Green voters that the margin of error can represent half of their total result nationally, and can sometimes be larger than their support levels regionally. For example, most polls interview anywhere from 70 to 100 people in Atlantic Canada. If the pollsters manage to find five Green voters, that can mean a 5% result. If the next time around they're luckier and find ten, that means 10%. Has the party's support doubled, or is that just the result of chance? You can see the problems inherent in polling for a small party.

Nevertheless, with so many polls we can get a picture of Green support. At the national level, the party improved greatly in 2008, jumping from 4.5% to 6.8%. Since then, the party has been polling between 5% and 10% (I'm discounting the crazy Strategic Counsel poll that placed the Greens at 26% support in Quebec), well within the margins of error. The best string of polls for the Greens came in February and early March, when three out of four polls had the party at 10%. Lately, the party has been slightly better than their 2008 performance.

In British Columbia, where the party has a relatively successful provincial version of itself, the Greens did well in 2008 with a 9.4% result. The polling results since the election have swung from 6% to 13%. The most heavily weighted poll (March 11, by Angus-Reid) had the party at 11%, which would be a good improvement for them, but still not good enough for a seat.

The party also did well in Alberta in 2008 with 8.8% support, only a few points behind the Liberals and the NDP. Polling since the election has placed them between 4% and 11%, with recent polls being on the higher side. The polls have put the Greens and NDP neck and neck at times, so a moral victory for the Greens could come by placing third during the next election. A seat win here is out of the question.

The Prairies were not great to the Greens, as they had a 6.3% result in 2008. Polls since then has been as low as 0.7% and as high as 14%, a very wide margin. Eight out of 11 polls have put the Greens lower than their 6.3% result, which should be a concern for them. The last two polls had the party at 2% and 0.7%, which puts them completely out of the running for even being competitive.

Ontario is one of the better regions for the party. In 2008, they had 8% support. The polls here have been relatively consistent, ranging from between 5% and 13%, but most of the polls place the party between 8% and 10%. There is a possibility that the party will inch upwards from their 2008 support level and get into double figures. The Greens haven't had a poll that would have given them an Ontario seat in my projection, but once they get over the 10% range it starts to become a possibility.

Quebec, by contrast, has been one of the worst regions for the Greens since 2004, and was the worst region in 2008, with only 3.5% support. This was actually a drop from 2006 when they had 4% support. Polls for them have swung widely, from 12.2% to 1%, but most of the polls have placed the party at between 3% and 6%, which is within the margin of error from their 2008 result. The Greens would need a huge jump to start being in the running for a seat. They would have to supplant the NDP and the Conservatives to get there.

Because of Elizabeth May's determination to win in Nova Scotia, the Greens need to make the Atlantic region one of their best. With 5.8% in 2008, that wasn't the case, though May did come close to winning. The polls here have been between 0% and 12%, but there is a slight trend. From December to February the party did horrible in polls here, with a majority placing them below 3% (and two of them at 1% or lower!). Since March, the party has been polling much better. Out of six polls, four of them have had the party at 8% or higher (though there still was a 1% result). The last EKOS poll was enough that it would have given Ms. May her seat in my projection. So there is hope for the party here.

The Greens are rarely in the headlines and so it is difficult for them to attract anything but a protest vote. May did well in the last campaign, getting herself into the debates, but I don't think she showed herself to be any more worthy of votes than the other party leaders. The Greens need to be more than a niche party, because the environment is not a large enough issue to win them more than a fluke seat. It doesn't help that the NDP, the Bloc, and at times the Liberals make the environment a top issue. The Greens have started to develop a real platform that is more than the environment, but few people recognise this. I'm a close follower of politics, and I have difficulty describing what the party stands for aside from its position on the environment. It is difficult to put the party anywhere on the political spectrum, because it can be more conservative fiscally than you'd think while being liberal socially and environmentally.

The Greens can't become THE centrist party, and being A centrist party will not help them either. Centrist voters are the luckiest, as they have two options they can lead towards that could form government. People left-of-centre have to choose between a Liberal government or the opposition. The Greens need to define themselves clearly and strongly in the public eye, and if they want to get elected they have to drop a pan-Canadian strategy and regionalise themselves. A party with 7% support can't run a national campaign. The Bloc has shown that a 10% party can do extraordinarily well if it is regionalised. Of course, the Greens can't go as far as the Bloc in that department, but May is electable in Nova Scotia. The Greens could re-align themselves to focus on Atlantic Canada - not to the extent of ignoring the rest of the country, but basing their platform on the side that would be most attractive to Atlantic Canadians. They'll still find 4%-6% support throughout the country if they are strong on the environment, but they could get 10% or more in Atlantic Canada if they strove to speak for them in particular.

In any case, the Greens face the greatest challenges as a federal party. To become electable, they need to shed some of their grass-root, protest-vote reputation. But by doing so, they stand to shed some of their grass-root, protest-vote support. Not an easy place to be.