Thursday, August 20, 2009

Conservative Majority Possible?

If an election is called in the fall, and probably if it is called in the spring, the Conservatives will be asking for a majority government. The party senses that Canadians are fed up with minorities.

I agree that they probably are, but that does not translate into wanting any majority. Canadians want a majority - with their own party in power. It could attract a few undecideds, if the Conservatives are in the lead, but it won't attract more committed Liberal or NDP voters. They are unlikely to be okay with a Conservative majority. And Quebecers voted Bloc in 2008, in part, to prevent a Conservative majority. I'm not so sure that this is a winning strategy for the Conservatives, as Canadians have been "scared off" from the Tories in the past when talk turned to a majority government.

Whether Canadians want a Conservative majority is one question. Whether the Tories can realistically get a majority is another.

The 2008 election was a perfect storm for Stephen Harper. The Liberals had a weak leader and had the least amount of support in their history. The NDP was strong enough to split the vote in some areas but not so strong that they ate into Tory chances, and the Bloc Quebecois was unable to wipe out the Conservatives in Quebec. It is hard to imagine a better scenario.

Their 143-seat win was the best they've managed. And aside from the NDP victory in Alberta that brought the party down to 27 seats and the trouble in Newfoundland & Labrador that limited the Conservatives to nine seats in Atlantic Canada, Harper's troops did the best they could do in every region. If you take the top Tory performances in their history since 2004 in each of the regions, you still only get to 144 seats - 11 seats short of a majority.

So what would it take to push the Conservatives to 155 seats?

Looking at the closest ridings in the 2008 election, there are 11 seats in the country where the Tories finished second with less than 5% between them and the winning party. In order to give the seats to the Conservatives, as well as give them their best historical performances, their popular vote in each of the regions needs to be nudged upwards. So what kind of gains do the Tories need to make between now and election day?

In short, huge gains.

First, let's look at their most likely areas of improvement. In the Prairies, they need to maintain the 22 seats they currently hold (and gain one more than they are currently projected to win). Alberta is a no-brainer, they merely need to win back the one NDP seat in Edmonton. In terms of the projection, they need to win back two seats and improve their vote by 4.7 points. That shouldn't be a problem in this province. In the North, they need to win two more seats than they are currently projected to win, and improve their vote to 48.5% from the currently projected 29.9%. Their best result, in 2008, had them at 36.2%. With only three ridings, it should not be too difficult to push their support up by 18.6 points, especially considering the Prime Minister's recent trip. Lastly, the party needs to gain three seats over the current projection in Atlantic Canada and improve their vote by 12.4 points. They currently stand at 29.1% but need to be at around 42% to be in the neighbourhood of 11 seats.

Quebec, Ontario, and British Columbia pose some greater challenges. In Quebec, the Tories need to move into a position where they can keep their 10 seats. This means improving their vote by about 8-points, which will not be easy. They've been at 24.6% before (in 2006), however, so it is not impossible. In British Columbia, the party needs to take 26 seats (six more than they are currently projected to win) and about 50% of the vote (about 13 points more than they are currently projected to have). That will be a difficult task, as their 44.4% in 2008 was a high watermark. Lastly, in Ontario, the party needs 56 seats. This means 15 more than they are currently projected to win. From their current 35.3% projected support level and their 39.2% support level in the 2008 election, the Tories need to end up at over 41% in the province. That would seem to be the most difficult task of all.

So, if the Tories can manage to make all of these gains, they will end up at 155 seats. Over their 2008 election total, they need to win four more seats in British Columbia, one more in Alberta, five more in Ontario, one more in Atlantic Canada, and one more in the North.

In the face of a more capable Liberal leader who also benefits from an NDP leader whose shine is starting to wear off, and a steady Bloc in their province, it would seem to be impossible to envision such a change of fortune for the Conservatives. Can they really do better than their best-case-scenario win in 2008?