Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Poll Position: New Democrats

I took a look at the Liberals back in September, so now it is time to look at the New Democrats.

The last time the NDP was my focus was back in April. In those heady days of Spring, the projection was a little different. I had the Conservatives at 131 seats, the Liberals at 108, the Bloc at 50, and the NDP at a dismal 19. Over the past five months, the Tories have dropped four seats and the Liberals two. The NDP made up the difference, gaining six.

I think that is part of the story for the NDP this year. Things looked disastrous for them after the coalition deal fell through. The NDP looked to be going back to 2004 levels of support. But since then, and especially over the summer with the help of a convention in Halifax, the NDP has clawed their way back into respectability. Certainly dropping from 37 to 25 seats is no picnic, but it certainly isn't the 13 seats the party won back in 2000. With 25 seats, Jack Layton and the NDP would still hold a position of some influence in the House of Commons, especially if the Liberals get to within 25 seats of the Tories, as they are currently projected to do.

The NDP hasn't moved too much in the polls, they've been polling steadily for virtually the entire year. But it is helpful to look at the monthly averages. Back in April, they had averaged 14.9% in national polling. They moved steadily upwards throughout the Spring and Summer, and in August had an average support of 16.1%. Not a huge amount of movement, granted, but nevertheless a positive trend. But they are still far away from the 18% of the 2008 election, and in September they've taken a hit and are averaging 15.5% support. It is difficult to figure where they really are, however, since this month has had both their highest (19%) and lowest (12%) results of 2009.

Looking at the NDP's performance at the regional level, we see the same thing. In British Columbia they've polled between 14% and 33%, but have maintained themselves for the most part in the mid-20s. They're currently projected to win 24.6% of the vote and five seats, but they've only increased their vote total by 0.4 points since April.

In Alberta the NDP has been fighting with the Greens for third spot, as the Liberals have managed to move ahead, and stay ahead, of the NDP in the province. But they're still around the 11% they received last year, and they're currently projected to win 11.5% of the votes but no seats. That is an improvement of 0.7 points since April - again little movement.

In the Prairies, the NDP have been duking it out with the Liberals for second, and have been polling between 20% and 30%, with individual polls shooting them higher and lower of those extremes. If there was some movement, it was an increase in support from June to early September but since the beginning of this month the NDP has fallen pretty steeply. They're projected to get 22.9% and three seats, a decrease of only 0.3 points since the Spring.

Ontario has been even more painfully stable. In April, the NDP averaged 14.1% support. Their average in August was 14.2%, though they did reach 14.9% in July. In September so far, they're averaging 14.8% so they've seen some improvement. But we're still talking about their worst result since before 2004. Currently they're projected to have 15.1% support and 11 seats, an increase of 0.3 points and one seat since April.

The NDP broke into Quebec in the 2008 election, winning their first seat in a general election in the province for decades. They've managed to maintain their support from that election, but with the Liberals improving so much it puts Thomas Mulcair in Outremont in danger (though the recent squabble in the riding puts him back into safe territory, for now). In April they were averaging 10% support in Quebec polls, increased that support to 11.5% in August, but have so far dropped to 9.9% support in September. They're currently projected to take 10.5% of the vote and to keep Outremont - but just.

Atlantic Canada has been one of the bright spots for the NDP this year, and they've been on a slow but steady rise. They're currently competing with the Tories for second spot. The August convention in Halifax probably helped, and the election of a popular NDP provincial government in Nova Scotia definitely helped. They're polling anywhere from 25% to 35% support in the region, much better than the 18% to 30% they were receiving back around April and May. They've moved from a projected three seats and 23.4% support in April to five seats and 25.9% support.

One thing that remains to be seen is how NDP support will move as a consequence of the recent events in Ottawa. We haven't had a poll all week, and the polls released last week came before or just as the NDP's support for the Tory EI-reform bill started to be criticised. Will we see the NDP's support increase because they "made Parliament work"? Or, will we see their support decrease because they propped up Stephen Harper. And in either case, where will the support come from or go to?

The next couple of weeks of polling will give the NDP some food for thought. It is clear to most observers that the NDP decided to support the government primarily to avoid an election - not only because they feared losing some seats (as I project them to) but also because they didn't want to see a further dip in the polls for having caused an election. And with the Liberals appearing to be a better option than they were in 2008, it will be harder and harder for Jack Layton to improve on his 2008 performance.

Being a political leader is like being a shark - if you don't keep moving forward you die. Jack Layton can probably survive an electoral "defeat" like the one I'm projecting, but the question remains where the NDP would go from there. Layton has managed to get the party back to Ed Broadbent levels, but to ask him to get them over the hump of 43 seats and 20% might be too much to ask.

On a somewhat different note, thanks to former NDP campaign chair Brian Topp for the mention on the Globe and Mail website.


  1. The conventional wisdom seemed to be that the Liberals "won" last week and Layton was the big loser.

    However, outside the Ottawa bubble the pundits live in I think the Liberals actually suffered from the perception that they were trying to start an election and faced a backlash, similiar to what happened when they threatened an election during the spring.

    For the NDP, does Layton get credit for averting an election and getting money for EI?

    I kinda doubt it given how wishy washy they were. I thought they should have been aggresive in asserting their big win and used it to criticize Ignatieff - the line should have been something like we got 1 billion for the unemployed, all you got was a failed summer working group. But instead they mulled it over and looked weak.

    Honestly though I think the short term back and forth will have zero effect on the NDP. I guess we'll know tommorow with the Ekos poll.

  2. The deeper structural problem for the NDP is that they are a third party and will suffer in a polarized environment.

    The Liberals always used to benefit from strategic voting until it became clear the Tories were going to win anyways.

    2008 was the high water mark for the NDP because people knew Dion had no chance and felt free to vote their conscience.

    Of course, this whole thing relies on circular logic - People will vote NDP unless the Liberals look like they have a shot, except the Liberals won't have a shot if people vote NDP.

    Liberals are now locked in to voting against the government, so my suggestion to the NDP would be to provoke an election when the Conservatives look strong. There's no way Ignatieff can escape an election by voting for the government, it would be a huge flip flop.

    My other suggestion for the NDP would be to actually start attacking Ignatieff as a right wing American.

    I mean, this was a guy who was at Harvard, writing in the NY Times about why the US should go to war with Iraq. Then there's the whole torture and civil liberties issue raised by Ignatieff's book "The Lesser Evil".

    Progressive voters would be horrified by this stuff! Why the NDP (and BQ) aren't capitalizing on it more I don't know.

  3. >>but it certainly isn't the nine
    >>seats the party won back in 2000.
    Back in 2000, the NDP won 13 seats. 9 seats - that was their result in 1993. (With ~7% of the vote.)

  4. "2008 was the high water mark for the NDP because people knew Dion had no chance and felt free to vote their conscience. "

    HOw do you explain the NDP doing almost as well in the 2006 election when people did not necessarily think that Paul Martin had "no chance". There are plenty of scenarios whereby the NDP could improve on its current seat count. Dion was about as far left a Liberal leader as we will ever see and on top of that the media was doing its best play up the Green party and that weird earth mother who leads them - so the NDP had a lot of competition on the left. Now Ignatieff has taken the Liberals far to the right and the Green party has vanished off the face of the earth. On top of that Tory support is lower than it was in the last election. Anything can happen in an election campaign, but I could easily see a scenario where the NDP holds on to what it has now and also gains half a dozen "low hanging fruit" in terms of Tory held seats out west that the NDP came very close to winning last time.

  5. Thanks for pointing out the error, Leonard.

  6. DL, regarding 2006 I looked it up to check if my memory was right and it appears to be.

    By the end of the 2006 campaign it was clear that a Conservative government would be the likely result. The NDP was making the pitch that they should hold the balance of power in a minority government and in one of the best lines of the campaign Layton asked Liberal voters to "lend" the NDP their votes.

    2004 was a strategic voting election - Layton himself made the claim that it hurt the NDP. 2006 and 2008 were good NDP years because the Libs had no chance of winning.

    I completely disagree about the NDP trying to win Tory ridings. I really doubt it will happen, they'll probably lose the Alberta seat they picked up.

    I think its more likely they'll pick up Liberal seats.

  7. If there is one thing just about every poll is showing consistently its that Tory support in BC is down significantly from the last election when they got 44%. They will probably fall back into the mid-30s where they were in '04 and '06 and the Liberals will get a bit of a "dead cat bounce" from last year. The NDP would then win back Surrey North and North Vancouver Island in a snap. There is at least one Tory seat in Nova Scotia where the NDP has to favoured as well and there are one or two pick up opportunities in Saskatchewan as well. The NDP would probably have a hard time taking any more Liberal held seats since almost all the Liberal/NDP marginals already went NDP last time so there almost nothing left to take.

    All I'm saying is that while the NDP will be largely defending its marginal seats in the next election, there are pick-up opportunities as well - and any party has to have a mix of offense and defense.

  8. DL wrote:

    "the Green party has vanished off the face of the earth"

    That is a curious statement given that, in virtually every poll, the Greens poll better than they did in the 2008 election.

    What will happen during an election campaign is uncertain, but the existence of the Greens is still very much an issue for the NDP.

  9. "That is a curious statement given that, in virtually every poll, the Greens poll better than they did in the 2008 election."

    If you look back at all the polls conducted in 2007 and most of 2008 you will note that in virtually every poll the Greens polled way better than they did on election day. Similarly for years the BC Greens kept polling 15-16%, then in the election they got 8%. They simply don't have the capacity to get out their vote - no money, no members, no organization...and now a political climate where NO ONE is talking aout the environment. When was the last time anyone from the Green party was asked to comment on anything. The media is totally ignoring them compared to a year ago. I'll be surprised if they crack 5% of the vote in the next election.

    Too bad, since most of the votes they do get are from disaffected Liberals.

  10. DL:

    The argument of your post at 22:14 was that the environment has improved for the NDP; that the NDP can reasonably hope to gain seats for reasons that you mention, including different Liberal leadership as well as your contention that the Greens have "vanished off the face of the earth."

    I don't disagree with your observation that support for the Greens has tended to be somewhat lower in elections than in pre-election polling.

    But, as you note yourself, that is not a *change*.

    Even if the Greens were to drop down to 7% during the next election that would still make them a complicating factor for the other parties in roughly the same measure as they were in 2008.

    You predict that the Greens will get less than 5% of the vote in the next election. That may happen, but that seems like more of a hunch than an evidence-based conclusion.

    If the Greens can poll near 10% while being ignored (as you claim) by the media, and an election campaign will guarantee them coverage, why would their support drop more rapidly this time than in 2008?

  11. They will get even less coverage in the next election (and they got very little last year). The environment is now a non-issue and Elizabeth May is no longer a novelty. The press is starting to treat like an object of ridicule.

    Their "mirage" of support is largely a function of polling companies prompting for them. Its interesting that Nanos doesnt prompt for ANYONE. He just asks "Who are you going to vote for?" and doesn't offer any name. His last poll has the Greens at 4% - which sounds about right. I think that between elections a lot of people will choose Green because they don't want to say "none of the above" or that they don't know.

  12. DL wrote:

    [Regarding the Greens] "Their "mirage" of support is largely a function of polling companies prompting for them."

    It certainly seems reasonable to wonder if this affects polling matters.

    I was not aware that Nanos is different in not prompting with a list of party names. Interesting. That could certainly be the reason that the Greens poll slightly less well with Nanos than with most posters.

    However, I'm not sure if it follows that Nanos' approach is necessarily better.

    After all, when a voter gets his ballot, the names with party affiliation will be listed there. So, one could argue that prompting with party names better replicates what happens at the polling station.


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