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.