Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Conservative Maternal Health Plan and Abortion

Earlier this week, Harris-Decima released a poll asking Canadians how they felt about the government's maternal health plan for the developing world, which does not include funding for agencies that provide abortions. This initiative was supposed to be one of the Conservatives' attempt to woo women voters, the demographic in which they most need to gain traction. It was also supposed to be one of their planks at the upcoming G8 and G20 meetings.

Instead, this has backfired. Rather than focusing on what the plan does include, people are focusing on what it doesn't, and the wider implications of that position for the Conservative Party.

Yesterday, Le Devoir published an article in which students invited to ask questions to the Prime Minister in a run-up to the G8 and G20 meetings alleged that their questions, some of which included the topic of abortion, were re-written by the PMO's staff. This event was closely controlled and moderated by Senator Mike Duffy. The article's title, "Flagrant Case of Message Control in Ottawa", sums it up. The Conservatives seem to be losing control of the narrative, and this poll by Harris-Decima demonstrates why their position is problematic.

The question asked was "Do you strongly support, support, oppose, or strongly oppose a policy that would see Canada NOT fund agencies that provide abortion procedures in the developing world?"

The national result was that 58% of Canadians OPPOSED the government's current plan, compared to only 30% who support it. Only 9% "strongly support" it, compared to 29% who "strongly oppose" it.

Highest levels of support came in Alberta (33%), while the lowest results came in Atlantic Canada, British Columbia, and the Prairies (26%).

Highest levels of opposition came in British Columbia (67%) and Atlantic Canada (65%).

This 30% is below the Tories' current support level, which means it could act as a dead-weight for them, dragging them down. That highest levels of opposition came in British Columbia, a definite electoral battleground, should be especially problematic.

By party, we find that not even within their own ranks do Conservatives have majority support on the issue.While 40% of Conservative voters support the government's plan not to include this funding, 48% oppose it. For all of the other parties, a strong majority of voters oppose this plan.

The highest level of opposition comes from New Democratic supporters, where only 23% are in favour of this plan and fully 70% are against it. If opposition is highest in British Columbia and Atlantic Canada, this bodes well for the party, as these are two of the regions in which they need to do well.

Liberal supporters are less strongly against the plan, but still oppose it by a rate of 63%. Support is at 31%, while Bloc Québécois voters have a similar opinion, 29% in favour and 63% against.

Green voters, at 26% in favour and 67% against, are at a similar level as the NDP.

With this topic surely to be brought up at the G8 and G20 meetings, this issue will not go away any time soon. While I don't expect this to be a major factor in dragging down Conservative support in the near future, it is just one of many reasons why the Tories have been unable to move conclusively beyond 1 in 3 support in Canada.