Monday, January 30, 2012

Who can grow the NDP?

Late last week, Abacus Data released a very interesting poll on the NDP leadership race. It wasn't about who should win or who would win, but rather whether Canadians were familiar with the candidates, whether they would induce them to vote NDP, and what they were looking for in an NDP leader.

Before getting into the nitty-gritty of the numbers, I invite you to take a look at my latest column in The Hill Times here on the opportunity that the current level of NDP support gives the next leader. You may need a subscription to read it, but The Hill Times is well worth it! Also, check out my round-up of polls in Alberta since the last election on The Globe and Mail website here.

The most important numbers in the NDP poll deal with name recognition. Are Canadians aware of the eight people vying for the job of Leader of the Opposition?

The answer is that a lot of them aren't. Fully 40% of Canadians did not recognize any of the eight leadership contenders. Thomas Mulcair's name was the most recognized, with 36% of Canadians aware of him. Brian Topp, who was a relative unknown when the campaign began, appears to have been successful getting his name out as 31% of Canadians recognized him. Paul Dewar came in third with 27%, while Peggy Nash was in fourth with 23% recognition.

About one-quarter to one-third of Canadians appear to be aware of the four frontrunners in the race. After that, however, it really drops off: 11% for Roméo Saganash, 9% for Niki Ashton, and 8% for Nathan Cullen and Martin Singh.

Among NDP supporters, people who should be more interested in the race, 35% were still unable to name one of the candidates. Among those who could, the order was not any different nor was the proportion who could recognize them. But every candidate except Nash had better or equal recognition among NDP supporters as they did among Canadians. That Nash had a lower recognition score among her party's own supporters is slightly odd.

Thomas Mulcair, of course, was top in Quebec at 67% recognition. Topp (31%) and Saganash (24%) followed. Atlantic Canadians were most familiar with Dewar (32%), while Singh got a good score (18%). Ontarians were most familiar with Dewar (36%) and Nash (33%), while western Canadians were most familiar with Topp (35%). Niki Ashton (15%) and Nathan Cullen (18%) had their best results among this group. Dewar's 30% was quite good as well, indicating he has decent name recognition across the country.

What was interesting is that Liberals were more aware of the race than NDP supporters - only 29% were unable to recognize a single the candidate. Conservatives were more indifferent, with 42% unable to name any of the candidates.

But it was the question of whether any of the candidates would make Canadians more likely to vote NDP that interested me the most. It speaks to growth potential for the NDP and among which groups each of the candidates might be able to make the most inroads.

First, I noted that 28% of Canadians "would never vote NDP". That is a surprisingly small number, and gives the NDP plenty of growth potential. The number was even lower in Atlantic Canada (22%) and Quebec (14%), but was higher in Ontario (30%), British Columbia (33%), and Alberta (55%). Nevertheless, the ingredients of an NDP majority do appear to exist.

But which leader is most likely to get them there?
Click on the image to magnify. The circles for each of the leaders are proportional to their recognition score. It shows quite clearly how the four frontrunners are very far ahead of the others.

Among all Canadians, Mulcair gets the best score in terms of being able to make people more likely to vote for the NDP (21%, most of it in Quebec). Topp is second with 10%. But it is more interesting to look at the breakdowns.

Thomas Mulcair would be best positioned to grow (or at least sustain) the party in Quebec, as 78% of Bloc supporters and 62% of Quebecers would be more likely to vote NDP with him at the helm. He also would be able to grow the party in the Prairies (18%) and could draw in the support of Liberals (18%) and Greens (16%).

Brian Topp, however, would bring in British Columbians (17% of whom said they would be more likely to vote for a Topp-led NDP), Atlantic Canadians (16%), Albertans (13%), and Conservatives (9%).

Paul Dewar gets the green light from Greens (21%), Atlantic Canadians (16%), Ontarians (15%), and Liberals (13%), while Peggy Nash attracts Ontarians (14%) and Liberals (10%) as well.

The other four would have far less potential for growth than the others. Roméo Saganash and Niki Ashton's best demographic are Prairie Canadians (8% and 10%, respectively), while Nathan Cullen and Martin Singh do best in their home provinces (10% in BC for Cullen, 3% in Atlantic Canada for Singh).

Each of the frontrunners, then, has the potential to grow the party in different parts of the country. According to this poll, New Democrats concerned with holding on to Quebec would be best to vote for Mulcair. Those who want to grow the party in the western provinces might like Topp, while Dewar and Nash could put the party in a better position in Ontario.

Brian Topp, however, might have the best all-around numbers. He is second in Quebec to Mulcair, though he is far behind at 8% who say they would be more likely to vote NDP with Topp as leader. He is also close behind Dewar and Nash in Ontario with 9%. But Mulcair is not badly position either. Though he ranks fourth in Ontario, he is better placed than Dewar and Nash in western Canada.

This poll does not provide any clues as to how the members of the NDP will vote, nor was it designed to. The members will choose who they think is the best person to lead their party, but Canadians will decide whether that leader is the best person to lead the country. The two decisions are, of course, connected.