Thursday, March 2, 2017

The Pollcast: 3 months to go in the Conservative leadership race

Kevin O'Leary was not one of the 13 candidates participating in the Conservative Party's leadership debate in Edmonton Tuesday, due to what he called its "bad format."

Those who did participate, struggled to be noticed on the cluttered stage — and with less than three months to go before the ballots are counted, candidates need to get noticed.

You can listen to the podcast heresubscribe to future episodes here, and listen to past episodes here.

O'Leary's decision to avoid the debate might have been the quintessential front runner's move, but O'Leary is far from being a runaway favourite for the leadership. Maxime Bernier is also widely seen to be in a strong position, while candidates such as Andrew Scheer, Lisa Raitt, Kellie Leitch, Erin O'Toole and Michael Chong are trying to secure second choice support that could keep them in the running.

Calls for the other candidates in the race to step aside are beginning to grow.

But will they be heeded?

To help lay out where things stand at this point in the race, I'm joined again by Conservative insiders Chad Rogers of Crestview Strategy and Tim Powers of Summa Strategies.

You can listen to the podcast heresubscribe to future episodes here, and listen to past episodes here.


  1. Good round-up of the Tory race. I originally thought Scheer would emerge as the "consensus candidate". To date however, he is falling rather flat. I think the consensus on Scheer may be that he is a little plain. He's not catching fire at any rate. Lisa Raitt may be turning into the consensus candidate instead. She may win Atlantic Canada where she is from and do well enough in Ontario where she represents to make it to the later rounds.

    The way I see the race Kevin O'Leary will not be in everyone's top five, Lisa Raitt might. I still think Bernier is looking like the candidate to beat, with Lisa Raitt moving up in the race and Kellie Leitch in decline. Scheer appears to be holding steady albeit with a bit of negative momentum and Erin O'Toole and Stephen Blaney also-rans with a few others.

  2. The parallels between the Conservative leadership campaign and the 2016 Republican primaries are too strong to ignore. Too many candidates means none of them get a real message out. A professional showman joins the race and sucks away all of the attention. The polls show the showman with a huge lead. The analysts discount the polls figuring that the organization and connections of other candidates will survive after the initial curiosity with the showman subsides. They also point to the funny vote-counting rules that make it harder for outsiders to win.

    My bet is that the last part will hold true as well: the actual voting will show that his big lead is real, and that the voting rules designed to produce a consensus will instead make it easier for the showman to rack up big vote totals in parts of the country where the party is traditionally weak.

    1. The one major difference is the barrier to entry is much higher in the Conservative race. Open primaries allow any elector to cast a ballot, being a "registered" Republican or Democrat is little more than being on the voters list as such.

      It costs 15 bucks to be a Conservative member, for a lot of people that is too high a price.

      I still don't really believe people are going to join the Conservative party to vote for O'Leary. If it was an open primary situation I think you would be right, the race almost over but, who is going to pay $15 for the privilege of voting for Kevin O'Leary? My guess is not many. If membership was free or $2, it would be likely. Corbyn became Labour leader partly due to the low Labour membership fee £2. I think $15 too high a price for O'Leary to be able to dominate the party with new members.

    2. A huge difference between the Republican's system and Conservative's system is winner-takes-all piecemeal voting vs instant run-off proportional wins.

      When it wasn't until April 19 that Trump won the majority in any state, and that was his home state of New York. Due to a 20% minimum to receive electoral votes, Cruz was eliminated from winning on the first ballot (when Kasich and Rubio supporters might switch to him).

      Here a Candidate needs the majority of support from the majority parts of Canada (or at least a strong plurality of one or the other) against a reduced field.

      Polling supports O'Leary, but unless the polling is asking for ranked candidates, having a plularity of first choices may not be enough. 20-35% national support doesn't have a direct translation into what the race will look like, regardless of outcome.

    3. Kenneth -- I hear what you are saying; my feeling (no more than that) is that the average potential Conservative leadership voter is a bit better off than the average Canadian and won't be that fussed about a $15 membership fee.

      Mapleson: I also hear what you are saying, but I don't see why Conservative members who support one of the other candidates on the first ballot would avoid O'Leary as a second or third choice. With no time between ballots for deals or endorsements by losing candidates, there is no reason to think that O'Leary wouldn't attract second or third ballot votes roughly in proportion to his first ballot results. I don't see anything like an "Never O'Leary" movement among Conservatives. He might be near the bottom choice among francophones and social conservatives, but those don't make up the majority of the party.

    4. It will be interesting as francophones and social conservatives don't need to be the majority of the party, just a majority in their geographical areas.

      If Eric's CLI is accurate, they might need at least 9 rounds with 3-5 candidates at the end.

      You can vote for many marginal candidates high on the ballot, but your vote gets stuck with the top of someone like Bernier, O'Leary, Scheer, or Leitch. Each round of eliminations affects the next, so it makes some interesting game theory if you should vote or not for a candidate that you like, but don't think will make the top of the list. If you think their supporters would help your preferred candidate in the final round, then you'd prefer them to be eliminated earlier.

    5. Goaltender Interference,

      Thanks for responding. At the end of the day I am unconvinced O'Leary will sign-up sufficient new members for him to win. O'Leary is doing a good job though so far in campaigning and holding Justin's feet to the fire. He looks like an Opposition Leader. He could win the race but, I am still doubtful. He is the most well-known candidate except in Quebec, he could easily fall off the ballot in the early rounds in the Quebec is my feeling.

      I disagree with the assumption most Conservative members are "better-off" than their contemporaries in other parties. Canadian politics is not regulated along a class system, even household income is not a determinant of who a person may vote for. I know the common assumption holds the rich disproportionately vote Tory.

      However, I am not sure that assumption holds. The wealthiest riding in British Columbia; Vancouver-Quadra where the average home is now $2,000,000 or better has a Liberal M.P., Joyce Murray for example. Of the 5 ridings with the highest household incomes; 3 elected Liberals last election and two elected Conservatives and of the five ridings with the lowest incomes; four voted Liberal and one NDP.

      Kevin O'leary could win but, if so it will be because he campaigned well and convinced people he would be a competent and effective Opposition Leader not his ability to sign up new members.

  3. Ken -- "With a median household income of $60,000 per year, Conservative constituents are richer than their Liberal and NDP counterparts, who have a median household income of $49,000 per year." -Eric Grenier, Aug 24, 2012

    There are certainly people whose low income dissuades them from spending $15 to vote for a party leader (I used to be one of them when I was a student.) However, those people aren't going to be big Kevin O'Leary enthusiasts anyway.

    The Mainstream Research poll out last week had O'Leary at 24%, Bernier at 19% and everybody else at 8% or less. A 5% lead isn't huge and Bernier could certainly overtake O'Leary in later rounds.

    But is there any reason to think that supporters of other candidates would prefer Bernier as the alternative to O'Leary? Both of them are socially liberal and relaxed about immigration, so there is no reason to think that social conservatives and Leitch supporters will switch as a block to either of them. Francophones will overwhelmingly vote Bernier, but he probably already has most of that vote sewn up in his current 19% support.

    Bernier has some name recognition as a former minister (although that includes some high-profile negative stories), but O'Leary has had years and years of free publicity on CBC and CTV. Toward the bottom of a Transferable Vote ballot, my instinct is that people will vote for the guy they've heard of over the guy they haven't. For that reason, I think O'Leary will do just as well, if not better, in later voting rounds than he does in the first round.

    1. There are many reasons to think Leitch, Blaney, Scheer, Ohbrai and other supporters will choose Bernier over O'Leary on later ballots. First among them Bernier has political experience, O'Leary does not. Bernier looks as if he can give Trudeau a run for his money in Quebec, O'Leary can't speak French proficiently. Bernier's skeletons went to Rideau Hall, O'Leary, if he has any, are still hidden away(I think most people assume he has some; how rich is he? Will he make his taxes public for the last 20 years?). Bernier has paid his "dues" within the Conservatives party, O'Leary is a Johnny-come-lately-social-Liberal.

      The big problem for O'Leary with the $15 fee is the nominal cost for some, for most it is enough money to make them stop and think-enough time to have second thoughts about O'Leary.

    2. I totally agree that O'Leary has some problematic attributes that other parties will eviscerate him for. But some of those problems are shared with other candidates, eg., Obhrai or Leitch supporters surely don't care whether O'Leary can speak French, given how their favourite candidates are also unilingual.

      Most of O'Leary's problematic aspects haven't registered with anyone, be they long-time conservatives or not. You can find internet articles suggesting O'Leary isn't as successful a businessman as he portrays, but who is going to do that much research on someone who might be their fifth, sixth or seventh choice on the ballot?

      I'm sure that the other candidates feel O'Leary hasn't "paid his dues" while they have, but what does an ordinary member care about "paying dues"? They just pick the guy they like the best.


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