Thursday, May 20, 2004

Liberals ignoring message in falling poll standings

VICTORIA - The Liberals seem genuinely - and bafflingly - at ease in the face of the latest poll that shows they could lose the election next May.
And their reaction helps explain why voters are deserting the party.
The Ipsos-Reid poll is the first to show that the New Democrats have taken a clear lead over the Liberals. They have the support of 44 per cent of decided voters; Liberal support has fallen to 37 per cent.
The news is even bleaker across what the Liberals used to call the Heartland. Carole James and the New Democrats are at 46 per cent outside the Lower Mainland, while the Liberals have fallen to 33 per cent. Unless those numbers change 20 to 25 Liberal MLAs outside the Lower Mainland will be gone after the election.
So what do the Liberals say?
First, they point out that governments traditionally lose popularity during their term. "Part of a normal cycle," said Economic Development John Les, a comment echoed by other ministers.
That's only partly true. A year before the last election the NDP was down to 16-per-cent support; they barely climbed to 22 per cent in the actual vote. And it ignores the reality that for B.C., that "normal cycle" ends in the defeat of the government after one term.
Second, they say that voters will return to them when the NDP has to come up with some specific policies and people remember just how bad the previous government was.
That may be. It's hard to believe that the voters could go from detesting the New Democrats to welcoming them back in just four years. (The emergence of many members of that bumbling government as potential NDP candidates is great news for the Liberals.)
But it's risky to base your election optimism on the idea that people will eventually decide they have to vote for you because they have no other choice. That kind of support can easily be lost.
And finally the Liberals say the public has got it wrong. We just haven't noticed yet how much better things are today than they were three years ago, and once we do Liberal support will surge.
That last response illustrates one reason the Liberals are doing so badly in the polls.
About 1.6 million people voted in the last election; about 930,000 of them voted Liberal, a huge show of support.
But based on the latest poll, more than one-third of those people have decided they no longer support the party.
Implicit in all the Liberal responses is that those people have got it wrong. They don't understand what the government is doing. They haven't recognized how much better their lives are.
It's a response that reinforces the impression that the government doesn't care what the public thinks, that is distant and arrogant and rigid. It adds to the perception that this is a government that is so certain that it is right that it no longer listens to people with a different view.
The fact is that some 340,000 people who supported the Liberals three years ago have decided the government has failed them.
None of the Liberals who responded to the poll suggested that it might be useful to figure out why these people have decided the government is doing a bad job. None of the MLAs or cabinet ministers suggested that maybe the government needs to listen to these people, and learn why they think the government has lost its way. None of them suggested that these people might have good reasons for withdrawing their support.
That doesn't mean government by poll; principles remain important.
I used to manage newspapers. And if one-third of the customers quit reading the newspaper, I'd want to find out why. And I would figure that we were doing something wrong, and better fix it.
The Liberals should want to know why the people they serve are giving them failing grades.
Footnote: The Green Party is down to 11 per cent support, from a high of 20 per cent. That's good news for the NDP. The Unity Party stood at five per cent provincially and eight per cent ourside the Lower Mainland. That in turn is bad news for the Liberals, who could lose support to Unity.

2 comments:

Life in Victorola said...

I enjoy your commentary.

That the "Liberals" don't wish to be confused with the facts is hardly surprising. They probably hope it's a hangover that'll eventually just go away after a long summer of liberal love, just like that memorable Maui misdemeanour, the ghost of Christmas past. A vibrant party that is not micromanaged by "true believers" might actually be able to pull an NDP and make a late course correction; i.e. retire Harcourt and roll out a brand spanking new Glen Clark unit. The NDP got away with that once, all the more since Campbell was at the time widely seen as a sore winner. His reputation has not since improved one scintilla, but back at the ranch it's gummint bidness as usual, "drink the cool aid", "damn the torpedoes", vote for me on their record, not mine. NDP bumbling was mostly well intentioned, Liberal incompetence is mostly mean spirited and alienates the all important swing vote, not to mention widening the gender gap. One has to play to the Canadian middle with clean checks and not Bertuzzis into the ice.

I'm heartened to hear you mention the Unity party. It is rare that they are ever mentioned in the canwest press. One wonders why? The Greens are trumpeted as spoilers but wherefore the Unity party?

=dn=

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