Monday, April 18, 2005

Liberals in command, James has the upside potential

VICTORIA - Here's the starting point. If the election campaign doesn't produce any surprises, or change anyone's mind, figure a little over 50 seats for the Liberals, and something over 25 for the NDP.
A lot can happen, of course. And both leaders, and all the strategists labouring away on wedge issues and daily talking points, will be judged on whether they can improve their parties' standings over the next four weeks.
But today, that's where things stand.
I'm basing that largely on last week's Mustel poll, which showed the Liberals at 46 per cent support among decided voters, and the NDP at 38 per cent. That's a statiscally significant lead. It's also slightly larger than Gordon Campbell and company had two months ago, indicating a relatively stable situation. Those results suggest about 50 seats for the Liberals.
That seat forecast is also not far off the results so far from the UBC Election Stock Market, a forecasting exercise that requires those involved to risk money on the accuracy of their predictions.
And it's consistent with an informal survey I did with 27 people from around the province, all political watchers, none involved directly in campaign. Their average forecast was 53 seats for the Liberals, 26 for the NDP. (I have been reading The Wisdom of Crowds, by James Surowiecki. which argues convincingly for the power of group decision-making over experts in producing accurate forecasts and sound judgments.)
It's all good news for the Liberals, who have been tied with the NDP for much of the last 18 months. The party has managed to move far enough to the middle to win over some disaffected voters. That's been especially helpful, the Mustel poll suggests, in sharply reducing the gender gap which saw women much less likely to support the Liberals. Gordon Campbell remains unpopular - 53 per cent of those surveyed disapprove of the job he's doing, 40 per cent approve. But that's stabilized too.
The Liberal job for the campaign is to execute. They've handed out the pre-election cash and got the headlines, and can't really expect to gain much ground over the nextfour weeks. Their challenge is to hold their support, avoid mistakes, and keep the NDP on the defensive.
But the poll isn't bad news for the NDP either. There's an advantage to them in being the underdog. Many people who say they plan to vote NDP are aiming to elect a much stronger opposition, after four years of a virtual single-party state. Some of them will change their vote if they think the NDP stands a chance of being re-elected.
And the New Democrats do have a chance to improve their position. Wisely or not, Carole James put off releasing the party's platform until last week. It makes an effort to shift the NDP to the middle in the same way the Liberal's election budget eased them toward the centre. If it works, if the move seems real, that will attract voters.
Much also rests on James. Right now she's got a 70-per-cent approval rating among people who have formed an opinion of her job performance. (Campbell is at 43 per cent.)
But more than 40 per cent of the public still haven't formed an opinion. That includes a large group of people who so far plan to vote Liberal.
That's a potential upside for the NDP. James handled the party platform launch well. (I know, it doesn't sound hard. But fire up the TV lights, and bring in a roomful of faintly crabby reporters waiting for you to make a mistake, and it all gets difficult.) James needs to do the same in the debate, and every day on the campaign.
Both leaders also have to convince voters that they will actually do what they say. Campbell has the burden of broken promises; James the NDP's record.
The campaign is on, with a sizable advantage for the Liberals.
Footnote: One surprise is how little impact the Green Party now has. Party support stands at 10 per cent, below the share of the popular vote the Greens got in 2001. Despite the vacuum created by the NDP's near-death experience, the Greens have failed to convince voters they offer a serious alternative approach.


RossK said...


More info/detail on the Big Red Machine's Republican-style War Room that you mentioned on Mr. Mair's show this morning.

Anonymous said...

Hey Paul,

The crazy season begins. I think I might vote Green - am very worried about the next 15 years of planetary abuse.

Let me know if you need any help putting RSS feeds on your site.

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