Friday, January 06, 2006

Are The Election Dynamics Changing? Debates May Decide

The Truth Hurts Forecaster - Daily has been updated (click link in left column). And it reveals how the dynamics of three way races are very interesting. For example, according to the latest SES Research poll, in Ontario the Conservative Party support dropped, the NDP increased, and the Liberal Party support stayed the same. One would think that the biggest benefactor of that change, in terms of seats, would be the NDP. They do pick up a seat or two but the Liberals pick up a dozen or more. It is all about how the votes are distributed, and in Ontario the Conservative vote is not distributed well at all. Once they hit that 37-38% mark they start to see some big improvements in seats. But the movement towards that threshold produces much less. Since they went from 37% to 33% in the latest poll they dropped below that threshold and saw a big decline in seats. But the question is: What is really happening in Ontario? The Conservative numbers have dropped to roughly where they were in mid-December. Did Ontarians flirt with the Conservatives only to turn down a date? The Liberals have seen a slight rebound in Ontario, but hardly significant - and perhaps it is just a "dead cat bounce".

I think the real answer to Ontario can be seen in the NDP numbers. The direction of the NDP numbers is almost 100% negatively correlated with the direction of the Conservative numbers. That is, the NDP nearly always go down when the Conservatives go up; and up when the Conservatives go down. The trend line for the Liberals, on the other hand, has been slightly downward. In my opinion, the numbers clearly show there are a significant number of Ontarians that want a change, and more and more as the election goes on, but they cannot decide whether they can better get that change by voting NDP or Conservative. The party that can best convince Ontarians that their desire for change is best achieved through them is going to see very, very significant increases in the seats they take from this province. (UPDATE: The unusualness of this has been brought up in the comments below. However, this correlation is over a long period. I have randomly picked a dozen SES Research polls and the combined Conservative/NDP support is always between 48 and 51. It is clear there is a segment of the population in Ontario that is actually shifting between the Conservatives and NDP.)

Western Canada is a much easier story to tell. Usually there are clear distinctions with the various areas of the west. But this time there is a simple and clear story - the Liberals are in free fall. That drop has been to the benefit of the Conservative and to a lesser extend the NDP.

Quebec numbers are also very interesting, not for what is on the surface but what seems to be simmering below. I will now definitely say that the Conservatives have firmly rebounded in Quebec, even though their support is still in third place. But that is significant. Whether they can capitalize on that remains to be seen. But I am convinced that Quebecers will be looking at the Conservatives as a legitimate alternative to the two main parties in Quebec: the Liberals and Bloc Quebecois.

But what is more interesting in Quebec is that I think the 'threat' of a Conservative government, even a minority, is going to drive some dissatisfied Liberals away from the Bloc and back to the Liberals. Plus, the 'opportunity' of a Conservative government, even a minority, is going to drive other voters away from the Bloc and to the Conservatives. What we could be witnessing in Quebec is a fundamental change to the dynamics of the election. If the Bloc do not figure this out, and even if they do, they are going to be in big trouble. (Normally I try to be neutral in this blog but I hope the Bloc Quebecois do not have a clue and suffer for it.)

The greatest stability in the race so far has been in Atlantic Canada. However, if the dynamics fundamentally change in Ontario and Quebec then expect at least some changes here as well.

Anyone paying attention to the underlying dynamics of this election must be very excited about what is happening. We are now looking at the potential of not just one party rising or another falling in support but instead we could be witnessing some significant changes to the dynamics of the election. The latest numbers seem to show that the dynamics have been heading for a change but the voters have taken a brief pause. Which way will they go? Perhaps the numbers over the next few days will tell. What is more likely, however, is voters are going to closely scrutinize the leaders in the debates next week and then make up their minds. Whatever direction the electorate starts to move in after the debates I do not believe there will be anything anyone can do to stop them.