Wednesday, January 11, 2006

What I Think Will Happen

The Truth Hurts: Canadian Political Blog
So yesterday I gave some good news for the Conservatives. Basically, it was that the decision of a whopping Conservative majority is in the hands of Quebecers. I will not rule out that possibility, but today's article will explain what I think will actually happen over the next week.

Anyone who has helped organize an election campaign knows that the least important number from a poll is who is "leading." Its the first number you will read and it is important, but it is usually not the most important. There are all sorts of other questions parties ask that are typically far more important. I do not have access to those in this election, but I was able to accurately predict the collapse of Liberal support based on the leadership indicators that SES Research tracks and the changes in voting patterns that my model picked up on. And for anyone who thinks it was the RCMP investigation that was the sole cause of the Conservative rise and Liberal fall they should go back and look at the polling data. If you look at SES you will see that Conservative support started to rise on December 22. They actually stall a bit as the RCMP investigation becomes public. But take a look at the "best PM" numbers for Ontario for December 22: Paul Martin, 27%; Stephen Harper, 26%. Now take a look at those same numbers for January 10: Paul Martin, 38%; Stephen Harper 26%. To be fair, leadership is one of the most important drivers of a party's vote but it is not the only variable. I believe that the Conservative platform has resonated with voters and at least as important is that voters are no longer scared of what the Conservatives might do - or at least many of them are not very scared. But there are some interesting things to point out about these leadership numbers. First, the fact that Harper has not improved tells me that it would be very difficult for the Conservatives to sweep Ontario. Their support has likely peaked. Second, it is almost inconceivable that the Conservatives could have such a rise in the polls, seem certain to form government, are within dreaming distance of a majority, and yet Harper's numbers are still where they were in mid-December. What is happening? To be frank, I do not know. But it is a very strong indication that the negative ads that the Liberals are currently running will work because it means Harper is still a weak spot in the Conservative armour. Do not keep an eye on the standings of the parties in Ontario in the next few SES polls; look at Harper's numbers. If Harper's numbers go down then no matter what happens to his party's standings I am certain that they will go down in Ontario over the next week. If they stay the same I suspect the Conservatives have levelled out in Ontario. If they go up, watch out. Having said that, my money is that Conservative support in Ontario is going to go down. My hunch is that those Liberal ads are going to work.

Now let us look at Atlantic Canada. On December 22 Martin's numbers were at 34% and Harper's were at 28%. By January 10 Martin was at 31% and Stephen Harper was at 25%. Basically, they have not budged. Jack Layton on the other hand has gone from 8 to 15%. It is the only region where his numbers have seen a significant increase. But I will get back to Layton and the NDP later. What is important is that I believe that the rise in the polls for the Conservatives in Atlantic Canada has been for different reasons than the rise in Ontario. I believe that part of the reason for the rise in Atlantic Canada is simply because Tory numbers have risen elsewhere. I do not want to discount the efforts of the Tories, but there are people who are now taking the party more seriously as it appears they are going to form government. People like going with winners. But that is not a solid foundation to build electoral support upon. So, the Liberal's negative ads in Atlantic Canada could be effective there as well - and I expect that they will. Even more important, if the Conservative's standing in the polls go down nationally I predict that the Atlantic numbers will follow shortly thereafter.

Now to Quebec. The whole "Mulroney Size Majority" article of yesterday was driven by Quebec's ability to make that happen. And they will continue to have that ability even if Conservative support falls in Ontario and Atlantic Canada. I will outline the Quebec numbers that would be the basis of venturing a prediction on what will happen in Quebec but I am also going to deviate from that right after I give those numbers. Martin's "best PM" numbers were at 30% in Quebec on December 22; he was at 16% on January 10. Clearly he is finished in Quebec - yesterday's man, so to speak. Stephen Harper, in contrast, was at 9% on December 22 and 26% on January 10. This is a stunning improvement! This is something Harper and the Conservatives can take great pride in. But this is where I go on my deviation. I do not believe it matters how stunning that is because I think the Conservatives have topped out in Quebec. As most of you may have guessed by now, I am not a political neophyte. My political instincts tell me that the negative ads - heck negative everything that Harper is being hit with by both the Bloc Quebecois and the Liberals - is going to stick. I think the Conservatives are likely to win seats in Quebec and on election day they should consider that a major victory. But I believe the Conservative numbers in Quebec will not be much higher than they are today. In fact, I am going to watch for signs over the next few days as to whether they will drop.

Now back to Jack Layton. I already pointed out in a previous article many days ago that the direction of NDP support in Ontario is almost 100% negatively correlated with Conservative support - when the Conservatives go up the NDP go down. It is hard to think of people moving from the NDP to the Conservatives but there actually are polling numbers during this election that show voters that move away from the NDP move equally to the Conservatives and Liberals. There is a protest vote in Ontario that is trying to make up their minds who best can deliver the message they want delivered to Martin and the Liberals. Many of the Ontario voters that will move away from the Conservatives over the next week will not want to go to the Liberals. Layton has done well this election and he will pick up many of those votes. His excellent leadership numbers in Atlantic Canada give him the same opportunity there as I expect he will have in Ontario.

So yesterday's article gives some hope to the Conservatives, and if Quebec says yes to a Conservative majority then it will happen - and it will be a big majority if that yes is strong enough. That possiblity is where we are at right now. Having said that, or blogged it as the case may be, it is not the direction I expect things will go over the next week. I think I will be prepared to make a prediction on this by the weekend.