Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Liberals Need to Talk Polls

Convention wisdom amongst election strategists, is that candidates should never comment on polls, especially when behind. The theory assumes that acknowledging a rivals success only solidifies their momentum, while distracting from your attempts to look upbeat. Politicians should always project an air of confidence.

I suggest that it is time for Paul Martin to break this taboo and talk polls, talk polls extensively. According to the Ekos poll, a full 72% of Canadians believe we are headed for a minority government. This is an important finding, in that whatever apprehension voters may have towards changing governments, it is tempered by the belief that no party will have the power to act unimpeded. As we start to see headlines now pondering a potential Conservative majority, the dynamic has changed. It may be in Martin's best interest to cite the polls that show the Conservative headed for majority.

Despite the Conservative lead, I would still argue that their increased support is more a function of the desire for change, than it is a ringing endorsement of Conservative philosophy. It is quite an anomaly to have a situation where most Canadians believe the country is headed in the right direction (48% right, 37% wrong) and yet the governing party doesn't enjoy broad support. Martin needs to talk about this discrepancy, and in so doing refocus the debate on to the Liberal record.

Martin must admit the validity of the polls and openly speak of a Conservative majority. This is risky indeed, because the media could seize upon this discussion as an admission of weakness or frame it as desperation. However, Martin needs a daring approach in the final days because anything else will surely see the Liberals defeated. Spell out what a Conservative majority means. Highlight the cast of characters that will make up a Conservative cabinet. Ask aloud if we trust these people to run the country with no parliamentary check. Acknowledge the massive desire for change that is reflected in the polls and articulate why a kneejerk desire for reform is dangerous when you elect this alternative.

A full 16% of voters admit to potentially changing their votes if a Conservative majority looked certain. You could argue that this means 84% are comfortable with this mandate. But, if 16% of people changed their minds, you would have no chance of majority and may well see a situation that resembles a draw. No clear mandate, an air of uncertainty and most importantly a condition where Conservative are forced to moderate their policy. Martin should come right out and say that he trails badly in the polls, that he has ran an awkward campaign, but view this within the specter of a majority. Voters are still wary, especially in Ontario, where Liberal fortunes are most at stake.

No comments: