Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Harper Likely To Win Re-Election

This opinion isn't meant to sound defeatist, but I think it realistic. If I had to quantify Harper's chances for re-election, I would say there is an 80% likelihood. Huh? The polls consistently show a dead heat, which should translate into a 50/50 proposition.

Firstly, the advantage should always lie with the incumbent. Voters aren't likely to turf their MP's unless there is a strong feeling that change is required. I don't see a "kick the bums out" mentality manifesting itself. Although I cringe when I hear Harper refer to the government as "new", that doesn't mean that Canadians have developed a firm opinion of our direction. Governments tend to amass more negatives, alienate more sub-groups, simply as a function of time. The Liberals were shackled with a long paper trail, that was easily picked apart by the opposition. It is debatable whether there are enough contentious issues to fight effectively against the Harper government. Time is also the Liberal enemy, in that, Canadians just changed governments, do they really want to do it again so soon?

What is the lightning rod issue that can bring down the government? In my mind, the environment is the achilles heel. The problem, despite the embarrassing performance to date, the Harper government knows that they must shore up this weakness. Yesterday's announcement was another useful brick, in the effort to "neutralize" the environment. Harper doesn't need to win this issue, he just needs to take it off the front burner. There will still be possibilities for the Liberals on this file, but if the debate gets lost in specifics then Harper has accomplished his goal.

Apart from the environment, what other issues would force Canadians to seek change? The economy is strong, taxcuts are a near certainty, employment high. The Tory social agenda has largely been muted with a minority situation. Foreign policy has many concerns, but I'm not sure there is anything there to merit a change. The "just like Bush" argument is a good one, debatable how that would play out in an election campaign.

The problem, while we political geeks debate the fine points and educate ourselves on all the issues, the average person only has a tertiary interest. If you asked Canadians whether Harper has raised or reduced taxes, I'm willing to bet most would choose the latter, despite the fact groups like the Canadian Taxpayers have concluded otherwise. I question whether Canadians truly appreciate the nature of this government, the relative dis-interest manipulated to convey competence.

There is another caution in the polls, the internals usually show Harper with a strong level of satisfaction. A sense that the government keeps its promises, shows adequate leadership, is trustworthy, are all indicators of how hard it will really be to defeat the government. All things being equal, the devil you know argument may finally work to Harper's favor.

The situation isn't desperate, Harper can be defeated, but I don't think partisanship should cause us to delude ourselves into over-stating the chances. I take some solace in the unpredictable nature of election campaigns. I'm not all doom and gloom, but I'm not sure my disdain is representative of the general sense.

20 comments:

Scott Tribe said...

Far too early to be making that prediction Steve... we don't even know when the next election is, and a lot can happen between now and then. I think you've been reading too many of the Star's gloom-and-doomers columns on Stephane Dion of late.. its affected you :)

Furthermore.. all those tied polls you see must be looked at from the fact that the battleground provinces has the Liberals ahead by varying degrees, and a lot of the "neck and neck" polls is Harper being helped by such a whopping lead in Alberta. (In one recent poll for example, he was so far ahead in Alberta that when that provinces level of support was removed, he was 7 pts down everywhere else).

Also as a sidenote, if you were to plug in the last SES poll at the UBC's election predictor, the Liberals would win 127 seats to the Tories 104.. so be careful what you read into polls.

I also remember not so long ago despite the Sponsorship thing, many people were making the same predictions/arguments/reasons about why Martin would retain power - and we all know what happened.

Steve V said...

"Far too early to be making that prediction Steve"

Scott, it's not a prediction, just a probability. I've actually felt this way for quite some time, Hebert has no effect on me :) I'm assuming an election soon, if that doesn't happen, then my points are irrelevant.

s.b. said...

Actually a dead heat gives the Liberals far more seats than the conservatives because the Alberta numbers skew the data so much.

We would win by about 30 seats in a dead heat.

Olaf said...

Steve,

I applaud your honesty. The fact of the matter is that Harper has a huge advantage, in that he controls the agenda. He gets to accomplish things, while the Liberals can only talk about what they would accomplish, even after having 13 years of opportunity to do so. For example, the Conservatives get the budget, which I assure you will not be fiscally responsible (something we won't see until public finances get in bad shape, or we have a majority government), but will be filled with money and tax breaks. It's a huge advantage, and Harper has clearly shown that he's willing to exploit the governments spending power to his parties advantage.

The thing about the environment is that Harper has already re-implemented many of the Liberal plans (so he can say, we're just as good as they ever were) and has begun to look like he will go further with the new clean air act. It will be extremely hard, for the Liberals to go into the election on the environment file, considering their dismal record, when Harper can demonstrate that he has in fact done more on the environment than the Liberals did, even if he was dragged into it kicking and screaming.

Basically, Harper holds his fate in his own hands: he made all of his "mistakes" early (income trust, cutting funding for special interest groups, etc.), and it's all going to be gravy from here on out.

And Scott,

I think you've been reading too many of the Star's gloom-and-doomers columns on Stephane Dion of late.. its affected you :)

Shouldn't it tell you something if the Toronto Star is starting to public doom and gloom columns regarding the Liberal leader?

Anonymous said...

The Liberals need to lay off the election rhetoric for a while and let the Harper government implode, or let the Canadian public truly stomach what a long term Conservative agenda would look like.(And I would gamble they wouldn’t like what they see).

It also gives time for the party to rebuild and refinance. I’ve never seen a party (ours) look so crippled organizationally and financially in my 15 years of service, compared to the Conservatives.

I’m also a little annoyed by the attitude that seems to be growing in our party, in that we need to get our minority back ASAP. Such low standards for victory.

I still stand by my prediction. Which ever party is blamed for the collapse of this government will face a backlash from the public.

At this point, I can safely that the Liberal party is working around the clock to defeat this government before the budget comes out. That could mean an election call within the next couple weeks.

Ken Chapman said...

I see the argument and a Harper majority could happen. But campaigns matter and front runners are vulnerable...Harper is the front runner.

Will youth and women show up? They are the key to change to a more progressive agenda.

Harper is seen as clearly mostly about exercising personal power and the Liberals are not out of the penalty box for Adscam yet.

The big issue is action on the environment. Libs have to show the reactive and ideological program cuts they made in 2006 and reinstrated in 2007 puts their capacity for governance and judgement into question. So far so good but the message has to be constant and consistent from Dion.

Dion has to prove his graps of governance by working the same three themes he did in the leadership, a sound economy, an enhanced environment and social justice.

The ballot question is already decided to my mind...who do we, as citizens, dare to trust with our consent to be our governors? Issues are important but it is trust, character and judgement capacity of the leaders that will make the difference in if we turn out and how we vote.

Sensing change, needed or coming, draws people into the game. The change in the #1 priority to the environment over health is a sustained change and will auger well for Dion. People are ready for change! Who is the most credible and capable agent of change?

Bottom line - Campaigns matter and the world is run by those who show up!

JimBobby said...

Whooee! I been rollin' the whole idea of a Con majority 'round in my head. I reckon us Greens might be the ones who's gonna deliver that majority t' ol' King Steve. Green votes is gonna split the ABC (Anyone But Cons) vote. I figger we might get a few red tories votin' Green but mostly, I figger we're gettin' voters from the Grits an' Dippers.

When we got Harpoon in a minority, like now, danged if stuff ain't gettin' done. Sure, they got the climate change wake-up call a little late but at least they got it now.

I ain't seen so many flip-flops since the last time I went ice-fishin' an' Harper's been flippin' toward the centre wheremost Canajuns hang their polytickle hats.

I been tryin' t' resign myself t' the idea that our Green votes'll mebbe give Harpoon a majority. One thing that gives me a little hope is that Harpoon ain't stoopid. Shee-it! He's an egghead's egghead. I'm bettin' he'll see the selfsame thing all o' them other bigass economists who was at the WEF in Davos a few weeks ago. There's big money t' be made in green action.

Once Harpoon aims his spear, he seems t' follow though an' toss it. I reckon it's only a matter o' time before he sees the sense o' carbon tradin' an' green-collar job creation an' capitalizin' on green action. Like I sez, he ain't stoopid.

JimBobby

Steve V said...

Just to clarify, I see no real chance of a majority.

Anonymous said...

Harper has to win urban seats outside of Alberta to get a majority. That is physically impossible. He has to keep every Ontario seat he currently has to keep power. Another tall feet. The Liberals can take seats back in Quebec with Dion, and possibly take Ontario seats back as well. The new adds show that the Conservatives have no idea to appeal to a broad section of voters, and will contine to mess with people's emotions and as many cynical non-voters out to support them as possible.

Miles Lunn said...

I would say a 50/50 chance is my guess. There isn't a huge movement to throw the bums out, but nor are Canadians excited about re-electing Harper. A lot will depend on the campaign and who runs a better campaign. The numbers have closed up in Ontario, but lets see if that is permanent or temporary. It is also true the high sky numbers in Alberta mean the Tories do need to ahead in the polls to win more seats. Although it should be pointed out in Ontario, the Liberals need to be ahead in win more seats in the province due to the fact they pile up much larger majorities in the GTA than the Tories do in the Rest of Ontario.

Steve V said...

"A lot will depend on the campaign and who runs a better campaign."

Agreed!

Let's not forget that last spring Liberals had resigned themselves to a prolonged stint in opposition, and the leadership race started with this assumption (several people took a pass because of the landscape). What we have now is a chance, so my assessment isn't relative doom and gloom.

Miles, you also make a sound point about the Liberals in Ontario, which I think counter-balance shoshanna's Alberta argument.

ottlib said...

No, there is no real movement to "throw the bums out" but neither is their a real groundswell of support for Mr. Harper and the Conservatives.

Remember that Canadians did not give Mr. Harper a ringing endorsement, which is why he only won 124 seats. His job for the last year was to consolidate that victory and to grow his support. He failed.

Sitting governments have a hell of a time growing their support during election campaigns. It is not impossible but it is difficult. With a few exceptions sitting governments tend to lose 1 or 2 points of support in their second election regardless of their record or election campaign. Considering how low the Conservative support was last time that kind of swing can be the difference between sitting in the government or opposition benches.

I believe it is anybody's game right now and alot of things could happen between now and the election in May.

Steve V said...

ottlib

"No, there is no real movement to "throw the bums out" but neither is their a real groundswell of support for Mr. Harper and the Conservatives.

Remember that Canadians did not give Mr. Harper a ringing endorsement, which is why he only won 124 seats. His job for the last year was to consolidate that victory and to grow his support. He failed."

He failed miserably! You can just as easily argue that a good economy, large surpluses, a general positive climate, should translate into stronger support. The government has gone nowhere, despite having the playing field to themselves for long periods. I see no real chance of a majority, that was the goal and it gives me some comfort.

Alot can happen, no question, but I think the gradient today suggests a tough climb.

Susan said...

You guys - you always forget that women make up half of the population and we DON"T like Harper. Just make sure you offer all your lady friends a ride to the polls.

steve v - I read your blog all the time and appreciate it and I agree with almost everything you write but not this - maybe you just have the February blues.

Steve V said...

susan

This is true.

Scotian said...

Steve V:

I can't agree with you that the probability is as high as 80%, 50% I could see but 80% seems just too high for all the indicators working against him as well as what he has going for him. Remember, having a good economy and good economic record did not help Martin last time out, and while there is not the massive anger in the populace there was then thanks to Adscam this is a lot of discomfort with Harper's style and his many many many reversals from things he promised in the last election.

Harper has the shine of competence surrounding him, but there are still lingering questions about what that competence is truly in service to. Take the recent judicial appointments committee actions taken by this government, they did not just change the membership they altered the balance of power from minority to majority for the government/PM appointees and adding a police voice (which is dubious despite what Harper was saying about it) while de facto all but completely nullifying the rep of the judges by making that person chair with a vote to break ties which between 7 members (excluding the chair) is not going to be all that often an occurrence. Given the clear hostility Harper has displayed towards the judiciary throughout his career including in the last election campaign that has some disturbing overtones for many Canadians that are understandably proud of our justice system. As things like this become more openly recognized by the wider electorate (and it is the responsibility of the opposition parties to provide that wider understanding, it is after all a part of their function/job in our Parliamentary system) it will reinforce the clear concerns most voters have towards Harper and the CPC's real agenda if given unfettered power (majority) or even left in minority for too long given that he is taking such actions with this weak minority he currently has.

Now, I do think it is entirely possible for Harper to win another minority, I just don't see the probabilities as high for him as you do. I get as I said more of a toss-up/50% sense than anything as high as 80%. A lot of CPCers have said in the recent past that the polls showing the Libs higher weren't a concern since that was true for the last several elections and then once the actual campaigns were underway they lost several points. True, but was this a function of them being Liberals or them being government? I tend to think it is more the latter than the former and it is quite possible this time out it is the CPC that will be hit with that phenomena. Not a given of course, but something to be considered I'd say when considering probabilities.

One last wildcard I think may be in play are the NDP voters, where they vote this time. I know many local NDP regular voters that in the next election are voting Liberal or Green because they are pissed at Layton for not going after Harper more strongly than he does. They cannot understand how Layton cannot see that Harper represents a far greater threat to their principles and desired agendas than the Libs ever did, and the way he was been playing footsie politics with Harper for the past couple of years has left them very disillusioned with the current NDP and unwilling to vote for them until Layton is gone. I think this may possibly be the story everyone missed until the election results come in, as there is always one such story at the end of all election campaigns in my observations. I am not saying I think this is a given, I just think it is a stronger force than many NDP partisans will acknowledge to others or even perhaps to themselves. If these voters mobilize enough behind the Libs in enough ridings it could well upset the applecart in terms of the predicted/expected results. I just do not know, but I do think it is a strong enough potential that it needs mentioning.

Steve V said...

scotian

Valid points, my view is just one reading.

Scotian said...

Steve V:

As of course is mine. Which is one of the reasons I enjoy not just reading bloggers' posts but their comment threads as well. I find a great deal of insight and variability within the various political spectrums when I lurk at many places that I do not comment at. Indeed, I think the ratio of blogs I read more than once a week to those I comment at in the same period is at least 20-1, likely significantly higher overall since that is a very conservative approximation.

For example, you did not take my disagreement with your original post as a challenge, you acknowledged that I had a reasonable basis for my beliefs while still standing by your own, which are also not unreasonable based on your listed assumptions/reasoning while acknowledging that we both are only capturing a fragment of the over all reality of which we are discussing. This is the sort of thing I enjoy the most, and one of the things that most saddens me about too many CPCers online is the amount of personal anger and viciousness they tend to bring to their comments, be they simple Trolletariat talking points or actually some decently thought out arguments even if the underlying assumptions were not valid themselves.

This idea that so many of we progressives would prefer an echo chamber that so many Conservatives have of us is something I find totally absurd and most difficult to understand. How else without being challenged to demonstrated that your interpretation of the facts as commonly agreed upon are the most correct (as there are many times where one can have varying correct and incorrect answers to something, life is very rarely as binary a set of choices as some would prefer to believe) can one further increase their understanding and gain further insights and hopefully wisdom? This is why things like peer review is something I find worthy of respect and find difficult to see how it is fairly equated as merely differing opinions like in political discussions between equal citizens that have wide ranging levels of education/knowledge of what they are speaking about, unlike in the case of peer review committees/boards.

It is this tendency for binary thinking, false equivalency, and to reduce things down to their simplest which I think is most likely to destroy Harper conservatism in this country, my only question is how much damage gets done before that happens? We are a very well integrated multiple cultured society from all major planetary cultures. As you noted in a recent poll on tolerance in various countries our immigrants are significantly less fearful even today of hostility and naked (subtle is another matter and one I do think there is room for less confidence it is as high) prejudice displayed against them, and it is we (as in those descended of western European/British rooted ancestry that created this society for them despite the complaining of what until recently has been properly referred to as a fringe mentality) multigenerational Canadians and our families which proudly built a country that permits this. I simply do not believe the significant majority of this country feels this way including in the multigenerational Canadians as well as the more recent ones, no they I believe take pride in all of this and consider it worth defending if challenged, hence why Harper met with repeated electoral failure when he was advocating his ideas and principles openly prior to 2005.

This is a force I see Harper up against, and one that has very deep roots in our culture. It is one I try to reach as much as I can in what I say here and elsewhere. I am damned proud of this nation and what we have achieved despite our limitations (and being a sub Artic nation with a limited ability to developed a true first world production economy really hindered us, thankfully the IT revolution economy is one that we have a more level playing field to compete on this time out) as well as our resources, both inorganic and organic from our most primitive form of life right up to we human beings. This is a wondrous nation, and if we play our cards right in continuing to develop as we have been to date (in the direction Harper and his fellow travelers have been railing against since the late 80s at a minimum) we have the potential to yet again punch above our weight in our ability to help this world become a better place and a more peaceful one as well. I truly believe this and always have, and I suspect this is a sleeping nationalistic patriotism many of us have to this country, a patriotism not based in myths and conflict but in ideals of good governance and a mutually beneficial social contract and respect/equality for all.

I think that is worth fighting for, I think many Canadians do and not just those that identify themselves as progressives or even are political types at all. I think we all need to be making this argument against the Harper Conservatives and their followers because this is something I believe is at the core of the differences between Harper's CPC and the older Conservative governments we have had in the past right up to and including Mulroney's. I think this is a force that if properly awakened (as in with facts and a solid basis for making them and not wild phantom claims as was done in the past, especially in the last election cycle which was really poorly done despite there being some grains of truth in them) may impact a great deal on the next election. This trap of the Liberals with putting the Harper CPC into breaking the legal law of Canada with the Kyoto bill voted on 3rd reading tonight could go a long way to doing so. If Harper's CPC does not comply with the law then it shows that he really does see himself and his party/government as above at least some of the same laws which all of us are supposed to be bound by, and any political leader that demonstrates such behaviour should be viewed with great suspicion for doing so if not rejected outright in a open/free/democratic society.

So the next few months are going to be very interesting, and I suspect there is going to be a lot of volatility in the electorate. I think that while the short term effect of the negative ads seems to be to the CPC advantage this may well work against them by the end of a campaign in part because it will be seen as importing yet more American ideas to campaign, and most Canadians tend to view the current campaigning methods in the States with a certain amount of horrified fascination but want no part of it here regardless of their particular political affiliations or lack thereof. This is a country where to be anti-American is to a certain extent genuinely patriotic. This was a country deliberately founded on the premise of being a different style society than our American neighbours and cousins. We wanted to develop our own customs, societies and identities and we have done so despite having the last 60 years lived next door to the most powerful nation and economy on the planet. That is a feat to be proud of and I refuse to believe that many Canadians want to simply surrender it, and that to try and make too much use of the "oh they are simply anti-American aka intolerant" card of the CPC can also backfire on them because they misread the deep rooted nature of this.

Well, this has been another of my rambling comments, but there is a storm outside and I don't know if power and cable is going to last tonight so I am calling it in. Have a good night.

Steve V said...

scotian

The situation is volatile, and it does effect my thought process. If I take the view that Harper is likely to get re-elected, that doesn't preclude me from outrage at their policies. I don't think the country can afford a long Harper reign, and I will work to stop it.

p.s- we had the storm yesterday, enjoy :)

Anonymous said...

whistling past the grave yard