Tuesday, April 10, 2007

No Sugar Coating

If you want to take the SES poll numbers as proof that the Liberals are still viable, and Harper is well short of majority territory, then you also have to accept the leadership numbers at face value:

Of the following individuals, who do you think would make the best Prime Minister?
• Stephen Harper 42%
• Stephane Dion 17%
• Jack Layton 16%
• Gilles Duceppe 7%
• Elizabeth May4%
• None of them 7%
• Unsure 6%

One word, concerning. The numbers are even worse if you look at the regional breakdowns, where Dion scores a pathetic 10% in Quebec, while Harper sits at 43%. I would classify that particular finding as objectively alarming. The lone bright spot is Ontario, where Dion only trails Harper 37% to 22%.

The standard retort to Dion’s abysmal leadership numbers is to look at Harper’s leadership deficit in the last election. The only problem with this defence, it is really an apples and oranges comparison. While opposition leaders generally fall short, compared with the Prime Minister, Harper had certain advantages built into the election dynamic, that Dion doesn’t. There is no “kick the bums out” mentality within the electorate, and maybe more importantly, there is no overt disgust as it applies to scandals. Harper overcame the leadership gap because conditions super ceded that concern. Let’s not forget the Liberals enjoyed a 10 point lead, which completely vanished, when word leaked of the RCMP Goodale investigation. The large desire for change and corruption counteracted Harper’s problems, which is why I don’t simply dismiss Dion’s problems as completely standard.

What really concerns me about these numbers, once a campaign starts, then the various party leaders become even more of a focus. If people determine you aren’t ready for the job, that fact will trump policy, and put you at a distinct disadvantage. In my mind, if Dion can’t bring these numbers up, then any talk of a Liberal minority is pure pipe dream.

However, there is one caveat in these numbers. People have such a low opinion of Dion that he doesn’t have to do much to impress them. Dion could benefit from low expectations, possibly surprise people. I believe there is a disconnect between the perception of Dion and the real Dion. Dion isn’t weak, he doesn’t lack conviction and I know he can handle his own in a debate setting. This fact allows for some optimism that he can turn around those numbers with voters, once they see more of him. These numbers serve as a wake-up call, but they aren’t a death sentence.

UPDATE

I forgot to mention another interesting finding. Dion only scores 40% with Liberals on leadership, which speaks to internal problems as well in my mind. If the rank and file aren't impressed, you can't hope to win over the undecideds.

19 comments:

Dennis (Second Thoughts) said...

It's pretty sound analysis. Of course, I'll disagree with your assessment of Dion.

You might be right if we were talking about someone being picked for finance minister or ethics commissioner. But this is the PM's job we're talking about, and not much that I've seen from Dion so far suggests to me that he understands what's needed of himself to get it done.

Good debater? Heck, it's debate footage on TV ads that has him this low, in part.

Doesn't lack conviction? He's already broken his promise not to go negative. Liberals don't know the meaning of being held accountable for your words, since there was no meaningful opposition for a decade.

The thing about low expectations is that you have to have the ability at this level to dig yourself out. Still not sure if Dion does. Plus, as you suggest, all the external factors are working against him, too.

Tough road ahead, indeed.

Steve V said...

"He's already broken his promise not to go negative."

I'm sure responding to attack ads qualifies as a broken promise, despite what the Conservative website would have us believe.

john said...

Unfortunately perception is reality.

It would be great for the country to have a half-decent Opposition leader.

JimBobby said...

Whooee!I'm startin' t' feel sorry fer the Grits. Nobuddy expected Dion to win an' now it's gettin' clear why he shouldn't o' won. If yer bossman can't win a simple popularity contest with Cardboard King Steve, the pasty-faced egghead who shakes hands with his kids, there ain't much hope.

Harper's bad fer Canada. He's a Bush lackey. He's a gung-ho militarist who is all too willing to accept needless death as an inevitable consequence of war. He's as phony as they come on green issues. His Q-beck strategy plays into the hands of separatists. He disrespects Atlantic Canadians. He's in the pocket of big oil and gas. He's a control freak who sacrifices effectiveness for authority. He's a nasty person who has degraded the tenor of parliamentary discourse.

And he's preferred by Canajuns over Dion, 42% to 17%.

I reckon the one word ain't "concerning." "Devastating" is more like it.

If Dion can re-invent hisself as a cross between Pierre Troodough an' Rocky Balboa, he might stand haff a chance. He's gotta work on communicatin' an' counterpunchin'.

Yer stuck with him, I suppose, but I don't envy any Grits tryin' to push that bus uphill.

JimBobby

IslandLiberal said...

Good debater? Heck, it's debate footage on TV ads that has him this low, in part.

Anyone can take a ten second snippet of a debate and spin it as they choose; it's been done to Harper before. Dion's overall performance in the debates was very strong, and he has always won out in debates when he was Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs.

I was a Dion supporter during the campaign, and I still am; he really needs to work on his presentation, because he's the qualities of a good leader and prime minister; his honesty and integrity are unimpeachable, and his intellect is formidable.

Olaf said...

Steve,

You sir, are a rare gem. Witness:

If you want to take the SES poll numbers as proof that the Liberals are still viable, and Harper is well short of majority territory, then you also have to accept the leadership numbers at face value.

God forbid! Most bloggers (be they Liberal or Conservative) are absolutely shameless in their polling "analysis" - rejecting, downplaying or equivocating negative findings, while unconditionally accepting positive results as gospel (according to their partisan preference), even when it's done by the SAME bloody polling firm in the SAME bloody time period - so it's refreshing to see even the slightest step toward consistency. It's sad that you deserve kudos for such a minor accomplishment, but it's completely necessary relatively speaking.

By the way, thanks for the email, and fear not, I'll be back soon, with more glitz, glamour, piss and vinegar than ever (ingredients which, incidentally, make for a surprisingly palatable cocktail when mixed properly).

Steve V said...

olaf

Glad to see you're alive!

jb

I would use "devastating" if Dion had actually been leader for any period. The good news, Dion isn't relatively known, so the gel hasn't quite set, and he can rebound.

canuckistanian said...

good post. the low expectations are the silver lining for the libs. off topic, many have decried the "harper is a bully" talking point...and rightfully so imo; but, a good election strategy for dion would be a "revenge of the nerd". be the nerd to take on the jock. would have to be packaged well, but people love it when a bully is introduced to karma.

knb said...

While I agree you cannot ignore one aspect of a poll if you accept the other, I'm not overly concerned about this particular aspect.

Overall though, if you take all the polls we've witnessed in the past couple of months, they only seem to add up to an uninformed public.

I think they break down by party lines and their supporters, period.

I mentioned this on RT's blog, but I just don't see how anyone who isn't a political junkie, would have any sense of Dion at all.

I think it would be interesting to ask, "who is the Leader of the Liberal Party", "who is the Leader of the NDP", etc., and don't provide the names. Then you'd see if it just a name recognition thing, which I suspect it is.

foottothefire said...

It's all about advertising so spend some time promoting Dion here at liblogs and I'll guarantee it will help change things.
Harper's approach is
"say what you will of me, just mention my name first, lots and loudly". Harper is neither a man of appeal, intelligence or brilliant strategy. He does understand advertising, though.

knb said...

canuckistanian: Harper a jock?

Hardly, but I get your point.

knb said...

Dennis:Liberals don't know the meaning of being held accountable for your words

I wouldn't go down that road my friend. Given the current Harper record, the accusation is laughable.

Anonymous said...

From what I understand Dion has always been underestimated and then risen to the top. My hope is that this is the case now, and as Canadians learn about him (his values, principles, and conviction) that they will see what a great Prime Minister he would be.

Another bonus, as I see it, is that Dion is setting setting the stage so that when it comes time for an election his will be the stronger arguments. This is not a new strategy for him. My concern then is that I hope Canadians will listen to reason over rhetoric. Seriously, 'Stephane Dion is not a leader,' is not an argument.

In fact, I think Dion should be able to turn this to his advantage by clearly articulating why in fact he is a leader. During the leadership race he was my first choice and I am still standing by him. I think he will be able to pull it off, however my political intuitions are not always on target.

I remember in the 2004 U.S. election I thought Kerry was going to win with 60% of the electorate (sigh).

In some ways if Harper pulls off a victory in the next election it will be a lot like Bush beating Kerry. Already we see those damn Conservatives trying to 'Swiftboat' Dion.

Markus D.

Steve V said...

"I am still standing by him"

It's not about abandoning, merely recognizing your weak spots and figuring out ways to counter any negative perception. I still say Dion is a relative blank slate, but this findings shows that he has to be framed in a way that addresses the leadership question.

Anonymous said...

foottothefire said: Harper is neither a man of appeal, intelligence or brilliant strategy.

Nothing like getting high on your own supply. You don't actually believe this do you? According to Wikipedia "Harper graduated in 1978 as the top student of his graduating year with a 95.7% average, and represented his high school on the TV quiz and trivia show Reach for the Top." As far as strategy goes, he has moved himself from nobody to Prime Minister in relatively short time, with no "connections" like having a former PM named Trudeau as a dad. As far as appeal goes, his appeal numbers are at 42 percent, while his closest rival is in the teens. You can try to belittle the man if you want, but it is quite clear you know nothing about the man you call your enemy. That will be at your own peril.

knb said...

anon, if you actually had the courage to post under a name...

That said, I do think the man is smart and I think he is all about strategy...nothing more.

Appeal forget it. Known quantity at this time, imo, nothing more.

You want to idealise him, fine, but do that at your peril.

Anonymous said...

knb says: Appeal forget it. Known quantity at this time, imo, nothing more.

If you aren't from Toronto, I'll eat my shirt.

Steve V said...

"I'll eat my shirt."

What about those cool prairie nights ;)

Reach for the Top? You mean the show for socially challenged misfits? Actually, that explains a great deal.

Richard said...

"Reach for the Top? You mean the show for socially challenged misfits?"

Yeah, I didn't make the team either ...