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.
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.