Monday, July 13, 2009

Still A Liability

Curiosity Cat has an interesting post, which uses the latest HD poll to show that the idea of coalition is gaining traction with Canadians. It is true that the coalition idea now finds slightly more support, than those that oppose:
Opinion is split on the potential for a coalition government, with a slight plurality indicating they’d support
the idea of one. 45% of respondents said they’d support two of the parties coming together to form a coalition
government that would hold a majority of the seats in the House of Commons after the next election, while 42%
would oppose such an initiative.

The above represents pretty much the best numbers we've seen for the coalition question, so at first blush an encouraging sign. However, despite the growing acceptance of the concept, I think once you drill down into the numbers, you find the idea is still politically toxic.

First off, don't make the assumption that the perceived acceptance excludes a Liberal/Conservative dynamic. It's conventional wisdom at this point to think any support is for the concept floated last winter, which this poll doesn't attempt to distinguish. People want the parties to work together, and it's reasonable to think at least a small percentage of "support" entertains an alliance between the two principle parties, not a arrangement with the fringe. That is a minor issue however.

Where I would offer caution, you can't take the overall percentages and extrapolate political worth. This poll shows that Conservatives are more soundly against the idea of a coalition, while Liberal, NDP and Bloc supporters are less resolved in their support. What that means politically, the Conservatives can run against the idea of any coalition and not really risk their base support. On top of that, because a greater percentage of other party supports express a hesitancy with the idea of a coalition, the Conservatives can "peel" off those supporters to their camp, if they make the idea a central wedge issue. You can see the party splits here. Some quite math, when you add up all those against the coalition from the other parties and subtract those Conservatives who would support, you are left with a decided advantage in being the one party who actively runs AGAINST a coalition. There is no risk politically for the Conservatives, but there is plenty of opportunity. This means that overall percentages are deceiving, because one party can rally the anti vote, whereas the other parties split the pro sentiment, and within in there core support is less committed, more vulnerable.

The poll finds 40% support, 46% oppose in Ontario, which is a very concerning number for the Liberals. People will remember, that Ontario numbers for the Conservatives hit unprecedented heights when the coalition was the frontburner. Nothing in the above numbers suggests anything different, if the Conservatives successfully make the coalition an issue, they can hold their vote and expand, drawing away weary other party potentials. It's still a no lose proposition. The fact the Conservatives mention "coalition" whenever they can, and the fact it will be a campaign theme, tells me all I need to know about their calculations.

As I pointed out in CC's comments, I guess the comforting fact of this poll- should we see another minority after the next election, a coalition might find more acceptance. However, the trick for the Liberals, they can't entertain the notion until after any vote, because to do so would clearly hurt their chances.

This poll also shows that Canadians would prefer a Liberal majority, and if voters of other parties were forced to choose between the two principles, the Liberals would carry the day. A more shrewd strategy would be to try and rally soft support to the Liberal cause, in the name of turfing the Conservatives. This is certain to be part of the theme in Quebec, and the Liberals can exploit disenchantment with the government, by narrowing the choice to two parties. Nothing new really, and nothing the other parties haven't calculated- Layton's quest to be "Prime Minister" last election a testament to the strategy of remaining relevant, not wanting to get lost in the anti-Con sentiment.

Conclusion, the coalition idea is probably more popular, as we get used to the concept. That said, any talk of a coalition is still a Conservative wet dream and something to avoided at all costs by the Liberals.

29 comments:

RuralSandi said...

I have to wonder if by coalition they think it would be more like a merger of the two parties.

Steve V said...

It's a pretty ambigious question.

Greg said...

Whether anyone likes it or not, the coalition will be the Tory "bomb the bridge" strategy, should the be running behind in the next election. It will be Iggy's hidden agenda. Liberals had better be ready to counter.

Steve V said...

I think the counter is self evident. After all, we have a practical example of Ignatieff NOT using a coalition to become Prime Minister. What could be plainer than the facts? I would just fluff it off, come up with a simple soundbit retort that references the fact he already turned down a chance to become PM. You surely don't get bogged down in a discussion of the coalition, because that's what they want.

Anonymous said...

That was a Conservative pollsters' myth....everyone loves the Coalition except for Iggy who thinks he can do it on his own and all the rest of the conservatives. I am afraid Iggy has one big problem...'he talks too much without thinking of the consequences'..The cons are trying to make you believe Canadians do not want the Coalition...just like they are trying to make you believe they are ahead in the polls.

Anonymous said...

Anon 4:48 - geez, you wouldn't be an NDP'r by any chance.

Jerry Prager said...

After every election, proportional representation based on % of votes should give each party that share of seats in the cabinet: then just about every voter in the country would feel like their vote was important. Coalition government via cabinet and a non-partisan parliament would go along way to making our ridiculous excuse for a democracy a reality. Coalitions should be everyone or no one, not some. Let the non-ministerial remnant of the House be the opposition, government would go back to being the cabinet.

Steve V said...

Not a bad idea Jerry.

Michael Harkov said...

I think the counter is self evident. After all, we have a practical example of Ignatieff NOT using a coalition to become Prime Minister. What could be plainer than the facts?

Michael's Ignatieff's signature name on a document supporting it. :D

Anonymous said...

Sshhh.
The tacit coalition between IS already in place.
Please, don't tell the NDP.

Jon Pertwee said...

Michael Harkov, all of us have signed documents in the past, and this one for Ignatieff, like many others is in the past.
Do you get harassed over cable contracts that you signed years ago? Do you find that people hold up your contract with your old mobile phone carrier and say that you are ineligible because your signature is on an old document? No they don't. You're argument is stale and unoriginal (as usual).

Steve V said...

If Harper brings up the signature in a debate, then Ignatieff has the easy counter- I could have became PM and turfed you when I had the chance, but I didn't. Gee, I wonder which argument will have more weight? Besides, the media conduit shares the universal opinion that Ignatieff was always resistant to the coalition, so apart from party propaganda, I don't see much support. But hey, when you can't run on your, cough, record, I guess you do what you have to.

Calgary Junkie said...

I'm sure most of you guys know this, but Harper told Maclean's editorial board a couple of months a ago that he would campaign against the Coalition--essentially that after the election, he said we will either have a Conservative majority,or a Coalition majority.

So yah, you guys have to prepare for this. Harper will go on the offensive big time. It's going to be a real challenge for you to come up with a good defense.

Iggy has got to choose his words carefully, and keep repeating the same simple, consistent meassage. It would help him to watch clips of Harper answering persistent media questions about his stance on abortion, in the 2005/6 campaign.

Anonymous said...

let's keep in mind that its about 99% certain that the next election will once again result in no party having a majority. That means that Iggy cannot explicitly say he would never enter into a coalition in the future - since after the votes are counted that may be the one and only way that he can ever become PM. This is particularly true if the Tories suffer losses but remain the largest party by a hair - then Iggy has to make a decision - either continue being Harper's silent partner and never be PM of Canada - EVER, or form a coalition with the NDP. There is no alternative for him in that scenario.

Steve V said...

"Iggy has got to choose his words carefully, and keep repeating the same simple, consistent meassage."

Couldn't agree more. A snappy soundbite answer, that brushes off the "desperation".


anon

I don't agree with the idea that only Ignatieff has to acknowledge the possibility. He can simply say, any minority must work with other parties, blah, blah, blah, basically echo what the Cons say. I don't understand why the onus is only on the Liberals, there are plenty of deflections available.

Jerry Prager said...

Yay but Stephen doesn't believe in taxes anyway, so why isn't he returning his salary and that of his party, since they are paid through taxes.

Anonymous said...

I agree that Iggy doesn't need to talk about a coalition - but he also has to choose his words carefully and avoid ruling it out - since in all likelihood it is his one and only way of ever becoming PM.

Steve V said...

"since in all likelihood it is his one and only way of ever becoming PM."

I don't understand that logic in the least. How about simply winning more seats than the Conservatives? Seem realistic and quite doable to me :)

Anonymous said...

Unless there is a Liberal majority, Iggy would still need to establish confidence in the house. The NDP and/or the BQ could simply state that they would not vote confidence in an Liberal government unless there was a coalition with a stable program and and roadmap that would last several years.

Steve V said...

I think you're using your pro-coalition bias to try and make it seem like it's the only path available. So what if the NDP and Bloc say that, then they're on the hook for forcing another election right away. Good luck to any party that takes that stance right after an election. I wouldn't spend one second worrying about that scenario.

Anonymous said...

If the Liberals were the largest party - there MIGHT be a scenario where there could be a game of chicken between them and the NDP over whether or not to form a stable coalition as you describe. If on the other hand we end up with a scenario where the Conservatives are still the largest party, but the gap between them and the Liberals is drastically narrowed compared to what it is now - then I think that a coalition would be the only possible way to stop another term for Harper.

Steve V said...

I think any coalition needs the party with the most seats to have any chance of looking credible in Canadian's eyes. I'm not saying it's right or wrong, but that's the only way it flies in a virgin run in Canada in my view.

Rocky said...

Steve,

Interesting debate. I still don't think that Canadians want a coalition government. I agree with your setiment that if there was to be one it would have to be with the largest party. (whether conservatives or liberals) It would more then likely be with the liberals because the conservatives don't really have anyone on their side of the spectrum that would help support them.

Which brings me to my main point. Why don't we encourage a coalition between the conservatives and the liberals and then resolving the question about a minority government and get on with four years of a "majority".

I don't believe that could ever happen as the two parties see themselves as the government or the government in waiting.

I wonder though if the threat of the coalition might make the NDP even more irrelevant then they are now. It could be interesting to see in places like BC where there are often 3 way races if the NDP vote dropped off to support either a conservative or liberal to get a majority for one or the other parties, thus reducing the NDP and making them even a more rump of a party then they already are.

Just a thought.

Rocky

Steve V said...

"I don't believe that could ever happen as the two parties see themselves as the government or the government in waiting."

That's probably why you won't see any formal coalition, just more of the same with the official opposition having to "prop" up for a period until they can dare force another election.

I think you're right about the NDP, and I believe they recognize this as well- hence the Layton auditioning for PM last election. I would expect the Liberals to make the traditional push to siphon off soft support from other parties, using the "us or them" argument. If we are getting more evidence that people will vote strategically, it could have some effect. I also think it could work in Quebec to some extent, telling Bloc supporters if they want the Cons gone, then the best way is to vote Lib. Remains to be seen if it could work.

Mushroom said...

"also think it could work in Quebec to some extent, telling Bloc supporters if they want the Cons gone, then the best way is to vote Lib. Remains to be seen if it could work."

Iggy can destroy Harper's threat of a coalition by declaring that the Grits will NOT cooperate with the Bloc in any way, for the sake of national unity. None of these behind the scenes agreement between Layton and Duceppe, or photo-ops between Dion, Layton,and Duceppe in any way. If Iggy used the national unity card to reject the coalition, then this argument still stands today.

Steve V said...

"Iggy can destroy Harper's threat of a coalition by declaring that the Grits will NOT cooperate with the Bloc in any way, for the sake of national unity."

And to augment that argument, all he need to do is point to what he did as soon as he became leader. Conservatives can point to some obscure letter, that he signed LAST, but everyone knows he was never a fan, he had reservations and only used the threat to extract concessions from the government. The only real danger for the Libs, don't get drawn into a protracted discussion on a topic Harper wants.

Anonymous said...

If the NDP and Liberals combined had more seats than the Conservatives and formed a coalition, it could be perfectly legitimate. Especially given that after the events of last December, people would be giving a majority of seats to non-Conservatives knowing full well that a coalition was a possibility in a way that it was not last year. In Australia, no one cares whether the Liberal Party has more or less seats than the Labour Party on its own - its all about whether the Liberals and their perenial coalition partner the National Party together have more seats than Labour.

Steve V said...

It's irrelevant what Australians think, it matters what Canadians think of a concept they're not familar with. That's a nothing analogy from here.

I would concede one point, the coalition would have stood a much better chance if the NDP and Liberals had more seats than the Conservatives. Still very problematic, but not so obscene to the public. It's also important that the two could form a majority, which is unlikely if the Libs don't have the most seats.

Anonymous said...

We had a Liberal NDP accord government in Ontario in 1985 even though the PCs had the most seats - and no one seemed to mind. It was also clear in 1999 in Ontario that if Harris fell so much as one seat short of a majority - the NDP would have put the Ontario Liberals into power.

There is a first time for everything.