Monday, November 09, 2009

On "Poaching" Voters

I'm not so sure I agree with the advice given to the Ignatieff Liberals by Nik Nanos. At the beginning of Ignatieff's tenure, I might have argued that the votes the Liberals would need were on their left flank, looking towards soft NDP and Green support advantageous. There's a simple math to it all, 62% of Canadians didn't vote for the Conservatives and a large majority of those are anything but "right". The perceived "pool" to expand support is obvious, so the Nanos observations have inherent merit.

However, I don't believe in universal arguments, which is why I think Nanos is wrong using this argument, with this leader, at this time. Quite simply- and I reconciled myself to this fact long ago- you can't "re-invent" Ignatieff to make him a champion of the left wing. While Ignatieff isn't Harper-lite, like his kneejerk critics blather on about, he is very much a middle of the road politician, with a certain confounding quality when issues are looked at in isolation. I believe he has a large progressive streak, but that is offset by other positions, which generally give a centrist flavor. In other words, Ignatieff is what he is, to now try and dress him up as something else, more dangerous that staying put. All that move would achieve, cynicism and a furthering of the "say anything" persona that plagued a guy like Paul Martin.

If you look at the current poll dynamics, the old arguments don't quite hold. The Nanos line, that the NDP prosper when the Liberals are down, and vice versa, doesn't seem to be in play. In actuality, at present, both parties are down, there is no inverse relationship. Particularly in all important Ontario, the voting pattern has consistently shown a back and forth between the two principles, the NDP largely relegated to marginal status. When the Liberals faultered, the NDP vote didn't rebound in concert, it stayed virtually flat, despite a 10% swing. When the Liberals were riding high, there was some erosion, but mostly the co-relation was with Conservative support. This isn't to say that the Liberals don't need to poach votes on the left, but clearly in Ontario (ground zero for this argument), at the moment, it seems a battle for the mainstream.

It is noteworthy, that when the Liberals had a slight lead last spring and early summer, the NDP vote was essentially the same nationally as it is now. The Liberals dropped 7-8%, and yet the NDP vote showed no rebound, the Conservatives benefitted. Given that the previous dynamics translated to a pretty healthy Liberal minority, it counters this view from Nanos, something else would seem to be in play.

To be perfectly honest, I would prefer if the Liberals did move to the left slightly. Dion didn't succeed, but I don't think that's a statement on the wisdom of his spectrum positioning. Ignatieff was always something of a compromise for me, a choice I was more than comfortable with, because it's a complicated consideration and it had situational merit. I also never quite bought into these past Liberal analogies as a template for future victory. "Where you win" didn't seem as cut and dry as some proponents argued. There are different ways to skin a cat, which brings us to the present reality.

Ignatieff does need to build a coalition. To assume that Liberals will only succeed if we drive the NDP to 10% seems a bit of pipe dream, given what we have, what the record reveals. With THIS leader, within the current political climate, the Liberals are probably best to straddle the center, with a sprinkling of progressive policy. Ignatieff doesn't need a hard left turn to win. I've already documented Ontario, and let's not forget that hard right Harpo was on the cusp of a big breakthrough in Quebec. It's not always a left/right question with voters.

If I could start from scratch, in another environment, then I'd support the Nanos argument. However, when you have a situation where the Liberals are down, NDP support getting close to core levels, I'm not sure the former "pool" is as attractive as normal assumptions might conclude. Factor in WHO the leader is, and it starts to look to cute to be taken seriously. You've already planted your flag, about all you can do now is flesh it out and broaden it.


DL said...

I'm not sure if Nanos was actually saying that the this was what the Liberals SHOULD do or if he was speculating on what he thought the Liberals MIGHT try to do now based on Donolo's past statements about how back in the 90s the Liberals won big because the NDP vote was less than 10%.

With all due respect to Peter Donolo, I think that its a bit delusional in the current political environment to think that the NDP weakness of 1993, 1997 and 2000 can be replicated. Those elections were anomalies - since the NDP was created in 1961, the norm has been to get about 16-18% in just about every election. Jack Layton (whether you like it or not) is vastly more of an asset to the NDP than Audrey or Alexa were, the NDP is also not now saddled with ridiculously unpopular provincial governments in BC and Ontario.

If I were a Liberal (which I'm not) then of course i would want to gain votes whereever i could and of course i would want to win over some segment of Liberal/NDP "swing voters" - but realistically, its going to be a WW1 style trench warfare between the Liberals and NDP to budge even 1 or 2 percent of people one way or the other. I can't really imagine ANYTHING that Peter Donolo is going to get Ignatieff to say that will suddenly cause the NDP to lose half its support to the Liberals in the next three months.

Greg said...

with a certain confounding quality when issues are looked at in isolation.

Best. Understatement. Ever. :)

Greg said...

In all seriousness, the Liberals need to find a position and stick with it. If it resonates, the polls will take care of themselves.