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Polls Weigh in on Opposition Cooperation and Liberal Leadership

Political parties are strategizing these days and Canadians are weighing in. Despite the party members and their views, the electorate will inevitably get the final say and recent polling numbers paint an interesting story about Liberal-NDP cooperation and prospective Liberal Leadership candidates.

A new Liberal leader is set to be crowned in April and unlike other parties and historic leadership campaigns, the contest is open to virtually anyone this time around, so long as they sign up as a free supporter at Liberal.ca. The result of this race will inevitably have an impact on Canadian politics and the narratives that will be used in the time approaching the 2015 election. The NDP have already positioned themselves under the "strong opposition" narrative and we will soon see how the Liberals plan to make a comeback after being tossed to third place in last year's election campaign.

It would be nice to have the stats of all the Liberal leadership candidates but the bulk of them are still unknown and will face an uphill battle in terms of finding support. Of the better-known candidates, we can already have a glimpse of how the parliamentary picture would be painted with the respective leaders at the helm. Leger Marketing conducted a poll on December 5-6 and asked 1,500 respondents who they would vote for under a number of leadership scenarios. Note that in the next election, Canada will be electing 338 MPs due to changes to the electoral map.

Liberal Leadership

Scenario 1: Martha Hall Findlay wins Leadership

Party
Elected Percent Vote
Trend
Projected Percent Vote
Projected Seats
39.6%
       
36%
170
30.6%
33%
131
18.9%
12%
14
6.0%
       
8%
23
3.7%
8%
0
Clearly Martha Hall Findlay's leadership would destroy the Liberal party in this poll leaving it just two seats above the official party status as that stands today. It would also lower the Liberal party by another notch to allow the Bloc Quebecois to take third place. It is noteworthy that the NDP and Bloc Quebecois would have the most to gain from her bid as Liberal leader. This result would yield another Conservative majority government, albeit one by only 2 seats, and allow Harper to govern for a potential total of 13 years if he remains the leader.

Scenario 2: Marc Garneau wins Leadership

Party
Elected Percent Vote
Trend
Projected Percent Vote
Projected Seats
39.6%
       
35%
165
30.6%
       
29%
103
18.9%
       
19%
46
6.0%
       
8%
24
3.7%
7%
0
Most people say that Marc Garneau is the real competition to perceived front runner Justin Trudeau and if this is the case, he will have a lot of work to do as these numbers are poised to reproduce the 2011 election result which wouldn't be a good thing for the Liberals. The only real notable change is the gain for the Bloc Quebecois and the opposition standstill in terms of toppling the Conservatives. In this scenario, the Conservatives would form a minority government.

Scenario 3: Justin Trudeau wins Leadership

Party
Elected Percent Vote
Trend
Projected Percent Vote
Projected Seats
39.6%
       
31%
129
18.9%
       
31%
116
30.6%
       
24%
63
6.0%
       
7%
8
3.7%
7%
0
Perceived front runner Justin Trudeau would cause the biggest shift, stealing from both the Conservatives and NDP, he would tie the Harper Conservatives in popular vote and the result would be a Conservative minority government in which the opposition parties can easily overrun the Conservatives. The NDP would have the most to lose in this scenario - apart from the Conservatives and despite the Bloc Quebecois's low seat count, 8 is definitely an improvement over 4.

Liberal-NDP Cooperation


Many strategists are claiming that a Liberal-NDP collaboration of some sort may be the only tactical way to defeat the Conservatives. This idea was a popular one in Nathan Cullen's campaign and now Liberal candidate Joyce Murray appears to be preaching the same tune. However, some similar things can be read from the results: Apart from Trudeau's win, the Liberals and NDP are just sharing a pool of votes and the Conservative base remains fairly in tact and as a tactician, one should note that defeating the Conservatives isn't a game of merging opposition, it is a game of dismantling the Conservative base. This is something the NDP will never be able to do as moderates who joined the Conservatives went there to avoid left-wing policies. The only party then that can do it is the Liberals, given they have a strong enough leader and a platform that is right-wing enough to attract the moderates who left their party in 2006.

This brings us to scenario 4 which leaves an interesting result. A poll by Ekos research from November 20 to December 3 gathered responses from 5,433 people to see what the results would be based on first and second choices.

Scenario 4: The Liberals and NDP cooperate in the next election

The poll found that for first choice: the Conservatives would gather 32%, NDP 26% and Liberals 24% but this wasn't the interesting thing to note.

On the second choice, things became interesting.

The Conservative votes are solid with 43% of people who chose them as their first choice saying they had no second choice.

The Liberals and NDP, however, are very unstable voters and will move around significantly before the next election.

Among Liberal voters, 43% would leave the party to vote NDP and 23% would vote Conservative. Redistributing the Liberal votes in this fashion would give the Conservatives 40% and the NDP 38%.

Among NDP voters, 38% would leave to join the Liberals and 18% would vote Green. This would result in an increase to Conservative votes due to splitting and the result would be Conservatives 38% and Liberals 36%. Another thing to consider is that a bulk of Quebec's NDP support could easily go back to the Bloc Quebecois where it came from - rather than transfer to the Liberals.

These numbers show that no cooperation between the Liberals and NDP would be a good idea to defeat the Conservatives as Canadians who are "blue Liberals" or moderates will go to the Conservatives rather than the NDP and NDP votes would scatter to the Bloc or Liberals meagerly and allow the Conservatives to win either way.

What does this all say?


Polls change regularly and in a few months from now we will see numbers that will say different things but if the trend continues, the Conservatives will hold steady and the opposition will trade points every now and then depending on the mood of the day and certain policy variations. It is clear that an NDP-lite option or a full blown NDP movement will not gather enough support to form a government and this will be a major predicament to the left wing of the Liberal party who would like to adopt more NDP-like policies into their platform. Calls for cooperation and/or merger will also be predominant but the numbers tell us that any attempt would benefit the Conservatives who already have the advantage. Therefore, further discussion of a merger or cooperation of the "left" or "progressives" is a bad route for opposition tacticians who want to eventually form a government as it weakens their cause, weakens their brand and weakens their message.

One thing is certain, the fight for the "left" or "progressive" label between the NDP and Liberals is the cause for Conservative domination in Canadian politics. Clearly, if Canadians want a left-wing progressive party, their best bet is and always has been the NDP that has never surpassed third place except for recently thanks to Quebec. What this means is that the struggling Liberals are actually shooting themselves in the foot with this war and should rightfully back off from this political arena and go where the actual market for votes is: the center and center-right. Now, this does not mean that the Liberals should become a Conservative-lite party because like an NDP-lite party (which they have been leaning towards) the Conservative voters have the best Conservative option, the Conservatives, already established and additionally, in power.

What do these polls mean? It means the Liberals, in particular, need a new strategy because the Conservatives and NDP are very well placed in their respective realms but the Liberals have the most to lose and need to go somewhere, other than a fight with a left-wing movement that never has - and never will - find the overall support to form a government as the majority of Canadians have always shifted between brokerage parties, or those who have traditionally been center-center-right. Of course, this is where the Liberal leadership campaign is going to be interesting as Trudeau may very well win and his strategy, thus far, has seemed to be one that resonates with the moderates who aren't left wing, or NDP, or NDP-lite, they are centrists from the middle class. As long as Trudeau works on this voting segment, he may find, as polls suggest, that while the hard core of the Conservatives (43%) won't budge, there is still a good amount of blue liberals that left for the Conservatives that may very well feel disenfranchised and come back under a Liberal banner which would cause a fairly drastic shift in Canadian politics. 

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