Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Liberals have the advantage in the upcoming election

I am still not convinced there will be an election call in the next week or so and I have always believed that handicapping an election is a mugs game but what the heck.

Looking at the current levels of support for the two big parties and historical voting patterns I would say the Liberals are the ones holding the advantage at the moment.

First of all both parties are sitting at around 34% in the polls. Successive polls in the last 6 months have indicated such with only minor variations here and there so it is safe to say that both are probably at that level of support in the country. It is reasonable to assume that for any party to achieve a majority government they would need to achieve a minimum support level of 40%. It could be more depending on how the votes are distributed across ridings but for the sake of argument let's say 40% is the brass ring both parties are reaching for.

So, both parties need to increase their current support by 6 points.

If we look at voting patterns for the past 30 years the party in government has never grown its level of support by that much during an election campaign. Indeed, in most cases the party in government actually see an erosion of support between the time the writ is dropped to election day. Looking at the elections from the past 30 years that erosion can be anywhere from 2 percentage points to 10 percentage points, although it averages around 6 points. The one exception I found in checking elections over the last 30 years was the 2000 election, where Jean Chretien managed to increase his support by 2 points over the course of that election campaign.

Conversly, the support for the Opposition tends to grow over the course of election campaigns. That was true, even in 2000 when the Reform Party was lead by Stockwell Day. Certainly he lost that election but he did manage to grow Reform Party support during that campaign.

So, if this historical pattern remains true the highest level of support the Conservatives can realistically hope to achieve is 36% but a more likely outcome is an erosion of support with a rise in support for the Liberals. Considering the current level of support for the two main parties that is a recipe for an electoral loss for the Conservatives and depending on the numbers it could be a big loss.

As well, there is the question of what votes are available to each party to expand their support.

In this case the Liberals have a clear advantage. Again, looking at historical voting patterns the Liberals have always lost elections after long periods in government when they have become arrogant and ethically challenged. In that case many who voted Liberal previously tend to switch to the NDP. The NDP hits a high water mark as a result of this dynamic but eventually when progressives in this country become disenchanted with Conservative governance the progressive vote once again coalesces around the Liberals. Could that happen this time? That remains to be seen. However, many Green supporters will be realistic enough to realize that they will not form the government and that they have the greenest Liberal leader in history. As well, many NDP supporters may decide that getting rid of the Conservatives is the goal and they will realize that Jack Layton is not the man to do it. Sorry NDP partisans, but Liberal support is double that of the NDP, it is still the only real alternative to the Conservatives and many of your supporters know that.

The Liberals just need to convince around 6 % of Green and NDP supporters to lend their votes to the Liberals for the Liberals to have a chance at a majority government and they need even less to form a minority government, particularly if Conservative support erodes over the course of a campaign as history suggests is the most likely possibility.

In the case of the Conservatives, their pool of potential swing votes in much smaller. It is unlikely that they will be able to tap a big enough pool of NDP or Green supporters for the simple reason that they are pretty much diametrically opposed in political philosophy. There might be a pool available from the Liberals but their support has been pretty solid over the last year despite a very bad year for the party and its leader. It is not likely that enough of them would desert the party during a campaign to allow Mr. Harper to grasp that brass ring of a majority. There is the Bloc and Quebec but even then for the Conservatives to win enough seats for a majority they would need to grow their support in that province by double digits during the campaign, something that is totally unheard of in that province.

Of course history is not always a good indication of the future although I have always been fascinated by how much it tends to repeat itself over time.

As well, we have no idea how the campaign will unfold but even here the Conservatives might be a victim of their own success. They have been successful in painting Mr. Dion as ineffective so they have managed to set expectations really low for him. If he performs above those expectations he will benefit.

It is interesting that politician who go into a campaign with alot of credibility can be at a disadvantage, particularly if they have a bad campaign. Both Mr. Day in 2000 and Mr. Tory in 2007 went into their respective campaigns with a fair degree of credibility amongst pundits and the voters only to lose most of it as a result of bad campaigns.

Constrast that with Stephen Harper. He went into the 2004 election campaign with very little credibility but despite runnning a rather undisciplined campaign he managed to reduce the Liberals to a minority government. Expectations were low for him in that campaign and he exceeded them so he benefited.

Stephane Dion enjoys that happy situation now. Expectations are not high for him so it will not be that difficult for him to exceed them. When he does he will benefit from it.

Both the Liberals and the Conservatives have a shot at winning the next election. However, if the campaign unfolds as they have done historically the Liberals hold a clear advantage and considering they are sitting in the mid-30 range in the polls a Liberal majority government is not beyond the realm of possibiliy. Indeed, I would go so far to say that based on historical voting patterns the Liberals have a greater chance of forming a majority government than the Conservatives, although I do not believe it is likely.


Blogger Jeff Davidson said...

the conservatives have released new ads today. unless harpo is truly pulling our collective chains, i think an election is inevitable this fall.

August 28, 2008 6:21 PM  
Blogger onymity said...

Great post.

August 29, 2008 1:08 AM  

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