Monday, April 18, 2011

Angus Reid - 36-25-25? NDPocalypse! And why they won't win Quebec

Most recent Angus Reid poll out has something of a mild surprise, with the Liberals and New Democrats sitting at 25% support each, while the Conservatives sit with 36%.

The Star article correctly points out that the NDP were similarly tied with the Liberals after the 2008 election debates, notably in this Angus Reid poll on September 25th, 2008 - 40-21-21

There's a few things different about that poll and this poll, however, that really kind of makes this poll in the 2011 useless, as compared to the 2008's poll.

First off, there's where the NDP have gained strength: namely, in 2008, in Ontario, where they were just behind the Libs with 25% of the vote, compared to their 27%, and the Conservative's 39%. They were also flying high in Atlantic Canada with 27%, while everywhere else, including Quebec, they were at relatively low levels - though in QC itself, they were only 3% behind the Liberals, who lagged at just 15%, the NDP 12%.

The 2011 poll, however, shows something slightly different. The most noticeable thing first off is the strong NDP number in Quebec, their highest yet, with 26% compared to 36% for the Bloc, 19% for the Liberals, and 17% for the Conservatives. If we did a basic swing on this, it would give the Bloc 52 seats, the Liberals 10, the Conservatives 7, and the NDP 6. Even on a nearly 16-point swing from last election, the NDP can't get hilariously far - part of their predicament in this province, as  I'll explain below. In case you're wondering, the ridings that go orange are Gatineau, Hull-Aylmer, Jeanne-Le Ber, Outremont, Pontiac, and Westmount-Ville Marie.

As of the time I'm writing this, there are no other regionals to note, because neither Toronto Star nor Leger actually give us anything but the Quebec numbers, which really, aren't that significant compared to Angus Reid's last poll, which had them at 24% - but, whatever.

Going off of that last poll, where the NDP was at 21% and in Ontario were at 19%, I'm going to say that the NDP are most likely sitting between 23-25%. However, the Liberals are likely sitting between 30-35% in the province at the same time, given their higher-than-average-score in an Angus Reid poll (see what I did there?). This could put the NDP in range of about 20 seats in Ontario, a good result for them, but they'd essentially just split them with the Liberals, while the Conservatives laugh their asses off at us.

It would be worrying, however, if the NDP were not polling that high in Ontario. Because even though they're really flying in Quebec and in the topline, Ontario is where the fight really matters. If the NDP can't breach 20% in Ontario, and instead make up the results in the other provinces with smaller sample sizes (a la Ekos), then their 25% is wasted vote because without Ontario, you can score all you want everywhere else and still fall flat on your faces. This is simple electoral truth. Unfortunately, I'll have to update this later before we can get those results.

Is the NDP Growth Useless in Quebec?

Worrying as well for the NDP should be where exactly this vote in Quebec is coming from. I say this because the cardinal rule is that 40% of the Quebec population are federalist/remain-in-Canada, 40% are sovereigntists, and 20% are inbetween, or those whose main focus isn't the federalist-sovereigntist battle.

Note that the Liberals and Conservatives together make up that roughly 40%, as 19+17=36. The Bloc keep 36% of the vote, all sovereigntist as we know. Are the NDP taking away from the inbetweens? If so, that's a considerable factor in how their vote will play out in the province. If that is their niche, then their best opportunities for pick-ups are in split-votes or with star candidates that can buck trends - but other than that, they have no real chances.

I say this because Quebec's ridings are generally split into relatively neat sections of the population who fit into those two broad categories - federalists and sovereigntists. It's part of the reason why you can pretty much point to a certain spot on a map, claim its one or the other, and you'll see parties coagulate around it. Montreal, a bastion of federalist support, is a Liberal stronghold; Beauce, Quebec City, and Lac-Saint-Jean, are areas where the population are conservative sovereigntists, where only the Bloc and Conservatives remain competitive. Or if you look at the Eastern Townships, where the only reason the Bloc keeps winning is because of a split in the federalist options, but where provincially and federally in the past, there is strong Liberal support.

It's this system of essentially one-or-the-other that should make the NDP worried. If their support really sits with the 20% of inbetweens, who are essentially spread out among the population and hold no sway in any single riding as, say, you'll find in the West Island or Beauce, then the NDP will have an extremely inefficient vote, because they may rack up points everywhere in the province but those special areas where the parties reap up specific support, they'll face a tough time. This is generally why only star candidates ever have a good showing in Quebec for the NDP (think Mulcair, Boivin, and Lagace-Dawson) - they can buck trends and appeal to a broader support base than the party itself can.

This time around, if their support holds, they can definitely become competitive in certain ridings where the vote is split, like Pontiac, or Brossard-La Prairie, or Jeanne-Le Ber, because their rise in base support means they'll be able to sneak through. Otherwise, however, they'll face a tough time trying to break through the majority of regions and ridings without appealing to one or the other. A quandry, if there ever was any.

Furthermore, if it happens to be that this 20% are those powering the NDP rise, let's remember what happened provincially with the rise of the Adequistes in 2007 on much the same vote - and their quick fall. A lesson, perhaps, for the NDP to take notes on?


  1. The various splits will be interesting. If all the other minority players split, the BQ will dominate. I wonder when Quebec will want to be part of government again?

  2. The Quebec NDP vote may have relatively little impact in this election, however, in the long term I think it is a sign that the NDP could become the party of choice in Quebec. The real reason that the NDP lacked traction in Quebec for a long time was because they were perceived as too anglophone. But I think they would build from this election to be the most popular Federal party in Quebec. And this could be interesting because it would mean a continuation of minority governments only with the NDP holding the balance of power consistently. And that would change the landscape of the country.

    It might not happen, but it would make for an interesting future.