The NDP surge and its consequences
Apr 27, 2011

The NDP surge and its consequences

The largest political story of the week has nothing to do about policies, it is about the fact that after months of poll numbers that stubbornly refused to budge the NDP has actually experienced a considerable surge in popularity confirmed by a half dozen different polls. The concept that the NDP may supplant the liberals as the official opposition now exist as a not quite so distant possibility.

There is reason both for and against the idea that this late game surge will translate into a meaningful number of votes. On the pro side is the fact that there is a powerful feedback mechanism. Layton has consistently shown strong opinion ratings, but the biggest dampener for NDP success is the reinforcing belief that since the NDP cannot win voting for them is a wasted vote. As this surge is reported, the possibility of the NDP making a meaningful change to the political landscape keeps removing this dampener and allows for more votes to flow to the NDP. While this effect may be powerful, many of optimistic projections for the NDP still face numerous hurdles such as the difficulty in getting people to vote for parties they have never voted for which is often difficult to account for in likely voter projection models and thus makes the projections very hazy. Furthermore, the NDP consistently polls worse than Layton does so his popularity may not be sufficient to win in specific ridings and there have not been a defining policy or values issue which is setting the NDP apart in this election; it appears to be largely a difference of trust and personality in the leaders.

An immediate danger of the NDP rise is the one always stated as a case against the NDP: vote splitting. In close races between the Liberals and the Conservatives where the NDP candidate is a distant third, the small rise of of the NDP may tip the balance from the Liberals to the Conservatives. My suggestion is as I have previously stated, which is to look at your specific riding's poll numbers and see whether strategic voting is or is not necessary. For example in my riding of Parkdale-Highpark, the conservatives are a distant third with the race between the NDP and the Liberals. One can thus chose between these parties (or the greens) as one feels best; this is the kind of race that is best for an NDP surge to potentially win.

It should be emphasized that a strong NDP surge which comes close or overtakes the position of official opposition from the Liberals will make legitimate changes to the Canadian political scene. The fact that the threat of repeated elections keeps the policy of the Harper administration within a narrow range will be modulated by who the official opposition is. The rise of a more left party will drag - even if just incrementally - the policies that are passed by parliament to the left. As is, Ignatieff and the liberals consistently receive more media coverage on issues than the NDP does - they have a bigger pulpit if you will. As the NDP's prominence rises it pushes the framing of the debate and the publics engagement of it in their direction.

There is also importance in terms of multi-election goals in the political landscape. While the NDP poll ceilings - despite the optimism - are still outside of the range of them being able to form a minority government let alone a majority government it may well be that once the shroud of "third party" status wears off there is potential for an NDP renaissance that could over time push them into place to win future elections. There is also the possibility that with the Liberals yet again unable to win or to crowd out the NDP that an NDP-Liberal alliance or merger of some form could occur. The position we are in currently of Conservative governments is one that happened because of consolidation in the right when the Reform/Alliance/Progressive Conservatives have managed to make a single Conservative party. It is possible that a consolidation on the left would happen and perhaps be necessary to happen to beat the Conservatives given the existence of the Bloc. Of course, there can be but vague possibilities without concrete predictions and talking too much about such things from the result of a one week bump in poll ratings is premature. Nonetheless, there is certainly interesting possibilities should this bump make a meaningful difference in the May 2 election. 

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