Astonishing

I still don’t really expect this to be what the final result will look like. But with the election now just five days away, outcomes like the latest EKOS projection are starting to seem less outlandish:

It continues to show a breathtakingly different Parliament in which the Conservative government is reduced to 131 seats but the muscular new NDP have 92 and the Liberals have 63. This new political math would produce a Parliament where the non-Bloc opposition would have 155 seats, a bare majority and 24 more seats than the Conservatives.

The same poll shows the NDP within six percentage points of the Conservatives in the vote, and the latter below 35%. The Liberals, at 22.9, are almost as far behind the NDP as the NDP is behind the Conservatives.

For a week or more, nearly all polls have been picking up a surge in support for the NDP, so it no longer looks like a blip.

As can be expected when a party becomes competitive in seats it never expected to have a chance to win, the NDP has some rather dodgy candidates in Quebec. Will they ultimately be a liability and bring the party back down? Or will the next House have some highly colorful rookies?

I expected this to be a fairly boring election when it was called, but it looks like a thriller now.

Apparently campaigns matter, after all.

14 thoughts on “Astonishing

  1. The breakthrough seems to have been tied to comments made by the NDP leader in the French language television debate. Since the debate was held in French, and not widely followed outside Quebec, its difficult for non-Canadian non-French speakers to get a handle on what went on.

    I’m surprised neither the Liberals or the Conservatives have successfully hammered the NDP on going soft on separatism. I would have thought it would be difficult to surge like the NDP did in Quebec and not have the dynamic complicate the campaign in the other provinces.

    • Quebec is where the surge started, clearly. But it quickly spread to BC and other parts of Canada, with Ontario a bit of a laggard. There is obviously more going on than the issue of Quebec, and it is not as if Layton’s comments on the constitutional status of Quebec have not received plenty of attention in the English media, or from the other parties.

  2. Ed, I think Layton’s performance in the French-language debate may have been secondary to his interview on the talk show “Tout le monde en parle”. But it’s hard to know for certain.

  3. Even if the Orange Crush doesn’t make as much waves as expected, the fact the Liberal Party, the party which lead the country for 70 years in the twentieth century is probably going to end up in third is extraordinary.

    Can anybody else think of dominate parties that have taken such a fall from grace?

  4. The Liberals in the UK crashed from dominance to irrelevance in two parliaments between 1914 and 1922. The Labor parties in Australia and New Zealand largely displaced conservatives from parliament in the early years of the last century. In Australia the ALP may be in the early stages of being displaced by the Greens, although as recently as 2009 the ALP controlled the federal government and every state and territory and people were asking if there would ever be another Coalition government.

    Party systems do change, and I suppose it is always astonishing when they do, especially to the displaced party.

    The collapse of the Liberals in the UK is probably the best known case because of the book The strange death of Liberal England.

    • Let’s not forget the astonishing crack-up of Canada’s own Conservatives as recently as 1993. From 169 seats to 2 (largely as a result of the split that produced two regional parties with 50-some seats apiece, including the now-imploding BQ).

  5. It’s pretty exciting, but most of the individual ridings I’ve looked at polls for (on projectdemocracy.ca) don’t look like the increases in NDP votes will elect that many more MPs outside of Quebec. I haven’t noticed any seats that look like they’ll change hands according to local polls, in fact.

    At least if there’s a large amount of disproportionality between votes and seats it may help people realize the need for reform.

    I can’t wait to see what happens after the votes are in. The possibility of a party that doesn’t have the largest number of seats being the government is pretty intriguing.

  6. I was thinking exactly the same thing as MSS. Moreover, while there’s been some well-justified caution on the apparent NDP surge (and the Liberal Party’s decline), I cannot help but wonder if the voter shift that appears to be taking place in Canada may turn out to be even bigger than currently forecast.

    In fact, just days before the 1993 election it was still believed the Progressive Conservative Party could hang on to 20-30 seats – a disastrous outcome to be certain, but nothing compared to the near-obliteration that actually took place. Now, I don’t believe the Liberals will do as poorly as the Progressive Conservatives eighteen years ago, but at the same time I wouldn’t rule out the possibility that the current worst-case scenarios for the Liberal Party turn out to be on the optimistic side after all.

  7. I was thinking exactly the same thing as Manuel! I am shifting from my earlier skepticism that the NDP surge is just Cleggmania, v.2. I now would not even be totally surprised if the NDP wound up within 2-3 points of the Conservatives, nor would I be thoroughly shocked if they came out on top. That is not a prediction, and it is not something I expect to see. But if the Liberal vote collapses and people jump on the NDP bandwagon, how far could the party go?

    I have no idea how likely the NDP is to wind up with a seat total near that of the Conservatives, let alone a plurality (which would shock me).

  8. Matthew, I’m very pleased to hear that we share the same outlook on this matter.

    Meanwhile, to add fuel to the fire, I was just looking at today’s poll numbers on CBC News Poll tracker, and not only do all of them now have NDP just five points behind the Conservatives, but most importantly the Liberals continue to slip further behind, with one poll (Ipsos) placing them a full fifteen points behind NDP, at just 18%.

    Now, I realize the NDP surge could somehow come apart over the weekend, or that polls could be horribly, horribly wrong, but I’m now seriously beginning to wonder if I’ll have to take back what I said about the Liberals not doing as poorly as the Progressive Conservatives back in ’93…

  9. This is not Cleggmania. There are a few factors at work:

    1) The soft-nationalist and soft-federalist vote in Quebec is finding a new home. Quebec realigns en masse every once in a while, and 2011 appears to be the latest chapter in that book. For the record, Canadians outside of Quebec have little clue of the Quebec NDP policies on asymmetric federalism. There has been far too little press given the ramifications.

    2) There are a lot of voters who are looking for any definitive alternative (preferably winning) to the governing Conservatives. Whether that was going to be the Liberals or the NDP was unclear when the election began, but the Liberals were reasonably presumed. Once the NDP picked up in Quebec, that helped inform the decision for voters outside Quebec.

    3) The Conservatives have been very, very effective at discouraging Liberal voters from showing up. The Tory calculus has usually been that outside of British Columbia, NDP fortunes are Tory fortunes. This time it has backfired, although barely. Based on polls published 7 days before the election, the NDP surge had mostly eaten the Liberals and Bloc, and led to a perfect storm for a 38% Tory majority. In the past week, the Conservatives lost ground in Ontario, killing their chance.

    As for those of you dreaming that the NDP will win more seats than the Tories, you’re out of luck. The NDP vote is unlikely to be very efficient, but even if it is, their GOTV is non existent in much of the country relative to their place in the polls, especially in Quebec. Also, the surge is already receding in the last region to experience it (Ontario), which means any post-last-poll ballot surprise is likely to be in favour of other parties.

    Regardless, you have to admire the NDP peaking at almost exactly the right moment. The Tories have peaked a week or two early in each of the last 4 elections, costing them a majority each time.

    I give 50/50 odds on the NDP leading the next government, 90/10 if NDP+Liberal top 50%+1 seats.

    On the matter of making history, this is as big as they come.
    – The Liberals are likely to experience their second consecutive worst-ever showing, albeit with more seats than in the 1984 post-Trudeau blowout. If the Liberals lose most of their seats in Quebec, they are likely to never govern again, with their remaining raison d’etre extinguished.
    – The Conservatives have a reasonable shot at a record-setting 3rd consecutive minority. Only 2 Tory PMs to date have won 3 or more times – MacDonald (6!) and Diefenbaker(3). Although Harper may join another Tory, Arthur Meighan, in winning a plurality, yet failing to retain government.
    – The NDP have a reasonable shot at leading some form of minority or coalition gov’t.
    – Finally, the diminished Bloc indicates at least the possibility that:
    – Quebecers are interested in participating in federal politics again
    – the fundamental cleavage in Quebec politics hinges less on separatism than it has in decades
    – yet paradoxically, Quebec nationalism is likely to reoccupy centre stage in Canadian politics again

    Interesting times indeed.

    Ross

  10. Could this election lead to a reverse plurality? What if the Conservatives get less votes overall than the NDP, but the conservatives win more seats than the NDP.

    FPTP can lead to funky election results in a multi-party system, and the votes to seats might not translate right nationally across the country, or the results could be perfectly proportionate like the Quebec 2007 election.

    It seems kind of funny that Canada’s party system is going to be between a Tory and a Social Democratic party as in Europe. The Liberals may go the way of the dodo bird, but we should not write them off yet.

    I am sure that the Liberals will now want PR now that they will be the third largest party. They should demand it if they join or support a NDP lead government. Even Jack Layton wants PR, hopefully he won’t abandon that pledge if he thinks that the NDP can someday win a majority.

  11. If the NDP surge is even bigger than the polls are suggesting, then, yes, a plurality reversal is possible. I think the NDP is extremely unlikely to win a plurality of seats and rather unlikely to win a plurality of votes. That leaves some small space in which a reversal could occur, even if it is not especially likely.

    At this point, given the last two weeks of this campaign, almost nothing would be a surprise (other than an implausible recovery by the Liberals or BQ).

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