Sunday, August 31, 2008

Picking our winning issues

Much has been written about the horse race polling data of late, with nearly every reputable polling firm showing a virtual dead-heat between the Liberals and the Conservatives. That means either party can win the next election, and the race will come down largely to campaign execution. And that success will be determined, in large part, by the issues each party decides to focus on.

In it's latest polling release, Harris Decima has the horse-race at:

Liberals: 34 per cent
Conservatives: 33 per cent
NDP: 15 per cent
Greens: 9 per cent
BQ: 7 per cent

As I said, these numbers have already been heavily analyzed, and indeed have been largely static for some time. More telling, and where I'd like to focus, is on the issue numbers.
The pollster asked respondents to consider a list of issues, and indicate how important each would be in determining which party they will cast their vote for. This is important, because they're not just asked if they care about the issue, but how much it will move their vote:

As you can see from the chart, health care is still the clear issue leader for Canadians, ranked as extremely important to voting intention by 31 per cent of Canadians and very important by 55 per cent. Following are managing the economy, trust in the leader and the environment.

This next chart asks those who said each issue is important to ask them which party they're confident is best able to handle that issue.

I think it's important to note their methodology here. As I understand it, they only asked those who ranked an issue as extremely or very important to chose the party they have confidence in to handle it. I think that gives different results than if they'd asked everyone to pick a party for each issue. For example, supporters of party X could be more likely to feel issue A is important than supporters of party Y, so they'd be more heavily weighted in answering their party as the one to handle the issue.

Nevertheless, here's the numbers, and I think there are still some insight to be gleaned from them:

As you can see, the Conservatives score highest on defence, taxes, managing the economy and making tough decisions and trust in the leader. The Liberals lead on foreign affairs, health care, child care, aboriginal affairs and the environment. Interesting to note that, on trust in the party, they're tied; if the Liberals can get Dion's numbers up that shows growth potential. Lest I leave out the NDP, their best areas look to be child care and aboriginal affairs.

So, what are we to take from these numbers? The Conservatives are likely to run an election on Stephen Harper as the steady leader (and Dion as not) best able to manage the economy through these tough times, with a dose of lower taxes tossed-in.

My advice for the Liberals: tie the environmental/Green Shift message in with a wider platform and plan for the economy. Put a plan forward, emphasize our solid economic credentials taming the deficit and returning record surpluses, and attack the Conservatives HARD on their undeserved reputation on the economy. The Conservatives only have a six-point margin on managing the economy, and its the second top issue for Canadians. They're vulnerable here.

Tie-in health care too (the environment is a health issue), and lead with a comprehensive health care policy. Not only is it the top issue for Canadians, not only is it an issue where we have an advantage, but it's an issue where the Conservatives are vulnerable. We're still waiting for any action on wait-times, their missing fifth priority. Child care is also somewhere that we should be spending some time along with, while its not listed here, fighting childhood poverty.

To close, here's the analysis from Harris/Decima's Bruce Anderson:

“Canadians are gearing up for an election. Although they weren’t sure they wanted one, they seem mostly accepting of the idea that there will be one. As the parties approach the starting gate, it seems clear that the Conservatives are stronger than the Liberals in the west, but the Liberals are comparatively strong east of Manitoba. Canadians show good levels of confidence in the Conservatives on taxes and defence, but like the Liberals more on social issues and the environment. For the Liberals to win, they need to draw soft NDP, BQ and Green Party voters, be vigorously competitive on economic issues, and play up environmental and possibly foreign policy differences as well, taking into account the debate south of the border on world affairs. For the Conservatives to win, they need to illustrate convincingly why they are a better choice for the economy and taxes, and make the case that they offer more appealing leadership. The outcome may ultimately rest, as it has in the last two elections, on the question of whether the campaign is highly polarizing: and if so, whether the polarization serves to galvanize and grow even by a little bit, the Conservative support pool, and whether it results in the migration of Green and soft left voters towards the Liberals.”

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Steve V said...

"My advice for the Liberals: tie the environmental/Green Shift message in with a wider platform and plan for the economy."

Agreed. Dion can weave the global trend, away from tax on income towards consumption taxes, arguing that he is providing a plan that understands the 21st century reality. Dion needs to make the case, that the world is moving in this direction, tied into a green economy, it's almost irresponsible to not put Canada on the proper heading. A plan that speaks to the future, which will ultimately make the Canadian economy better suited to deal with changing realities.

WesternGrit said...

I agree fully. I've always felt we need to do WAY MORE to point out OUR ECONOMIC SUCCESSES and how the Conservatives can't come close to our record of fiscal achievement.

Tying the Green Shift to it is the only way to go. It's too bad we can't have Barack up here as a "guest speaker" in the next few months, but perhaps he could "come up to speak with American's living abroad" with the added spin-off that he directly addresses America's green future and the Bushies' (bush-leaguers?) folly...