Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Stephen Harper's Conservative team

More numbers from SES Research today, and these ones are decidedly less positive for the Liberals than these. It's the infamous “Best PM” numbers, and once again Steve Harper is a run-away leader while Stephane Dion lags well back.

Of the following individuals, who do you think would make the best Prime Minister:
Stephen Harper: 42 per cent
Stephane Dion: 17 per cent
Jack Layton: 16 per cent
Gilles Duceppe: 7 per cent
Elizabeth May: 4 per cent
None: 7 per cent
Unsure: 6 per cent
Not a good situation for the Dion Liberals. As I've said before this isn't insurmountable (particularly given the party support numbers) but, and it's a big but, we need to start turning this around soon before it does become insurmountable. I mentioned the other day how the Liberals have been unable to build their support in the party support numbers; it would appear Dion's (lack of) popularity is holding those numbers back.

I'd wager those "Not a Leader" attack ads from the CPC have found their mark. While they haven't budged Liberal support, they have weakened Dion as a leader and sapped his ability to grow the party's support. What's the answer? Hey, I think he's the bees knees so it's hard for me to say. One thing I often hear is when people see him in person, they like him, so keep getting him out there. And hope there's no election this spring.

While Dion lags his party in popularity, it's also interesting to note Harper is more popular than his party by six points. It wasn't that long ago Conservatives saw Harper as a liability, now he looks to be their greatest asset. A cautionary note, I think, on how quickly these things can change. Will be interesting to see how this might effect CPC strategy: even more all Harper, all the time?

Looking at the regional numbers (pdf), hard to find any bright spots for the Libs:

And here's commentary from SES boss Nik Nankos:
What is emerging is a situation where one leader is ahead of his party (Harper) and another leader trails his party (Dion). Of note, Harper is the second choice as the best PM among committed Liberals, New Democrats and BQ voters and the first choice as Best PM in the province of Quebec.

As shown in the previous research conducted with CPAC, Harper does well on leadership factors. From a polling perspective, Liberal ballot box support is being maintained by entrenched party support. The Conservatives are more likely to be encumbered by residual concerns on social issues (code - abortion/same sex marriage etc.).

Even with these numbers, one should exercise caution. Perceptions of leaders can turn quickly. All it would take is for one attack ad on Dion to go too far to potentially turn the numbers and change th
e environment.

Interesting times. I still think things are volatile. You have to remember, In our first past the post system, with 40% support winners take all. With numbers like these we may see more of a “Harper Government” and less of the “New Conservative Government”

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Oxford County Liberals said...

I find the Best PM stats to be overrated, and I think people using these as some indicator as to how parties will do give it far too much weight.

Everyone seems to forget how badly Harper trailed in this category prior to the 2006 election campaign... didnt hurt him at all did it?

The fact of the matter is.. no matter what the polls do... the perception of a leader isnt going to change at all til the election campaign starts. So, I think we the obsessing over this needs to be toned down a bit.

Jeff said...

I wouldn't say I'm obsessing Scott, but it's a significant gap and it is something to pay attention to. I don't think it would be wrong to link the Liberal ability to grow in the polls with Dion's low personal numbers. And waiting to address this until the campaign would be a mistake, IMO.

Ti-Guy said...

How can Dion's failure to be rated better in a silly a popularity contest be addressed? Seriously, I'm asking that question in good faith.

Dennis (Second Thots) said...

I've said this before. I'll say it again. That Harper is now being used as the standard by which Dion is constantly compared says a lot about leadership beyond the polling numbers.

I agree that an election campaign is where you see the most movement for all the numbers. Yet I'm not sure why that's supposed to be a positive for Dion.

He's going up against a seasoned and proven campaigner whose tactical prowess is formidable. Heck, even Liberals in this poll think Harper is a good PM. Budget message accomplished.

Dion has been leader for months now. Beyond the inexplicably bad English, he and his team just don't get political messaging.

In opposition, Harper always had a plan to win power: tar Liberals with scandal until the election, then unveil your own platform as a positive alternative. It worked like a charm.

Does anyone think that Dion has his own plan like this, or that he has the tactical abilities to pull it off, or that he has the communications ability to pull it off?

Food for thought.

McLea said...

How can Dion's failure to be rated better in a silly a popularity contest be addressed?

You mean an election?

Seriously, I'm asking that question in good faith.

Ti-Guy said...

Seriously, I'm asking that question in good faith.

No, you are not. You're challenging my description of this opinion poll as a silly popularity contest by implying it's the same thing as an election, which it isn't.

Look up "good faith" and read about what it means. It doesn't mean "trolling."

kenchapman said...

Here is what I posted on Nik's Blog on the SES Research site on this kind of question. I think is in context of the commentary here:

"These kind of questions are pretty meaningless. We do not have any idea what values and issues are driving the choices and they are less than hypothetical in a non-election time. Answers are usually pretty normative...like most people say "fine" when asked how they are but that gives no iuseful nformation as to how they really feel.

Better to ask a set of questions on specific issues and rank the leaders in terms of trust, knowledge and capability to handle them. That is infomation worth having. This poll barely quaifies as providing any approaching useful data."

Red Tory said...

I’d put very little stock in this poll. In fact, at just 42% Harper’s result isn’t very impressive. Dion clearly has some considerable work to do building his own support within the LPC however.

Ted Betts said...

Silly popularity contest yes, but not something to ignore.

I'm obsessed with disparaging the use of polling to figure out voter intentions. Voters are so volatile and say things they don't actually do that a snapshot photo of how they will vote in a non-election day poll I find highly untrustworthy.

However, in asking what you think about an issue or about a leader, I think you get a more accurate picture. Again, there is volatility as Nik mentions, but the danger here for the Liberals is that, regardless of what the polls say about voters' voting intentions, historically voters' impressions of the leader are a, um, lead on where they will vote.

For example, before the last election, the Liberal Party and Conservative numbers were up and down like a yo-yo, just like now but with even bigger swings. The perceptions of leadership, however, were always pretty constant with Martin way up and Harper way down. Just a bit before and then into the election, Martin's personal popularity and perceptions of him as a good/bad "leader" plummetted while Harper's rose. The popularity of the two parties hadn't changed much but the leaders had.

It was the yellow canary warning.

This highlights both the volatility of the voter but also a way to take advantage of the volatility. Focus on the leader and much good (or bad) can follow. Bottom line: the Liberals need to raise his profile and raise the profile of his many positives (succssful separatist fighter, aka Captain Canada, real substantive leadership not just showmanship, etc.) rather than letting the Cons try to turn his positives into negatives.

Also, Scott's wrong about waiting until an election just like many believe we should wait until an election before revealing any policy. You have to sow the seeds now so that you have something growing - i.e. some believability to your claims to be a "leader" and the image you want to project - by the time the election comes around.

The press have show they will simply regurgitate Conservative talking points. That becomes/is becoming conventional wisdom. There is zero chance of dislodging that in a short election, especially with the vast sums of money the Conservatives are going to throw into a nasty negative ad campaign and their luxurious Death Star war room.

Like Day in 2000 and McGuinty in 1998, we are dead if we wait until an election.

Besides, in reality, we are already well into an election.

ottlib said...

Poor Greg Weston. As with all Conservatives he is finding the SES poll pretty thin gruel for continuing the storyline that the Conservatives are destined for a majority government.

The result, focus on an aspect of the poll that, as Ken Chapman points out, is not very useful.

This is not the first time Mr. Weston has done this. The last SES poll pretty much said the same thing as this one but Mr. Weston decided to focus on the "comfortable with majority" estimates that were published along with it. You see, he trumpeted an uptick in Quebec, of about 5 points, as a huge shift in Quebec, to again give the impression that a Harper majority was in the bag. Of course, he ignored the change in the west which showed a decrease in comfort with a Harper majority that more than offset the Quebec change and IMO was more newsworthy because that is supposed to be Mr. Harper's base.

Conservatives and their allies in the media have been focusing on Mr. Dion's leadership numbers for months. It is not news and it is not having much impact on the popularity of the Liberals.

Ti-Guy said...

Silly popularity contest yes, but not something to ignore.

So, Ted...is not ignoring the same thing as clutching pearls, wringing hands and descending into a silent funk, frowining and weeping?

Again, I ask...How can Dion's failure to be rated better in a silly a popularity contest be addressed?

Anthony said...

"You see, he trumpeted an uptick in Quebec, of about 5 points, as a huge shift in Quebec, to again give the impression that a Harper majority was in the bag."

Dumont went up 10 and went from 4 seats to 41.

If Harper moves to 36 from 26 (which he has not done, he is at 28) he will get much more than 10. If Tory support stays low in Montreal and continues to rise in the regions, we may not see a wave, (we didnt see the last one) because Montreal being 1/3 of the Quebec population will blunt the numbers...

When the leader's numbers hit 10% in quebec...you do have to start asking questions...

Dr. Tux said...

We know why Harper's numbers as a leader are high, he is perceived as being a decisive leader.

We also know why Dion's are low, he's not well known (even among some of the liberals) and he's been attacked as being an ineffective leader.

Whether this perception will hold is not known. It never worked against McGuinty and it never worked against Chretien.

What's interesting is how people will look at the leaders once there actually is an election, and there is some incentive to actually start paying attention. What will be particularly interesting is how people perceive the differing visions on offer from the two leaders.

We have an enormous advantage in the vision department, even if it doesn't register in the sentiments of citizens yet (call this the disengagement factor). Harper has no clear vision of the country to speak of, while Dion does.

My position is that this WILL matter in the perception of citizens when it comes to voting for Canada's leader and for the direction they want to see Canada to move in.

Dion presents us with an opportunity to position Canada as a leader in the Next Industrial Revolution. Dion presents us with an opportunity to be leaders in the sustainable economy. This matters.

Of course, I may be preaching to the choir here, so I think the other point is this: take on the responsibility for exposing Dion to the general public. I've been doing this for the past several months in classes, with friends and acquaintances. It's not difficult to talk politics with people. It's often kinda interesting, especially if you're interested in it. Plus, one on one conversations can be effective means of engaging people in federal politics, which is often not always engaging for people.

Dion is a leader and he is working to strategically position Canada for the challenges of the next generation. If you believe wholeheartedly in Dion's vision, as I do, talk to people about it, beyond the blogosphere.

This is the best example of bottom-up, grass roots politics that I can think of.

Ted Betts said...

Um, never worked on McGuinty???

The Harper smear campaign on Dion is a carbon copy of the Harris campaign against McGuinty in 1998. Remember "he's not up to the job"? The plan is to define him hard, negatively and early, before people have a chance to form their own opinions, before he can start to define himself, before the media come up with a different "storyline".

Harper is copying that strategy because it worked, not because it failed.

Jeff said...

How can Dion's failure to be rated better in a silly a popularity contest be addressed?

Two things Ti. First, I'd say all polls are in essence popularity contests. Silly? Perhaps. But elections are popularity contests too and if our leader is very unpopular, that's going to make it hard to get people to vote for us. So while it may be a popularity contest, if the goal is winning elections it's not overly silly.

Secondly, how do we improve his standings in the popularity contest? I wish I had all the answers. Keep improving the English, keep getting him out there, spend more time talking about our issues, that would be some of my advice.

We do not have any idea what values and issues are driving the choices and they are less than hypothetical in a non-election time.

Ken, I agree I'd like to see deeper polling on some of these questions that scratches under the surface. More issues breakdowns, etc. That's not what we usually get in a public media-sponsored poll though, maybe because that's a harder news story to right. I know any political party worth their salt would be commissioning private polls on such questions though, and hopefully the Libs are and are/will act on the results. Think of these SES numbers though as the topline results though; it's hard to say exactly what is wrong, but we know things are wrong.

Dr. Tux said...


McGuinty has a majority government. My point stands.

Dr. Tux said...


I'd also like to call you out on your completely dismissive attitude to everything I wrote in the post above.

How about engaging in a discussion, rather than chucking spears?

Ted Betts said...


I was dialing it in remotely.

I didn't dismiss the rest of your comments but nor does McGuinty winning an election 6 years after getting elected prove your point.

You said "Whether this perception [being an ineffective leader] will hold is not known. It never worked against McGuinty". But it did work thereby kind of undermining your chosen word "never". The result was another 4 years of Harris.

It took McGuinty 6 years to define himself. Political historians can argue until the end of time whether McGuinty "won" in 2003 or Ontarians simply had had enough of the PCs and kicked them out, but at minimum it is a lot of or most of the latter. Eves mistake in 2003 like Martin's in 2006 was running the same campaign theme as the prior election.

My point was just that Harper is being extremely effective in defining Dion. He has the money for ads. He has an Opposition Leader not well known across the country with weak support in his own party (at the convention). He has Jack Layton spending more time attacking the Liberals than the government. He has the media eating out of the palm of his hand. He has a gazillion dollars.

I think there are a lot of Liberals with their head in the sands and they need to pull them out and pull together. Mostly those around Dion but the rest of us too.

I also disagree with you that we have a killer "vision". Dion's vision sounds good - the three pillars, social justice, economic justice, now environmentalism - but Canadians haven't heard about this and to the extent they have they are saying hunh? What does it even mean? How does that relate to my day-to-day living and my family priorities? Our party is falling into the trap of believing that the country is just waiting for us to come up with our next "Vision" , in believing that our great words without any detail at all will win Canadians back. They aren't and it won't.

There is a great potential because Harper is indeed a directionless, big spending opportunist and petty partisan. But just saying "I have a vision" doesn't make is so.

It takes time to develop good policies and we are starting to come around to the view that substance trumps gimmicky showmanship. I think. If we can do that we will really have a winner, because Harper has had almost no substance, surpassing even us in that regard.

Dr. Tux said...


Ok, point taken on McGuinty. But here's where I differ on the other part of your argument.

You make the argument that a 'vision' is essentially meaningless in the day-to-day lives of everyday people. This reminds me of the argument put to Thomas Eddison (I think) after he came up with a way of conducting or transporting electricity. What is the use of your invention was the question? What is the use of a newborn baby, was his reply.

I may have just butchered the above analogy (forgive me I'm really tired), but I think it's important to realize that you are asking a vision to no longer be a vision, but something concrete and manageable. Please, allow some space for possibilities not yet thought of.

There are certain specifics that can be attached to Dion's vision, including the Cap and Trade system announced a bit ago, or the National Summit on Sustainable Forestry announced only a few days ago. But neither of these things ARE the vision. These are only things that come out of the vision.

Now I know that you've placed an emphasis on the specifics. Let me assure you, under Dion, there will be plenty of specifics. Let's also place an equal emphasis on the overall vision.

Specifics are good, but not good enough. We NEED a Vision to tell us where we're going.