Sunday, August 2, 2015

Campaign 2015: No Projections before Labour Day Weekend

The 2015 federal election campaign is underway! Due to professional obligations, I will not have the time to issue projections before Labour Day. My workload after that is not yet known: I may be able to provide daily updates after Labour Day, but I may also not be able to cover this campaign at all. In any case, I hope that you will check back then to see what's up on Canadian Election Watch.

I will say that, in my opinion, this year's Orange wave is increasing the chances that Stephen Harper would keep his job after all, though I still believe that they are low. Why?

- Orange wave or not, it was always going to be difficult for the Conservatives to secure a majority this year. But with the Orange wave, if the Liberals do not prove a viable option, disaffected Conservatives and Red Tories might conclude that Harper is still better than the NDP. That is, while the 2011 scenario is still not likely, it is likelier than it seemed before the Alberta election.

- Without the NDP surge, the Liberals would have been at least second, and the third-place NDP would almost certainly have opposed a Conservative throne speech and supported a Liberal one.

- With the NDP surge, if the Conservatives finish first with a minority, the NDP second and the Liberals third, it is unclear what the Liberals would do. On the one hand, most of their voters would be pretty unhappy if they let Harper govern. On the other hand, if they hand the government to Mulcair, they may be sending Canada straight to a two-party system and making themselves irrelevant.

I believe that the Tories' goal, if they can't win a majority, is to keep the NDP second and the Liberals third - this gives them the best chance to hold on to power. This also happens to be the scenario corresponding to the current poll numbers, so look for Conservatives striving to maintain this balance over the next few weeks.

The most important thing for the NDP isn't really to win, but rather to make sure the Liberals are third and to avoid a Conservative majority. This will either put them in power or at least position them as THE alternative to the Tories. And if the NDP wins, they would rather face a Conservative Official Opposition going through a leadership campaign than a Liberal Official Opposition that could coalesce the anti-left vote. The NDP seems to have decided that, given their current momentum, it is better to marginalize the Liberals rather than to attack them directly. But if Liberal support starts inching back up, don't be surprised if Mulcair becomes more aggressive toward Trudeau.

Conversely, the Liberals' main goal is to avoid third place. As explained above, if the Liberals are second with a Conservative minority, they will likely seize power. But even if the Conservatives win a majority, the Liberals wouldn't be too sad at being the Official Opposition: the party would avoid death, a real danger given the current situation. Therefore, it is in the Liberals' interest to go after the weaker of the two other parties, and it is too early to tell whether the Conservatives or the NDP is the better target.

So, in short, short of winning a majority, the parties' main goals are:
- Conservatives: maintain a Goldilocks scenario where the NDP is second and the Liberals, third
- NDP: make Liberals finish last
- Liberals: avoid finishing last

This will be an extremely difficult campaign for the Liberals because both their opponents want them last, and because they are already last. A second-place finish would have been disappointing from their perspective last year, but I'm pretty sure Trudeau would take it in a heartbeat today.

Still, 11 weeks is a long time, and my next analysis in 5 weeks may already look completely different, so stay tuned!

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