Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Canadian Conservatives underperforming in polls

The Progressive Conservatives' massive landslide in 1984 should be considered together with Reagan's sweep of 49 out of 50 states' electoral college votes in November of that year, and with Maggie Thatcher's landslide in Britain of June 1983. In eastern Europe, seeds were being sown that led to the collapse of several communist regimes by the end of the decade. A lot of people scoff at the idea that conservatives could really be riding high in 2010/2011 when the global economy took a nosedive in late 2008 and early 2009, but one should just look at what happened at the polls in the wake of the recession of 1981/1982.

Those who went through Junior High or High School during the 80s are now appearing in US polling as one of the most conservative demographics. These Alex P Keatons (Reagan reportedly said Family Ties was his favourite TV show) are thought to have gone decisively for Scott P Brown in last month's Massachusetts Senate election. Scott Brown's election underlined a year long decline in popularity for President Obama and the Democrats. A Gallup poll in late August found that 45% of Americans identified with or leaned towards the Democratic Party vs 40% for the Republicans. In January 2009, it was 52% Dem and 35% Republican. European elections in 2009 also showed a distinct move to the right. The dominant question concerning the next British election, which must be held by June of this year, is not whether Gordon Brown's Labour government will be defeated but whether the scale of Labour's defeat will approach the nadir the party registered in the early 80s. Although British MPs voted today to hold a referendum on ditching the first-past-the-post system, the referendum would not be held for many months yet.

To be sure, the 2010s appear unlikely at this stage to represent the conservative renaissance that the 1980s were. But the reality is that Canada's federal Conservative party should be doing better than it is in the polls given international trends of the last 12 months. EKOS' latest poll, for example, shows the Liberals ahead 31.9% to 31.0%. This suggests that the party may be losing support for reasons other than conservativism losing popularity. I cannot see how proroguing Parliament could have helped the party, and strikes me as an example of how the culture of the party is limiting its appeal. The party could use more transparency and more ideology on economic issues. With respect to the latter point, I recommend, as usual, Andrew Coyne.

As one can see from the Cato Institute graph below, the move towards smaller government in the 90s under Clinton south of the border and under the Liberals north of the border stalled out with the election of GWB in November 2000 and the Tories' electoral emergence in 2004, which forced a minority Parliament (Harper then moved into the Prime Minister's residence in 2006).

This graph is now getting dated, as 2009 and 2010 are seeing significant increases in government spending relative to the size of the economy in both countries. Of note here is that there is no clear popular mandate for this government expansion. As the graph below based on President Obama's 2011 Budget indicates (note: this graph just refers to the federal government, unlike the previous one) federal spending set to significantly exceed its long term average relative to the US economy.

As problematic as it is to assert a popular demand for smaller government at this point in time, it is pretty easy to claim that the American public is clearly not happy at the moment, and that alone should be enough to suggest that more political dangers exist on the overspending side than underspending. Will the next Tory budget reflect this, or will the Harper Conservatives continue to obsess over politics at the expense of policy?

There is an interesting side note to the EKOS poll. In Alberta, the Greens are third after the Liberals, with 13%. The share going to "Other" is 6.2% in the province, versus 2.4% nationally. According to EKOS, "This may reflect some disenchantment with the Conservative brand in provincial politics, where the Wildrose Alliance Party is challenging the Progressive Conservatives."


末迷 said...


Mark Samborsky said...

Back in the 1980s, the College of Commerce at the University of Saskatchewan had an APK Club. They may have been fiscally conservative but they sure drank a lot on the bus trips to Edmonton and Calgary for hockey games.

Obama has also been criticized for still campaigning instead of governing (i.e., putting politics ahead of policy).

Anonymous said...

The Wildrose party just takes all of the nutbars out of the PC's.