Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Greens to be Ignored No More

"From where I'm sitting, this whole "green surge" thing - there doesn't seem to be a lot of actual evidence to back it up.  Yet." -Sudbury Steve May, "Is the Green Surge For Real?" February 5, 2019.

Nanaimo-Ladysmith Federal Electoral District - Results - Elections Canada
I would have been satisfied with a squeaker.  But Paul Manly and his team of Greens wanted to leave no doubt in anyone's mind that the Green Party in Nanaimo-Ladysmith was for real.  Pundits were predicting a close finish, but most were giving the nod to the New Democrats, who took the riding in 2015.  The B.C. Greens had, after all, just received a pretty hefty thumping by the New Democrats in an overlapping provincial riding.  

Manly and the federal Greens - although an interesting side-story, especially after Peter Bevan-Baker's PEI Greens took 8 seats in that province's provincial election a couple of weeks ago - would probably fall victim to the same old problem Greens face everywhere: not getting the vote out.
Projection of Popular Vote in Nanaimo-Ladysmith - May 5/19 - 338Canada
338Canada did give the edge to the Green Party, but as recently as Sunday, the algorithm fueling that polling aggregator site suggested that the riding could still go any which way.  It's not clear whether 338Canada gave any credence to an Oracle Poll conducted on May 1st that was released by the Green Party over the weekend (see: "New Green Party poll puts Paul Manly in lead in Nanaimo-Ladysmith byelection," CHEK News, May 4 2019).  

Oracle Called It

How could anyone take that poll seriously, anyway?  While no polling was released by any party or the media throughout the course of the by-election, the late campaign poll commissioned by a clearly biased Green Party claimed results that seemed, well, quite far-fetched.  But the Oracle Poll proved to be startlingly accurate - Green candidate Paul Manly actually finished up with 37.3% - better than the 36% predicted by Oracle.

If Oracle missed anything - and it did - it under-identified Conservative Party support, and over-estimated support for the Liberals.  I won't give Oracle too much of a hard time on this, though - their poll was taken 6 days before e-day, and that's a lot of time for movement to occur.  

First, it's not unusual for a poll to underestimate Conservative Party support, because people 'supporting' other parties will tell pollsters that they're going to vote NDP, Liberal or Green - but on e-day, they don't show up.  That's been a huge problem for the Green Party - which seems to poll about 20% higher than candidates are able to pull on e-day.

Second, by strategically releasing this poll on the eve of the election, the Green Party sent a message to voters - especially Liberal voters.  By showing the Green Party out in front, and having built a substantial lead in the by-election, Liberal voters were given a disincentive to support their preferred party.  Either those voters didn't show up to vote at all, or if they did, they moved to another party. This is evident based on the e-day result for the Liberals - whose vote clearly collapsed to an abysmal 11%.

Finally, the very absence of polls released by the other parties suggest that they knew this all along.  None of the parties was going to leak to the media poll results that showed their vote stagnant or headed the wrong way, while Greens just kept climbing.  What I'm less certain of is why the local media didn't do any polling - and maybe the answer to that question has a little something to do with how Greens have long been ignored by the media, generally speaking (although the media has always been very good to Greens here in Sudbury!)

Well, the Green Party is to be ignored no more.

Trends Matter

For Greens, it was the trends that mattered.  And an old reliable trend might have helped Manly become the darling of voters: when voter turn-out is high, Greens do well.  And, as the CBC's Eric Grenier reports, voter turnout for last night's by-election was about 10% higher than the average for all other by-elections held since the Liberals formed government in 2015 (see: "Trudeau, Singh both have reason to worry about Green byelection breakthrough," CBC News, May 7 2019).

338Canada's aggregate of all federal vote intention polls shows the Green Party at just under 10% - and that was before the Nanaimo-Ladysmith by-election.  Green support has been slowly, but steadily building over the past several months - and pollsters and pundits have started to notice.  

We can now put to rest any questions that might still remain about whether the "Green Surge" is for real.  It is.

Acknowledging this reality, though, can only lead to other - sometimes more problematic questions - less about the Green Party itself, and more about how the Green Surge might impact the upcoming national election.
338 Canada - Popular Vote Projection - May 5/19
The Collapse of the New Democrats

With the New Democrats mired in third place under what can only be described as a lackluster leader, their prospects of forming government have completely evaporated.  Polling puts the NDP at around 11% in Quebec - a province that they dominated in 2011 under former leader Jack Layton.  But half of those New Democrats didn't return under Tom Mulcair's leadership in 2015 - and since then, the NDP have gone on to lose Mulcair's old beachhead riding of Outremount in a by-election earlier this year.  

Since about half the New Democratic caucus comes from Quebec, the NDP's numbers in parliament are about to be wiped out.  Throw in the fact that a number of popular New Democrats like Nathan Cullen and Murray Rankin have decided not to run, and even more ridings are going to be put into play.

The rise of the Green Party - if it continues - and the trends suggest that it will - is only going to eat further into the NDP's support.  The NDP, however, can thank the Liberals for also finding their support eroding.  A strong Liberal showing could prove disastrous for the New Democrats, but Justin Trudeau and the Liberals appear to be doing everything in their power to give Canadians a reason to vote for a Party that isn't the Liberal Party.  It's a strange election strategy, but the Liberals might still pull i....

Can the Liberals Still Pull It Off?

No.  I realize that one should never count the Liberals out of anything.  But they're done.  Their support is going to continue to erode.  Unless maybe Justin Trudeau resigns as leader - something he should have done when the Globe and Mail first broke the LavScam story.  Yes, there is still time for the Liberals to turn things around - but given the sheer hatred that so many Canadians appear to have when it comes to Trudeau, it's just not likely going to happen.

Yes, Trudeau might decide to make some big, important policy or program announcement between now and September - something that he hopes would rally voters around the Liberal flag.  But chances are he's going to get that wrong too.  Thing is, he's lost the trust of voters, and he's not going to get it back.  And the biggest announcement in the world isn't going to change that reality for him and the Liberals.

Trudeau's only play might be actually doing something - or causing something to be done - between now and September.  Something that he can point to and say, "I did that, vote for me."  Pretty much the only potentially winning thing he can do now is figure out a way to get shovels in the ground and construction on the Trans Mountain pipeline started.  Couple that action with publicly distancing himself from the Paris climate accord and making peace with new Alberta Premier Jason Kenney - and maybe with Ontario Premier Doug Ford by cancelling the carbon tax - and there's a good chance that he might be able to recover some lost ground with voters on the right side of the political spectrum.

The Conservative Beneficiaries

Trudeau shifting to the right is not at all what I would like for him to do - but it may be the only hope the Liberals now have of getting elected.  And I can't help but think that even a more right-ward leaning Liberal government would be far more preferable to the outcome that I expect now to see on e-day: a Conservative Party majority government.

The hard reality for Greens is this: the better our party does, under this damn antiquated first-past-the-post voting system, the more likely Conservative candidates will be elected. Unless the vote of one of the other party's collapses, the presence of a strong Green in the field is going to change the complexion of the vote at the riding level.  

The Liberal vote is not likely to collapse.  Poll after poll after poll shows that the Liberals continue to have a strong base that isn't going anywhere.  The New Democrats on the other hand are likely to be strong in certain areas, but much less so relative to the Greens in others (the Maritimes come to mind).  I fully expect that Greens will outperform New Democrats in a good number of ridings this coming election - and in a few, the Green candidate might credibly complain that if it weren't for the presence of the vote-splitting NDP, Greens might have taken the riding (but the Green candidate won't be making that complaint - not after years and years of having that crap flung in our faces).

Do What We Have to Do

One thing I'd like to point out to readers right now: nowhere in my analysis of election outcomes have I talked about the importance of policy or programs, save for that brief discussion about Trudeau and Trans Mountain.  This might be hard for Greens, but the reality is that our policies really don't much matter at this point. If we can keep the bozo eruptions to a minimum, and not have too many flakey candidates bow out pre-writ, and if we can present a respectable and costed platform based on the issues that Canadians have come to expect us to champion, that's all we need do on that front.

Our focus must be on our ground game - getting our volunteers out knocking on doors, handing out literature, sending around memes on Facebook and Instagram.  Compiling data in our databases for a full-on Get Out The Vote (GOTV) effort.  The sorts of things that we have a bit of a reputation for not doing very well. That's what we've got to do now, instead of talking shop.  It's time for us to walk the walk.

The Upside to 4 Years of Scheer

The only upside to a majority Conservative government that I can see is that it will give Greens and New Democrats 4 years to merge our Parties - and if we're going to undertake that exercise, 4 years might not actually be long enough.  But the writing really is on the wall, I feel.  Too many New Democrats are already dissatisfied with the direction that their Party leaders have been taking their Party.  Too many Greens are growing dissatisfied with showing up only to have our hearts broken.  If Greens have a good showing at the expense of New Democrats this time out - only to lead to the election of a Conservative government - you can bet that it will be more than just the political pundits making the case that Greens and New Democrats should work together (see: "A Green-NDP merger? It could be a big hit." MacLean's Magazine, April 28 2019).

I for one am totally onboard with the idea of a merger - although as an engaged partisan, I also know that merging the two parties won't be easy (see this Twitter Thread for my further thoughts).  The idea of merging is likely more popular with our supporters than with our members.  We come from different cultures, and there is a lot of space between us on some important issues.

But ultimately it's that which we have in common that outweighs our differences - and I think we have a lot more in common with one another than most hard-core members on either side think.  The online debate MacLean's stirred up over the question of a merger demonstrated one thing to me: members of our parties, for the most part, really don't seem to know as much about one another as I had thought.  Meaning that there's a lot of myths that need to be exploded about what Greens and New Democrats really stand for.

But now that Greens appear poised to have a serious impact on electoral outcomes, I think now more than ever it's incumbent on Greens and New Democrats to find that common ground which unites us.

Unfortunately, that project is going to have to get started after the October election.  Maybe Paul Manly and a few other former New Democrats in our ranks can figure out a way to get that ball rolling when our caucuses face off against one another in November.

(opinions expressed in this blogpost are my own, and should not be interpreted as being consistent with the Green Parties of Ontario and/or Canada)

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