Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Is the Green Party Ready to Capitalize on the Liberal Party's Collapse?

Are Greens ready to capitalize on the imminent collapse of the Liberal Party?

Say what?  "The imminent collapse of the Liberal Party"?  How is that a thing?  Didn't the Liberals just "survive" LavScam?  Isn't Justin Trudeau's Party currently polling in a statistical tie with Andrew Scheer's Conservatives?  Why on earth would any rationally-minded person be predicting that the Liberal Party is about to collapse - much less wonder aloud if the Green Party is ready for it (because clearly Greens aren't even thinking about the Liberals right now).

And yet here I am.  And here's where Canada is at right now, according to 338Canada - the national opinion poll aggregator.
338Canada - National Political Party Polling - May 31 2019
The Liberals are starting to pull even with the Conservatives, but clearly they've lost some ground since the (arbitrary beginning date of) November 25th date on the left hand side of the graphic (Libs were at 37% in November 2018; they're down to 32% now).

The Conservatives, though, seem to have fallen off a little - but that could be a blip.  Nevertheless, the Cons were at 32% in November 2018, and now they're up at 33.8.  An increase of just 1.8%.  Nothing to write home about, right?

And the NDP?  Well they've flatlined.  Started at 15.7% and they're now at 16.2%.  Nothing to see there.

But the Greens - we've really been surging, right?  I mean we were at a paltry 7% in November 2018 - and we've risen to an paltry 11% at the end of May.  We're up a total of 4% - which is actually less than the Liberals have fallen by.  So tell me again about that "Green Surge"?

The Green Surge

OK, since I asked myself about it, I will.  The numbers don't lie.  4% is not a lot of movement for national political parties - but it's also nothing to sneeze at.  Polls that show a variation of 4% between polling periods might be just blips (outliers) - but when poll after poll after poll shows that there is a trend - well, 4% isn't huge.  No one is going to panic.  But in the case of the Liberals and Conservatives, 5% saw the Libs move from a healthy lead and majority government territory in November, 2018 to potentially confronting a Conservative minority on the day after E-day.

A slight shift for sure - but one that can markedly change outcomes.

But even that assessment doesn't do justice to what's happening with the Green Party.  And here are two reasons why:

First, a 4% increase in popular support actually represents a 63% increase in Party support.  If we get to 14%, that will be double the level of support we had in November, 2018.  

But why use that arbitrary date as the starting point?  Surely the 2015 election results would be a better place to start, no?  Given that the election itself was a strong measure of support for our Party via people actually voting for Green candidates.  

Well, in the 2015 election, Greens received only 3.4% of the national vote.  Which means that a support level of 11% is actually over 300% what we received on E-day 2015.  And that's a big number.  Is that even a real number?  Nevermind - because 11% likely isn't a real number yet either - given that there is an observed trend of about 1/4 of Green Supporters abandoning the Party on E-days and casting ballots for someone else.  Don't be fooled into thinking 11% is for real - it's probably closer to 8%.  But even 8% is over twice the level of support we had on E-Day 2015.

And here's the second thing: while our supporters might be spread out across the country - something which has typically worked to our disadvantage - that's not entirely the case this time around.  We now likely have pockets of Green supporters in key, winnable ridings like Saanich-Gulf Islands, Nanaimo-Ladysmith, Victoria, Esquimalt-Saanich-Sooke, Fredericton, Guelph and Malpeque.  Maybe a few more.  Maybe.

We're on the move throughout the country, too - and we've actually overtaken the NDP in Atlantic Canada as the third Party there (but even that's deceiving - we've only got 4% of the support in Newfoundland and Labrador, but we're up to 19% in New Brunswick and 22% in Prince Edward Island - see: "Federal Liberals and Conservatives in statistical tie in Atlantic Canada ahead of 2019 election, while Green Party support rises," Corporate Research Associates, June 5 2019).

The point is, these national and regional levels of support are the highest the Green Party has ever seen - but there is a high likelihood that at the riding level, the Green vote might be more concentrated in a few ridings than this level of support suggests - and that can (and will) lead to more Greens being elected.

That's the good news.  The bad news is the ridings that I've identified above probably represents the complete list of ridings where we've got a decent shot at winning today.  And how many was that? Just 7.

So what are Greens to do?

Well, let's assess some of the other trends that we're seeing - and will likely see - first.

The People's Party

Remember when Greens were saying, "Don't worry - you can vote Green in good conscience this time, because the Conservatives aren't going to win - thanks to the presence of the People's Party, which will surely eat into Conservative support."  Well, that hasn't happened, and it's not going to happen.  Maybe it will happen in the odd riding where a popular local candidate runs, which could change the dynamics on the ground there.  But the People's Party has proven to be a flop - and will likely continue to poll very low throughout the summer and into the fall.  So all else being equal, their presence will have little to no effect on the outcome of the general election.

The New Democrats

The NDP has some serious issues that it needs to face.  First, a number of prominent NDP MP's won't be running gain in 209 - which means that voters will be confronted with new names and faces in NDP-held ridings.  Second, the NDP has completely flat-lined under leader Jagmeet Singh - and the media narrative around that Party has been all about how Singh and the New Democrats don't have their act together.  Whether that's true or not doesn't matter - the media has raised serious doubts about the viability of the NDP - and we Greens have probably been the biggest beneficiaries.

Third: Quebec.  The NDP is probably toast in Quebec.  Maybe Boulerice will hold on, but other than his riding, they are done. Toast.  And if anyone thinks that this isn't going to play into the media narrative about the New Democrats, they need to think again.  The loss of Quebec - the province that Jack took - is huge.

Can we legitimately expect the NDP to start polling better than they are now?  I believe the answer is Yes - but I don't think they've hit rock bottom yet.  But when the writ drops and the campaign really gets going, don't count on the NDP to finish up on e-day with just 15% of the vote.  Here's why:

The Liberals

I've said it before and I'll say it again: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau should have resigned during that first week of the SNC-Lavalin crisis.  A fresh face at the Liberal helm would have been much better positioned to weather than crisis - and to weather the on-coming ad blitz that will be directed at dragging the Liberal leader through the mud in a way that no Liberal leader ever has been before (ok - Kathleen Wynne excepted).

Here's the thing: People already hate Trudeau.  It's not just a matter of disliking him. They hate him.  And that hatred will continue to grow.  It will be fueled by the massive Conservative Party ad buy and the spending of their Ontario Proud-like surrogates.  Every little thing he does will be put under the microscope, dissected, killed off, bandaged back up like some sick Frankenstein's monster, and unleashed on unsuspecting consumers of social media.  

When the attacks really get going, ask yourself this: Would the Cons have been able to hit as hard against Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland?

I fully expect Liberal Party support to plummet - maybe to go as low as 20%.  That's a huge shift.  But Trudeau is under siege - and not just from the right. We Greens are doing our part to sink "Canada's Natural Governing Party" (in part due to their own arrogance).  And New Democrats are a part of the pile-on too.  As Liberal support slips, expect both the NDP and the Greens to be the primary beneficiaries.  

Note, however, that this probably will not happen until mid-way through the actual campaign.  We're talking about late-September here.  And that's the reason I think the NDP is going to be able to make more hay than we Greens will.  The NDP will be running a full national campaign - just as they always have done.  Singh will be in the public eye in a way that May just won't be able to be, once the writ drops.  That's the time for the NDP to start making up ground on the Greens - and they will.  And they will benefit from Trudeau's collapse.

Or do you think a Liberal collapse is unlikely?  I understand that not everyone is going to be on board with that prediction.  I get that one should never count the Liberals out.  But I also lived through what happened here in Ontario and all of the hatred and invective that was directed towards the embodiment of the Liberal government here in the person of Kathleen Wynne.  And let's face it: Trudeau is no Wynne, and his government is hardly doing the same sorts of things that Wynne's did in the lead-up to the election.  Wynne at least knew that she was in trouble.  Trudeau and the federal Liberals appear intent on continuing to believe that they're going to sail to victory.  

It's not going to happen.

Wither the Green Party?

So where does this leave the Green Party?  Some are suggesting that Greens should roll the dice - go all in on replacing the NDP as Canada's third party (hey!  those are seriously high stakes for the Green Party!) - maybe by electing a couple of dozen MP's.  It sounds like a great idea - but it also sounds like a fantasy.  Frankly, the Green Party is in no position to capitalize on our new-found success to any degree beyond what I've already identified here.  We've got 7 winnable ridings - maybe 3 or 4 more that we could be competitive in.  Those should be the limit to our ambition this time out.

Now I know that the climate crisis demands action, and we've only got 11 years left to take it in a meaningful way.  The bigger the contingent of Greens we send to Ottawa, the more likely they'll have an impact on Canada's ability to shift gears and get serious.  Look, I'd love to see 24 Green MP's - but it just isn't going to happen.

First off, our Party does not have the resources to mount a national campaign.  Lucky for us, about half of these winnable ridings are clustered together in B.C., so that is where Elizabeth May is going to be spending a lot of time.  May's presence in B.C. works against out ability to mount an effective national campaign, because: 1) she's going to be spending a lot of time in just one region, and; 2) that region finds itself at the tail-end of the mainstream media news cycle.  Meaning that just as newsworthy announcements are being made in Nanaimo, they're shutting off the lights in Moncton and heading to bed.  With a 24-hour news cycle, that might not seem like much - but trust me, this kind of stuff still matters.

And here are a few other things about resources.  Our Party just doesn't have the cash to mount an effective national campaign, even if we wanted to.  Also, since our Party has never run a national campaign, we don't have much in the way of experience doing so - and we certainly don't have the infrastructure in place to support a national campaign (we haven't planned for it, so it's not there).  National campaigns rely on candidate discipline at the local level - staying on and repeating messaging so that the word of the day constantly gets out.

Have you ever been to a Green Party meeting?  Can you really imagine a hand-full of Green candidates submitting to the diktat of a national campaign chair?  Have you ever tried herding sheep?

The NDP, though, have this whole national campaign thing down pat.  And that's why when push comes to shove, and Justin Trudeau is being buried in mud by his opponents on the right and buried in facts and evidence from his opponents on the left, it's going to be Jagmeet Singh's NDP who will be strategically positioned to pick up the lion's share of support.

Moderate Those Growing Expectations

Look, I love the idea of a Green Surge - and surge we must keep doing throughout the summer. But once the writ drops and it's game on, Greens won't be the "story" any longer.  Andrew Scheer will be the story, and to an extent so will be the collapse of the Liberal Party and the NDP's rebound.  We will be lucky to hold on to the support that we have come e-day.  If we are polling at 15% support in early September, I personally will be very happy with 8% of the vote come election day - as long as we elect those 7 MPs.

Is there anything the Green Party can do between now and September that will give us a legitimate option to roll the dice?  Can we maybe take out a huge loan and advertise, Advertise, ADVERTISE?  We could - but we will still be deficient with people in the right places, ready to connect, to undertake a national campaign.  Advertising is important - but the game on the ground is important too.  And we just don't have the volunteers, or know how to put them to use effectively if they do start showing up.  We don't know how to run effective campaigns outside of a small number of ridings.

So no, I wouldn't suggest going into debt on an advertising blitz.  Let's stick to the game plan that's been in place all along - with a focus on winnable ridings. Let's continue to build support at the local and national level, but let's not let the support that we've accumulated already go to our heads.  

And maybe then in the next election - after 4 long years of Conservative majority government in a time of climate crisis - we Greens will be ready to replace the ineffective and much-reviled Liberal Party.

(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)


Wilf Day said...

At one point you said "5% saw the Libs move from a healthy lead and majority government territory in November, 2018 to potentially confronting a Conservative minority on the day after E-day." Please do not ever say "Conservative minority" or "Liberal minority." In a House of minorities, the incumbent government governs until it resigns or loses the first confidence vote in the new House, so it is the new House that determines what minority party or coalition or accord has the confidence of the House.

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