Monday, March 17, 2008

Contributing factors

Tossing in my two cents' worth on today's byelections, it's tough to disagree with the consensus that the Libs figure to hold on to each of the urban ridings while Desnethé-Missinippi-Churchill River is somewhere between a tossup and a likely Con pickup. But the votes in Toronto Centre, Willowdale and Vancouver Quadra nonetheless figure to offer an interesting experiment as to the different strategies and strengths of the non-Lib parties.

The Cons have gone out of their way to downplay the importance of the ridings, but two elements in play figure to help their cause. And while much has been made of their efforts to connect with ethnic communities, the more significant factor to me looks to be the effect of media coverage which has often proclaimed the Cons to be the main challenger even where history would suggest otherwise. Which combined with the Cons' national advertising strategy makes their result a proxy for the role of the "air war" as opposed to other factors.

The Greens, meanwhile, have plainly gone the other way in the expectations game by releasing surprising-looking internal polls - apparently looking to push their numbers upward for the by-election in hopes that a higher base for next election will make up for the likely disappointment if the Greens do fall short of their own expectations. Which makes them into a test case for the effectiveness of what I'd describe as opinion management - with an even more interesting test to come as to whether they're able to hold onto any gains.

Then there's the NDP, which even with solid candidates all around and a history of contending in two of the ridings has largely stayed under the media radar - a radical departure from the successful push to get Thomas Mulcair's name in the headlines early and often in order to win Outremont.

Of course, that strategy figures to be based on at least some calculation that today's contests will be tougher ones for the NDP. What I'm watching for, though, is any sign that the NDP's behind-the-scenes growth will be able to keep it at least in line with the usual results even despite the lack of public exposure based on a sufficiently strong ground operation. And if not, then one has to figure the NDP will need to put more effort into the strategies that would then have worked for the Cons and/or Greens.

What about the Libs? It's hard to glean much information at all from their results simply because everything seems to be in their favour: star candidates, safe ridings, ample coverage and leads in the polls. Which means that if the Libs can't cruise through, the story may be less one of a particular strategy failing than of a party in serious trouble.

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