Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Too close to call

Apparently it only took yesterday's flurry of polls to create the easy narratives the media has been craving in the NDP leadership campaign. But there's plenty of reason for caution about the messages that have been drawn from the polling.

To start off with, "Thomas Mulcair on top" isn't exactly news in light of the NDP supporter polling done over the past few months. Instead, what's noteworthy in the member-based polling - including that from Mulcair's own camp - is the relatively small lead currently held by the front-runner. If Mulcair is starting between 25% and 31% on the first ballot, then he may be fairly well assured of a place on the final ballot. But he'll still need a pile of lower-choice support to emerge on top.

And if there's another consistent theme in the polls released yesterday, it's that there's nothing but uncertainty as to who will remain on the ballot to challenge Mulcair (and thus whose supporters he most needs to target).

Of course, the stories have focused on the candidates' relative positioning - with Paul Dewar's camp making a particularly concerted effort to suggest that Brian Topp ranks below Dewar. But the two full poll results released yesterday show remarkably little gap between the second- and fifth-place candidates: both suggest that the fifth-place candidate could vault all the way to second by winning over, say, Niki Ashton's supporters, while the 31% undecided number in Dewar's poll signals that there's plenty of room for small shifts with a massive potential impact on the candidates' rankings.

And what's more, both polls also suggest that an alliance among any three of Nash, Dewar, Topp, Cullen and their supporters would result in the beneficiary being on at least even terms with Mulcair for the final ballot.

(As for the 28% number released by Topp, it looks like the outlier compared to both the polls released yesterday and the earlier ones showing Nash with a strong second-place standing. But at the very least it offers another layer of uncertainty.)

Naturally, the candidates' rankings will be highly important when it comes time to start dropping contenders. But for now, the key takeaway looks to be that it's too close to call the race between four strong challengers to Mulcair - and all candidates will have to be ready for the large number of permutations and combinations that could result.

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