A couple of polls this week have been used as evidence that the Cons are largely in control of the federal political scene. But I'll argue that while each suggests the limitations of a possible course of action, taken together they point to plenty of reason for hope over the next few years.
Let's start with Ekos' numbers, which suggest a current 32-26-24 three-party race - which is being interpreted by Frank Graves to mean that the Cons are in a strong position due to their relatively stable base and high anticipated turnout. But to my mind, a low, stable support number along with a large but fluid set of opposition votes may prove highly dangerous for the Cons.
After all, the Cons' greatest advantage over the past few years has arguably been their success in identifying a single key opponent who remains somewhat undefined in the public eye, then directing their entire political machine toward annihilating that threat.
But the 2011 election showed that such a strategy has its limits - as a campaign that's too effective in demolishing a primary opponent may allow a secondary one to rise above the fray. And EKOS' numbers look to me to put the Cons in a nearly impossible quandary.
It's far from clear that the Cons' attack machine will work anywhere near as well trying to take down two distinct opponents as it has in focusing on a single threat. But I'm not sure the Cons would have much choice but to try a split strategy if both the NDP and the Libs are within striking distance, as an all-out assault which succeeds in cutting into one opponent would figure to free up second-choice votes to move to the other's camp. And that result could be particularly damaging for the Cons if the shift happens too late in an election campaign to allow for a change in course.
Meanwhile, Eric Grenier's follow-up discussion suggests that an attempt to wedge the NDP and the Libs into a single party would produce relatively little benefit as a starting point, as a distribution of either the Libs' or the NDP's second-choice support would leave the Cons with a two-point lead over a single opponent, rather than a single-digit lead over two.
But the key distinction in Grenier's scenario is that the Cons would then know exactly which opponent represents the greatest threat, and would figure to able to unleash their well-oiled smear machine to tilt the balance even further in their own favour.
Of course, I won't deny my own view as to which party is best suited to replace the Cons with a more progressive alternative - and I still think there's a compelling case that the NDP has more potential to build an outright progressive majority than the Libs or any hybrid party. But voters with absolutely no preference as to who replaces the Cons may be best off working to ensure that there multiple options to neutralize Harper's attack strategy - rather than encouraging the type of dynamic that's played right into Harper's hands.