Sunday, February 08, 2015

The more things change...

Tim Naumetz' comparison between the NDP's place before the 2011 federal election and its current position is worth a read. But what's perhaps more noteworthy is how little has changed.

Remember that the 2011 campaign was initially portrayed as a two-party race between the Cons and the Libs. And looking solely at party support numbers until midway through the writ period, that conclusion might have seemed justified.

(In that respect, the NDP is in a much stronger position now than four years ago. Even its worst recent poll results are well above the low-teens numbers which caused so many in the media to think Jack Layton would avoid a 2011 election at all costs. And all available Quebec polling suggests that at worst, dozens of seats will remain in NDP hands.)

Going into 2011, though, the NDP knew that factors beyond simple party support were working in its favour as the campaign began.

It could point to a significant advantage in leadership. Not only was Jack Layton more popular than his competitors to start with, but his political experience and development positioned him to win additional support as voters took a closer look at their options.

And it could point to a detailed set of policies developed over years of careful consideration and associated public trust on issues, in contrast to the Liberals' hastily-assembled set of campaign gimmicks.

Those proved to be important advantages for the NDP as it rose to Official Opposition status. And both are equally applicable now.

For all the adulation Justin Trudeau has received in some corners of the media, Tom Mulcair is at or near the top of leader rankings for net and overall approval. And as Thomas Walkom notes, the NDP's strong substantive platform for 2015 also includes plenty in common with the party's offering from the previous election.

Of course, none of the above is to suggest that the NDP is where it intended to be at the start of an election year. No doubt the hope after earning the role of Official Opposition was to be able to run from ahead rather than behind - and that looked entirely possible after Mulcair's post-leadership bump in the polls.

And we can't expect the other federal parties to be as unprepared for the NDP's winning strategy as they were last time - making their response an important unknown.

But if the main difference for the NDP since the last election cycle has been to exchange the element of surprise for a combination of Quebec support and incumbency advantages, that's surely not a bad tradeoff. And we'll find out before long how much the NDP can build on what it's already accomplished.

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