Thursday, April 23, 2009

On memorable results

Adam Radwanski's interview with NDP strategist Brian Topp makes for an interesting read generally. But one of his points in particular bears highlighting.

Here's what Topp had to say about the NDP's recent polling numbers:
Adam Radwanski: Given that there really isn't all that much of a policy gap between the Conservatives and the Liberals right now, are you surprised that NDP support has stagnated - if not dropped - in the past few months?

Brian Topp: I'm not surprised - so far.

The New Democrat caucus tried to do a big thing - tried to replace the government. And it didn't happen. That's the most memorable thing our team has done so far in this parliament. Undertakings that don't succeed don't build support.

The essentially seamless unity of purpose between the Harper Conservatives and the Ignatieff Liberals does now create an opportunity for the NDP - one New Democrats know they need to step up to by shaking off the events of November and addressing the issues Canadians are focused on today.

If the NDP succeeds in doing this, we'll (hopefully) be rewarded in the polls.
Now, the same principle can easily work in the NDP's favour where its efforts succeed. Remember that in the wake of its "better balanced budget", the NDP spent much of the summer of 2005 polling well into the 20s. Meanwhile, the Cons reached roughly the same level from the opposite direction, as Harper and company spent the better part of the summer seething with rage over their failure to force an election that spring. (It was only that fall - when the Libs refused the NDP's entreaties to strengthen the health care system - that both numbers moved back toward their previous levels.)

Unfortunately, the coalition plan was eventually seen as giving rise to two separate points which might be seen as "failures": both Michaelle Jean's decision to grant prorogation and Michael Ignatieff's choice to keep propping up Harper served to undermine the potential of the coalition. And in that light, one could have expected the NDP to suffer even more than it did as the lone party to engage in a strong defence of the coalition.

Conversely, there's no telling for sure how matters would have been different if the coalition had taken office. But if Harper had been saddled with an unsuccessful attempt to cling to power after already having watched his fiscal update blow up in his face, then it would have been the Cons wearing the title of failure - and we might already be in the midst of a Con leadership race as part of the fallout.

Based on that upside as well as the potential for an NDP presence in government, the coalition gambit was well worth the effort even in retrospect. But the end result (particularly as precipitated by the Libs) does speak to the importance of setting goals which are both visible and attainable as the NDP works on building its public perception back up now. And presumably those will both be major guiding principles in the NDP's planning going forward.

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