Monday, July 13, 2009

On preferred outcomes

There's plenty to be skeptical about in Harris-Decima's poll (PDF) on Canadians' preferences for the next federal election outcome, including fairly obvious false limitations on respondents' choices on some questions and a lack of definition of the possible outcomes in others. But there are still a couple of points which look to be potentially significant.

First, there's the question of public attitudes toward a coalition. Over the past few months, the term has been treated far too often as a dirty word by all four parties in Parliament at times - with the Cons and Libs attacking the Lib/NDP coalition that nearly took power, and the NDP and Bloc in turn using the term pejoratively to refer to the Libs' choice to prop up the Cons.

Yet amazingly enough, even that rare unanimity in messaging against coalitions generally hasn't prevented the concept from picking up more supporters than opponents - by a margin of 15 to 38 points among supporters of parties other than the Cons. Which would seem to confirm my suspicion that one of the key areas where a party can set itself apart positively on the federal scene is by launching a meaningful defence of the concept of working in a coalition. And while the Cons and Libs probably each have reasons to avoid that strategy, I'd still consider the cause of promoting cooperative politics to be one which the NDP should be eager to take on.

Meanwhile, the answers to a flawed question limiting respondents to choosing a type of Con or Lib government does contain one fairly striking piece of information. After Lib supporters themselves, the voters most likely to prefer a majority Lib government compared to a minority one are...Bloc supporters, by a 33% to 21% margin. In contrast, Green supporters are at 34%-27%, while NDP supporters are the only group with a minority outcome as their plurality preferred result.

Of course, it isn't at all surprising that Bloc supporters would prefer a party which Gilles Duceppe was willing to back over the government they were seeking to vote down. But the striking result is in the relative preference for a majority as opposed to a minority. It's become an article of faith that any party's road to a majority government likely requires getting a substantial number of Bloc voters to shift their allegiance to change the current electoral calculus in Quebec - and while Harris/Decima's numbers suggest that while that effort is still an extreme long-shot, the Libs' road to that outcome may be far easier if Bloc supporters as a group would rather see that than a minority.

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