So it seems that with the election speculation out of the way, many in the media have moved on to the next favourite past time which is obsessing about the latest polls. Since these stories are already getting a bit repetitive, here are some facts it would be nice to see some reporters bear in mind that might just add a little more context to those Liberal "doom and gloom" /"Harper can't be stopped" themes that are being peddled:
1) Liberals fall 2009 meet Conservatives circa fall 2005: The Conservatives started the 2005/06 election campaign farther behind the Liberals in the polls than the Liberals are behind the Conservatives now. NANOS/SES had them down by 15 points (41%-26%) 11 days into the campaign and the Conservatives were still down 10 points even 25 days into the campaign. Remember Harper and Co. did force a Christmas election "no one wanted". Well we know how that campaign turned out and NANOS was by far the most accurate in predicting the final result.
2) Voters are up for grabs right up till E-day: In the last election campaign the Liberals bounced between 21% support to 31% support and Conservatives bounced between 31% to 42%. The Conservatives even led 40% to 21% at one point, only to have the gap narrow to 34%-31% within just one week of E-day (only to see the Conservative lead widen after that infamous CTV interview). So it's safe to say what happens in a campaign influences public support a lot more than anything in between.
3) Massive leads have collapsed in past campaigns: Just ask Paul Martin or David Peterson (who didn't even come away with his own seat in the 1990 Ontario election that was supposed to give him another majority). Even Kim Campbell's PCs started out the 1993 campaign slightly in front of the Liberals (ending with 14% and 2 seats) and John Turner's Liberals led Mulroney's Tories when the 1984 campaign began (and the PCs ended up with 50% of the national vote). Which is why I don't put much value in non-writ polls (or ones any more than a couple weeks before E-day) to begin with.
4) Polling trends still have Liberals gaining seats and everyone else losing them: If you must listen to current polls, then even as the media tell us the Liberals are in deep trouble (and admittedly the Liberals have had a rough couple weeks) if you look at seat projection sites (that don't just rely on one poll), the trend still indicates that the Liberals are likely to win around 100 seats. Every other party is on pace to lose seats.
5) Ontario traditionally doesn't look too fondly upon a party that's dead in Quebec: That isn't registering now, but if E-day is nearing and the Conservatives are looking to lose all (or almost all) their Quebec seats, we will very likely see a shift away from them in Ontario.
6) Stephen Harper's career is still on pace to end with the next campaign: Harper's career depends on winning a majority in the next election and not a single poll since January has shown the Conservatives with the numbers that would actually translate into one (again see 308's projections). Remember Harper has to make up for the collapse of the NDP vote (which always helped the Cons more than anyone) and his horrible numbers in Quebec. If Stephen Harper thought he could win a majority, he'd have forced an election by now. He hasn't and it looks like he won't be. As the media talk about how "Conservative fortunes are on the rise" the Cons are still overall on pace to lose seats. Then we'll see who has the "leadership woes".
7) The NDP are down in the dumps and are truly horrified of facing the voters: As their finances, support levels, and party morale keep sinking, their leader has to explain to his supporters why he has "formed a coalition with Stephen Harper" and given Harper a "de facto majority" (Jack's words, not mine), while endorsing him as our representative at the most important climate change conference ever in Copenhagen in December. Increased NDP support in elections has helped elect a fair number of Conservative MPs as they came up the middle. As the NDP are down to their lowest support levels in many years, it seems we won’t have to worry as much about that next time.
8) Harper can't run from his record forever: Stephen Harper promised us no recession and no deficit and we have had the worst of both. He'll have to finally explain himself about that and so much more come campaign time. I'll give him full credit for his Beatles performance, but that will be ancient history once the writ drops and we will be back to the real issues he'll have to answer for. He won't have a piano to save him at the debates.
9) The Liberals will be looking more and more like an alternative government: Now that we no longer vote with the government, we can oppose their policies in House while simultaneously proposing alternatives or even formal amendments to confidence measures. The NDP would have to oppose popular Liberal alternative proposals and have to explain themselves later. The extremely lazy and false argument that "there's no meaningful differences between Liberals and Conservatives" will fade away with each passing example.
10) Liberals remain in excellent organizational shape for the campaign: The Liberals will go into the next campaign with considerably more money in the bank than last time (to spend $24 million instead of approx. $14.5 million), three times as many members (and likely more), more centralized/streamlined organization, better on the ground operation, excellent voter tracker software we never had before, many new star candidates, and as a party more united (right across the country despite some reporters' spin) than we have been in recent memory.
So some can keep up with their doom and gloom all they want, but it doesn't change these facts that leave Liberals with lots of reasons to hold our heads high. If Stephen Harper wants to believe the Liberals are finished like some (though far from all, to be fair) reporters are spinning, let him, Steve will be in for a surprise when the campaign gets underway.
So where does this leave us?
Are the Liberals experiencing a bit of a downturn lately? Do they still have some problems to deal with? Yes and yes. But as I've said before EVERYTHING must be kept in perspective.
Doesn't mean we should completely ignore the media, put our heads in the sand, and pretend that getting back into power will be easy or that the government will simply defeat itself. But stories and polls like those of the past week can be a blessing in that it reminds us that we must always have our A-game on and that we must act as if we are behind and needing to play catch up (even if we get ahead). We must always have in mind how we are best suited to win the next campaign and keep our eyes focused on gaining back supporters from the Conservatives..
We can't afford to let lazy spin win. We need to do a better job of conveying the strength of our party and our ideas and how we would govern much differently than Stephen Harper. We need to do a better job of reaching out to those middle of the road Canadians who have lost faith in our federal politicians and who opt to stay home at election time. We need to make sure all our messages resonate well outside the Ottawa beltway. We need to do a better job of winning over Western and rural Canadians who abandoned our party long ago.
That work is now well under way and I know it will continue in the months ahead, but it can't for a second be let up.
We now have lots of time it would seem to organize for the next campaign and promote our ideas, party and leader. And when the campaign comes, Michael Ignatieff and the Liberal team will present a strong positive vision for Canada that will put Stephen Harper's pettiness and lack of vision and ideas to shame.
It will be the campaign who will decide who wins.
We may start out from behind but I know we have what it takes to win the hearts and minds of Canadians and give them the government and leadership they deserve.
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