Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Wither the People's Alliance?

This is the third post in a three-post series on the prospects for New Brunswick's three registered third parties for this fall's provincial election.

The People's Alliance is running as a radically populist party. They will not whip their elected members in any way to support a central party platform, but they are instead a loose alliance of individuals who want to put their constituents before party.

This sounds like a good idea on paper, but it has not proved to work very well in practice both at the federal level and here in New Brunswick.

The Reform Party of Canada ran on a similar platform but it did not take them long to move to a more traditional approach when in parliament. The same happened to the Confederation of Regions here in New Brunswick. In Reform's case, they managed to adapt and thrive (though their populist views eventually vanished when merging to form today's Conservative Party). On the other hand, COR imploded after one term of having elected members.

While this model does not seem to work very well after elections, it does seem to be a good platform on which to run for election. Dissatisfaction with politics as usual (which we are certainly seeing in New Brunswick today) got Reform over 50 seats in 1993 and COR official opposition status in 1991.

While COR is best remembered for being opposed to official bilingualism, this was just one manifestation of a broader view of libertarian/populism. i.e. keep the state out of the people's business and give the people more power over the state.

One presumes that the People's Alliance will do best in ridings where COR did well.

COR won all of almost all of its seats in Greater Fredericton, with two others in anglophone parts of Greater Moncton. It also did relatively well throughout rural southern New Brunswick.

Riding boundaries have changed quite a bit since 1991 (in 1995 and again in 2006) but the following 11 ridings were all or largely represented by COR in 1991:

Fredericton-Fort Nashwaak
Grand Lake-Gagetown*
Miramichi Southwest
New Maryland-Sunbury West
York North
* The old riding of Sunbury makes up significant parts of these two ridings and was represented by COR. The ridings of Queens North (which makes up the rest of Grand Lake-Gagetown) and Frederiton South (which makes up the rest of Fredericton-Lincoln) were won by the Liberals in 1991.

I've colourcoded the ridings based on which party currently represents them. As you can see, both the Liberals and Conservatives are equally at risk.

The highest profile candidates so far are both former Conservative nomination contestants. One is party leader Kris Austin, running in Grand Lake-Gagetown and St. Andrews mayor John Craig in Charlotte-Campobello.

The People's Alliance's hopes rest largely with circumstances outside of their control. Because their ethos is to be against the system, the "system" needs to do something that will spur the disenfranchised to be against the main parties and therefore vote for this party.

Every day that passes since the NB Power debate, the less likely it is for this party to be able to ride the tide of that rage. Moreover, if their voters are most likely to be people that would otherwise vote Conservative, will they actually be able to get votes in an election where the Conservatives have a chance to win? In 1991 the PCs were in shambles and in 1993 they were crushed.

In those elections, voters could choose between a moderate party that was sure to lose and a radical party that was sure to lose. It is very easy to stay pure in those circumstances.

If people who generally prefer less government and small c conservatism have the choice between a more moderate Conservative Party that could win and a populist party that can't, I suspect they are more likely to choose the former.

So barring something dramatic happening between now and September 27, I expect that that People's Alliance will do well enough to scare the mainstream parties in a few ridings, but not likely pick up a seat. I'll set the odds at 20-80.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Wither the Greens?

The Green Party is very new in New Brunswick. They have not contested a provincial election before.

They have some credibility in that their leader is disaffected Liberal Jack MacDougall who is well known in political circles for being an excellent campaign organizer.

MacDougall served as organizer for the federal Greens in the 2008 election which saw their share of the vote in New Brunswick climb from to 6.2% from 2.4% in 2006. How much of this has to do with MacDougall is impossible to tell but that 4.2 point increase compares favourably to the national climb of 2.3.

Opinion polls do not have the Greens coming in that high, instead ranging between 2 and 3% (of all voters) in a poll with a margin of error of +/- 3.4.

However, while third parties traditionally underperform their polling numbers because of weak organization, it could be said that the Greens may overperform their polling numbers because of strong organization. We'll have to see.

If the Greens did manage to replicate that 6.2% of the vote, they would still not be likely to win any seats. In fact, COR got 7.1% of the vote in 1995 and even with concentrated support and 6 incumbent MLAs on the ballot they couldn't get a seat.

When MacDougall sought the leadership of the Liberal Party in 2002, he won only 8% of delegates. However, he ran very strong in Saint John where he was active in business and community causes in the 1980s. He actually won a plurality of delegates in several Saint John ridings.

Had MacDougall run in a Saint John area riding, say Saint John-Fundy where long-time MacDougall ally Stuart Jamieson is stepping down, he may have had a shot. As it stands, I suspect he will place third (at best) in his chosen riding of Fredericton-Nashwaaksis.

The prospects for the Greens winning a seat are grim. However, if MacDougall gets into the leaders' debate... you never know. There a great many undecided voters and a great many disgruntled voters in this very unpredictable cycle. One never knows what might happen if an unknown leader of an unknown party were to catch on in a debate.

That said, I would give the chances of the Greens winning a seat 5-95.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Whither the NDP?

The NDP nearly had a breakthrough in francophone New Brunswick in the 1999 election. The double momentum of Yvon Godin's 1997 federal election victory (and to a lesser extent Angela Vautour's in Beauséjour-Petitcodiac), and the decline of the Liberal Party in that election created a tremendous opportunity for them.

Will that opportunity be replicated in 2010 by the party's first Francophone leader running in a riding on the peninsula combined with a Liberal government that, like in 1999, is facing some serious trouble?

Here are the ridings in which the NDP did well in 1999 that fall in or near the boundaries of those two federal ridings:

Nepisiguit 28%
Tantramar 19%
Rogersville-Kouchibouguac 18%
Nigadoo-Chaleur 16%
Centre-PĂ©ninsule 14%
Moncton North 14%
Kent South 12%
Riverview 12%
Miramichi Centre 11%

Add to that list two more ridings: Tracadie-Sheila (where party leader Duguay is running) and Miramichi Bay-Neguac (where Duguay ran and got got 26% in 2006).

These are the ridings that the NDP has its best shot of winning. Particularly the Francophone ridings in the northeast and possibly also Moncton North, a traditionally Liberal riding with a strong PC campaign and no Liberal incumbent.

The NDP seems to be going all in on electing their leader, which is probably a fair strategy. The PCs have made two major announcements in Tracadie-Sheila, leading one to believe they are nervous. Equally good hopes could be Nepisiguit, a heavily unionized riding and home base of Yvon Godin, and Rogersville-Kouchibouguac and Moncton North which are open seats. The NDP would be wise to focus on these four.

A weakened Liberal Party and a PC Party with a leader that lacks appeal in Francophone New Brunswick up against a Francophone NDP leader from the peninsula is an ideal scenario for the NDP.

I would give them 50-50 or slightly better odds at the NDP picking up at least one seat. That said, I gave them a seat in my 2006 prediction so I may want to water my wine a bit on those odds.

Certainly something to watch. I'll follow this post up with a post on the prospects for the Greens and the People's Alliance.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Where we stand

The most recent CRA poll is out and it shows a real horse race.

The way CRA presents its polls is a bit confusing. They give you the margin of error of their whole sample, but then take the undecideds out of the sample when they present their numbers.

Let's break it out in a bit more accurate a way.
Full sample of 807 with a +/- MOE of 3.4 points.

Undecided 36
PC 27
Lib 24
NDP 10
Green 3
Other 1
Or we can look at the numbers as they presented them with a more accureate margin of error.
A partial sample of 64% of 807 (516) yields a MOE of +/- 4.3 points

PC 42
Lib 37
NDP 16
Green 5
Other 1
Looking at it either way, the PCs are just inside or outside of the margin of error (the difference likely due to a combination of rounding error and available number of significant digits).

Therefore it is fair to say with some confidence that the PCs appear to be in the lead. But whether you say that are not, it can be said with all confidence that it is pretty close at the moment.

And in any event, the undecideds are a third larger than the largest party!

CRA is the only outfit that regularly polls New Brunswick politics. We can therefore look at trends over a long period of time. A friend was kind enough to send me a chart of all CRA quarterly polls going back 10 years.

As you can see, the honeymoon enjoyed by the Graham Liberals after the 2006 election was particularly sweet. Though we do not see back as far as Lord's first year in office, his second year compares unfavourably to Graham's. In order for the situation to normalize, the Liberals had to take a deep dive. However, they have likely dove too far for their liking.

Normally in a situation like this you might be able to make a guess on where things were going based on momentum. But for three polls in a row now, both parties are essentially stalled (Libs up 1, PCs down 4 with no movement in last poll). Both have reason to be optimistic. After jumping 11, then falling 4, the Tories have held their ground. The Libs after falling 5 have levelled out and started to tick back up.

But what we do see is that the polls are basically where they were on the eve of the last election (PC 45 - Lib 39).

So one of three things is going to happen. 1) Something dramatic and positive will happen in the short-term to change these numbers in someone's favour; 2) something dramatic and negative will happen during the writ to change the numbers against one's favour; 3) we'll see the same thing as in 2003 and 2006 where local campaigns and local candidates will be the deciding factors.

At this point, I lean towards #3 in my expectations.

Let the trench warfare begin.

He's back...

I bowed out of this a while ago, but with an election in the offing I won't be able to resist. Stay tuned for my commentary and predictions for New Brunswick's 2010 election.