We have officially reached halftime in the federal election race. In politics, as in sports, momentum fundamentally matters. With three weeks remaining, and leaders’ debates on the horizon, where is the race heading? And what should we be watching for? NATIONAL provides a snapshot on the back half of Election 2019.
Every major poll shows essentially the same thing as of October 1: a virtual “within the margin of error” dead heat between the Conservatives and the Liberals. But the race within the race will decide which party is elected in three weeks. Rising Bloc Québécois support in Quebec is a key factor in a province critical to the Liberals securing another term. NDP support has decreased and is seemingly stagnant. And Green support is difficult to pinpoint in terms of potential seat “translation” on October 21. What is clear: where centre-left voters ultimately land and voter abstention will play a major role in not only the colour of the next government, but also the configuration of a majority or minority.
A key test is coming on tonight with a French-language debate hosted by the Quebec network TVA. Subsequent debates will follow next week—with all combining as a major opportunity to define (or sink) a party’s electoral fortunes. The dynamic of major party leaders under the bright lights facing live television feeds provide shape and colour to how Canadians will vote. This is not to suggest that any one debate will decide the campaign. It won’t. But the impact could be iterative in nature—multiple poor or strong performances could move poll numbers the closer we get to e-day. And perhaps awaken voters along the way. There are many precedents that confirm this.
NATIONAL has commented extensively on the races in Quebec and elsewhere across the country. From the early summer, we anticipated multiple regional battlegrounds that would decide the campaign in British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic Canada. The first few weeks of the campaign have reinforced this early perspective. The shape of the next parliament will largely be forged in the Lower Mainland in B.C.; the Greater Toronto Area/905 area in Ontario; seats in and around Montreal and Quebec City; and pockets of the Atlantic, including Halifax. There is—so far—not a truly significant surprise in how regional numbers are ebbing and flowing. Nevertheless, that does not mean that shifts will not come—especially after the debates and the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. As we have highlighted before, watch where the leaders go; the visits tell a distinct story of where support (and vulnerabilities) lie for all the parties.
The policy push
The NDP unveiled its full platform before the start of the campaign. Last Sunday, the Liberals did the same. And the Conservatives might be next up. But the question needs to be asked: has any policy announcement—on childcare, healthcare, energy or taxes—really made a dent in the electorate? We would argue that the impact on support is limited at best in most campaigns, however, the election so far has been particularly void of significant heat or friction on platform planks. The irony: these promises form the foundation of mandates regardless of who wins on October 21. So while the public’s interest in the policy nuances might be limited so far—or difficult to accurately decipher—NATIONAL’s focus remains on the details and the impact on the sectors in question.
The ballot question
The brown/blackface controversy, which engulfed the Liberal campaign, was truly the seminal moment so far by any objective measure. Yet the Liberals have seemingly been able to find their political equilibrium. The question remains: what issue, person, or event will define this election and truly move voters? And will voter turnout—or lack thereof—end up being the true X factor on October 21?
NATIONAL continues to provide ongoing analysis of Election 2019 and daily updates for clients and interested readers alike. We would love to hear from you. In the meantime, our assumption is that the second half of the campaign could quickly take a “2.0” type shift as voter perceptions continue to gel, and party leaders start to take each other on face-to-face in real time.
We’ll be watching.