We have just under 100 days to go until Election 2019 and it already feels like campaign season. Local teams are staffing up. War rooms are taking shape. Candidate nominations are being finalized. And party leaders have begun to tour ridings across the country, hitting various key battlegrounds.
So where do things stand as of right now? What can we infer from the state of the parties and the leader tours about the coming election? NATIONAL provides a snapshot.
While the summer barbecue circuit is a key fixture for all politicians, the summer before an election takes on an (obvious) special significance. Not only will leaders of all parties be touring various regions of the country and mingling with supporters and voters. They will be test driving their core narratives and looking to connect directly with voters before the official writ period begins.
So far, this summer’s barbecue circuit has seen Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, for example, visit Calgary, Edmonton, and some parts of Ontario, Quebec, and the Lower Mainland in British Columbia. While the Prime Minister’s (and the travel schedules of all other party leaders) visits over the summer will not be entirely campaign-related, we can still analyze the campaign portion of his trips for some valuable insight.
During the election itself, any party leader’s time is the most precious resource at the campaign’s disposal. NATIONAL will be going into this issue in more depth in a piece dedicated to leaders’ tours, but travel takes time and money – and the campaign clock does not stop while the leader is in a plane or a bus. Campaigns need to pinpoint where to send the leader, sometimes making decisions last minute, other times planning well in advance.
Typically the leader is not sent to safe ridings. And they are rarely sent to unwinnable ridings, unless the calculation changes and the trip becomes an opportunity to win formerly out-of-reach seats. To make up for this, leaders will travel to safe seats or competitive “swing” seats before the start of the actual election.
NATIONAL’s take: So far there are no big surprises in the pre-election barbecue circuit. Party leaders are starting to draw strategic lines in the sand as it becomes clear to both the Liberal Party and the Conservative Party that this election will be short, but bare-knuckled. Short time frames and tough local battles will mean that outcomes will hinge on party leaders’ stamina and ability to keep up a command-level performance from start until finish.
Pollsters are mostly finding that the Liberal Party is trending upwards in their own tracking models, even in some cases extending their lead over the Conservative Party once more. Abacus Data has the Conservative Party and the Liberal Party in a dead heat, whereas Nanos Polling has the Liberal Party up by five points. In a recent Forum Poll of Toronto, the Liberal Party was found to have a 20 point lead over the Conservatives, and a 34 point lead over the NDP. This does not bode well for NDP chances at retaking any of its former seats in the City of Toronto should this trend remain consistent during the months of September and October.
NATIONAL’s take: Polls conducted during the summer won’t always give us the full picture of what’s going on – people are on vacation, at the cottage, and otherwise not totally tuned in to politics yet. The current data, however, appears to indicate that the Liberal Party is trending upwards. The data also shows that the Conservative Party has an ample amount of opportunity to become the government in the fall.
Ballot box “X factors”
There are also multiple key strategic themes and campaign “X factors” emerging as we inch closer to October. Some of these include:
The Ford factor
Premier Ford of Ontario has been trying to stay out of the media in the lead up to the fall election, but it doesn’t seem to have worked. The federal Liberals are looking to link the Premier and Andrew Scheer as the campaign heats up. Campaign polls show that the Premier’s unpopularity is hurting the Conservative Party’s chances in Ontario and there is no sign yet that this trend is getting any better.
NATIONAL’s take: Expect the federal Liberals to double down on the above-noted strategy. They see a clear opportunity in Ontario through this approach.
Where will former Québec NDP voters find a home?
Political watchers will probably never forget watching the orange wave sweep over Québec in the 2011 election, with then-leader Jack Layton delivering the party a stunning 103 seats. The NDP of 2019 is not the party of Jack Layton though, and it is expected that the decline they experienced in 2015 will come to its natural conclusion this fall. The question remains, where will those remaining NDP voters go in 2019?
NATIONAL’s take: It may be an unsatisfying answer, but it’s likely that Québecois NDP voters will likely take a variety of paths. It’s entirely feasible that many of the progressive-leaning soft nationalist voters will return to the Bloc Québecois, while urban progressives turn to the Liberal Party. It is equally possible that some NDP voters may turn to the Conservative Party in some rural regions, which is what took place in 2015 in such ridings as Portneuf—Jacques Cartier and Louis-Saint-Laurent.
Will the Green Party’s rise last?
Everyone loves an underdog story, and the rise of the Green Party has given us just that. The Green Party appears to be cannibalizing a large chunk of former New Democrats, some Liberals, and those who are generally very concerned with climate change.
NATIONAL’s take: Voters may be merely “parking” support with the Greens for the time being. The real test will come for the party once the campaign gun goes off: keeping “progressive” voters in their camp will be job #1 for Elizabeth May.
How many seats can the Liberal Party retain in the Atlantic region?
There’s nowhere to go but down when you hold every seat in a region. This is the case in Atlantic Canada, where the Liberal Party swept all 33 seats in 2015, including some in regions where the party has never really been a factor before.
The Liberal Party is expecting to lose some MPs in the next election. There are some seats, like in southwestern New Brunswick, that are expected to revert back to more traditional Conservative voting patterns; others, like in Nova Scotia, are now up for grabs given the retirement of long-serving incumbents. We can layer into this conversation the fact that recent provincial elections in the region have seen a significant rise in third-party support. The question that remains is how many seats can the Liberals hold on to, and which of their best performing MPs will keep their jobs come the fall.
NATIONAL’s take: The Liberal Party is going to lose seats in Atlantic Canada and Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer will undoubtedly be spending time the region. However, Atlantic ridings can be notoriously hard to predict. This is a region where local candidates matter, and voters will be expecting leaders to speak to their specific concerns in order to win their support.
——— Written by Andrew Richardson, former Manager, Political Insights and Strategy, NATIONAL Public Relations
——— Rédigé par Andrew Richardson, anciennement directeur adjoint, Politiques et stratégie, Cabinet de relations publiques NATIONAL