Friday, November 04, 2005

Don't Read Too Much Into Polls Like This

NealeNews' headline into this Calgary Herald story is a bit misleading. It's certainly possible that Paul Martin and the Libranos would lose badly if an election were called now.

But -- an election isn't being called now.

Normally, whenever a story that makes the Liberals look bad breaks, the subsequent polls show a closing between the Tories and the Liberals, with the Tories trailing by 4 to 6 percentage points. Afterwards, when the story's impact has been expended, the Liberal lead expands to between 8 and 12 points, depending on whether a story on Stephen Harper has aired.

What's happened here is that two stories broke at the same time to make the Liberals look bad--the Gomery report, and the Kashechewan evacuation. It's the latter which has the potential to do far more damage to the Liberals in the eyes of the voters, because that story deals with the concept of visual competence, as opposed to invisible corruption. In other words, the Tories don't have to harp on a theory of Liberal corruption which is the basic Gomery report theme. Instead they can point to photos of native being evacuated and say it's the Government's fault, and they can do that with some justification.

Can the Liberals recover? As I think I've mentioned earlier, part of it will depend on Jean Chr├ętien's histrionics. But most of the Liberals' recovery will depend on their ability to judo-flip Stephen Harper's proposed alternatives, and unfortunately for Harper, that's not too hard.

Today Harper will announce his accountability package, his party's proposed mode of behaviour that's supposed to prevent the excesses documented by Judge Gomery. If he can come up with something for the media to latch onto, he'll go a long way towards making that narrower gap in the polls a permanent fixture. But he'll be competing with, among other things, Jack Layton's response to Liberal medicare proposals. And the Layton story has more immediacy because its consequences -- a possible fall of the government -- are more short-term. So the odds that Harper can capitalize are not good.

Prediction? Look for the Liberals to lead by 4 points, in two weeks' time.