Tories less popular than Alliance, PCs were in 2000
Disgruntled Red Tories, defections to Liberals, Bloc to blame: pollsters
The Ottawa Citizen
Wednesday, May 26, 2004
Joe Clark walked away from the new Conservative party, and then thumbed his nose at its leader, Stephen Harper, by offering a "devil-we-know" endorsement of Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin.
The latest polls suggest Mr. Clark and other high-profile Red Tories such as MPs Scott Brison and John Herron are not alone in spurning the Conservative party in favour of Mr. Martin's Liberals in the runup to the June 28 election.
But analysts say it's probably off base to blame "Red Tory flight" for the Conservative party's poll numbers.
They show the new party's support falls at least six percentage points short of the combined popular vote garnered in the 2000 election by the former Canadian Alliance and Progressive Conservative parties.
"There's an evaporation of the Red Tory leadership, that's very true," said Conrad Winn, president of the Compas polling firm.
But Mr. Winn contends the defection of "elite" Red Tories does not translate into an evaporation of the Red Tory vote on the street.
"Ideology matters so much more to the elites than the voters," he said, pointing to the Conservative party's recent strength in Ontario as proof.
The latest Compas poll, conducted for CanWest-Global News Service, put Conservative support at 39 per cent in Ontario, compared with 42 per cent for the Liberals.
The current Conservative tally is almost identical to the total 38-per-cent support garnered in the last election by the Alliance (23.6 per cent) and the Progressive Conservative party (14.4 per cent).
On the national level, however, recent surveys say support for the new Conservative party stood at between 26 per cent and 31 per cent, down from the combined popular vote of 37.7 per cent in the 2000 election. The tally included 25.5 per cent for the Alliance and 12.2 per cent for the Progressive Conservatives.
The poll results, which put the Liberals at 39 per cent support, are important because in a close election the voting behaviour of a small percentage of voters could be crucial to the electoral hopes of both the Liberals and the Conservatives.
Mr. Winn traced the gap in the party's national popularity between then and now to the polarization of the vote between the Bloc Quebecois and the Liberals in Quebec. "When you have extreme polarization, all third parties lose out," Mr. Winn said.
Pollster Darrell Bricker, president of Ipsos-Reid, agreed and said former Progressive Conservative voters appear to be going primarily to the Bloc, which his firm's latest poll says has a healthy lead over the Liberals.
In Atlantic Canada, Mr. Bricker and Mr. Winn said many former Progressive Conservative voters, as well as some New Democrats, have shifted their support to the Liberal party, which is enjoying fairly widespread popularity in the region. Mr. Brison of Nova Scotia and Mr. Herron of New Brunswick, both former PC MPs, are running as Liberals in the election.
"The Liberals are threatening to sweep Atlantic Canada because there seems to be a bit of a consensus that these are the guys that should be the government," Mr. Bricker said.
Mr. Winn says the shift has more to do with economic self-interest than "Red Tory" ideology, which is seen as being more socially progressive than the thrust of the new Conservative party. "They are concerned the Conservative tax cuts mean transfer payment cuts for Atlantic Canada," he said in an interview.
Political analyst Heather McIvor suggested the Conservative brand is also suffering in the region because of the unpopularity of PC premiers such as John Hamm in Nova Scotia and Danny Williams in Newfoundland and Labrador.
"Just as Ontario's (Dalton) McGuinty might hurt the federal Liberals, Hamm is not overwhelmingly popular, neither is (Mr. Williams)," said Ms. McIvor, who specializes in Conservative politics at the University of Windsor.
Compas's latest poll has the Liberals at 50 per cent in Atlantic Canada, compared with 26 per cent for the Conservatives and 20 per cent for the NDP.
Mr. Bricker said the electorate is so volatile he hesitates to talk about how Red Tories or any other group is going to vote. "There's very little loyalty to any of the parties," he said. "People look at these things as though they are buying cereal.
"It's not the same as 'I'm a dyed-in- the-wool lifetime Conservative,' or 'I'm a dyed-in-the-wool lifetime Liberal.' People are quite willing to to move to any of the parties right now depending on the dynamics of the campaign."