Strategic Thoughts

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March 24, 2009

Campaign Timing

Isn't it clever how the NDP is being careful not to peak too early. The latest Ipsos-Reid poll shows the NDP with 35% support, the Liberals with 46% and the Greens with 15%.

In 2005 the Greens finished with 9.2% of the overall popular vote; in 2001 they had 12.4 % and in 1996 they had only 2.0%. It would be surprising if they hold on to the 15% shown in the poll. In the Vancouver by-elections held last October, Green leader Jane Sterk won just 7.4% of the vote; in Vancouver-Burrard her colleague, Drina Read, won only 5.3%. Some pundits call the Greens B.C.'s biggest parking lot, a lot that empties on voting day.

It is interesting to look back to see what happened the last time a provincial election finished with an eleven point gap between the first and second parties. The 2001 sweep has to be ignored; that's when the Liberals won 57.6% of the vote, more than double the NDP's 21.6%. Other than that, B.C. elections have been surprisingly close. We have to go back to 1975, when Bill Bennett defeated Dave Barrett, to find a ten point gap, Socreds 49.3%, NDP 39.2%. The legislature only had 57 seats in 1975. Social Credit won 35, the NDP 18, the Liberals 1 and Conservatives 1. Those who claim that it is necessary to change how MLAs are elected in order to help small parties should examine those results, or the results from 1972 or 1969 or earlier when the Liberals managed to join the Socreds and NDP in winning seats.

Carole James should give serious thought to dusting off the campaign strategy that worked for Dave Barrett in 1972 - elect a strong opposition. If the 11 point gap holds to voting day on May 12th, the NDP would likely lose a dozen seats. Of course that is a big "IF", in the sense of if pigs had wings they could fly unless they were like penguins. Campaigns matter when the major parties swamp the media with millions of dollars in advertising. Adding what was spent by both the central parties and at the constituency level, in 2005 the Liberals spent $7.76 million, the NDP $5.88 million and the Greens $281,000. Those differences might say something about the Green parking lot.

Many voters have yet to begin to think about politics, let alone what will sway their vote. The only poll that counts is on May 12th. New Democrats have to hope that the Liberals continue to underestimate Carole James right through to the final vote count.


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