the numbers guy

First opinion poll numbers point to tightly competitive NDP leadership race

Posted on: February 15, 2012

There is now just over a month to go until the NDP leadership vote on 24 March and the first polling numbers have come to light – two polls, conducted separately on behalf of the Paul Dewar and Thomas Mulcair campaigns. The Dewar poll was conducted by IVR, and surveyed 6373 NDP members across Canada. It is unclear who conducted the poll on behalf of the Mulcair campaign, which surveyed 1105 party members.

Any poll released by a candidate’s campaign should, in general, be treated with caution and a degree of scepticism. Campaigns tend to release numbers that are favourable, and sit on numbers that aren’t. That said, here we have two polls, conducted independently of each other, which have fairly consistent results – both place Montreal MP Thomas Mulcair in first place, with a second tier of candidates competing in the mid-teens, and with the others in single digits:

While Mr Mulcair holds a reasonable lead in both polls, he is still well short of the 50% needed to win. The result will hinge on the 2nd (and lower) choices of supporters of defeated candidates – and here the picture gets a lot muddier, with much potentially depending on which of the lower tier candidates gets knocked out first.

Mr Mulcair’s campaign is also hindered by the historical weakness of the NDP in his home province of Québec. Membership figures released last September showed the NDP with just 1,695 members in the province – just 2% of the total NDP membership in a province which has 23.9% of Canada’s population, and 57.3% of NDP MPs.

The Mulcair campaign set out to rectify this, setting an ambitious target of reaching 20,000 members in the province. Media reports suggest that while the figure of 20,000 won’t be reached, the party is still aiming for 10,000 members. Although this would still leave Quebec under-represented in the leadership race it would mean the Quebec NDP membership has, rather impressively, more than quintupled in recent months.

Looking at the bigger picture however, even the most enthusiastic NDP partisan would need to admit that this leadership race has so far fallen well short of seizing the imagination of the Canadian public. With over a month to go that verdict may prove premature – but NDP strategists must be worrying that this race will turn out to be a missed opportunity for a party which needs all the engagement with voters it can get if it is to solidify it’s new-found role as official opposition.

Would a more open primary-style system succeed in better engaging Canadian voters and NDP supporters? Eric Grenier has a fantastic account in the Globe and Mail in which he imagines how a province-by-province primary contest involving all NDP supporters might pan out – in a nutshell, it sure sounds a lot more exciting than what the NDP have right now.

Eric’s article may be a work of fiction, but it’s not difficult to see how such a contest could succeed in engaging Canadians from coast to coast to coast in choosing a leader to challenge Stephen Harper at the next election – perhaps something for the Liberals to chew on as they approach their own leadership contest?

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