The federal race to the mushy middle

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In a circumspect piece for the Globe and Mail about a month ago, Michael Adams, president of the Environics Institute, argued that, despite the hand-wringing and teeth-gnashing of those to the left of the political centre, the current government in Ottawa has not, in fact, made Canada measurably more Conservative over the past eight years.

Indeed, he wrote, Prime Minister Stephen Harper “sometimes plays to public opinion, sometimes carefully runs against it, and sometimes flouts it in areas where he won’t face consequences. He navigates public attitudes astutely, but I see little evidence that he has changed them.”

Specifically, “On crime, he has not moved public opinion. Quite the opposite: He has heeded it in a way his predecessors did not. In the past, elites pursued evidence-based policy while the public still favoured old-fashioned punishment. . .When Parliament abolished the death penalty in 1976, more than three-quarters of Canadians still backed it. Mr. Harper. . .didn’t have to persuade Canadians that a ‘tougher’ approach was preferable – just that he was the man to deliver it.”

What’s more, “on domestic security, (Harper) has not shifted attitudes so he can pursue a more aggressive agenda of surveillance and preventive detention. Canadians are alarmed by the threat of terrorism and willing to give the government a lot of latitude in keeping them safe. This reaction troubles civil libertarians, but it is not new.”

In fact, if recent polls mean anything, Mr. Harper joins his nemesis, federal Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau in the mushy middle of affection among prospective voters – not an eventuality that seemed likely even last fall, when the latter appeared to be riding high on a wave of “change-for-the-sake-of-change” support. 

According to the Weekly Nanos Party Power Index Tracking (period ending January 16th, 2015), “Harper and Trudeau continue to be tightly locked in the weekly preferred Prime Minister (metric). Thirty-one per cent of Canadians prefer Harper as PM, 31 per cent also prefer Trudeau as PM, while 18 per cent prefer (Thomas) Mulcair, five per cent prefer (Elizabeth) May and 14 per cent were unsure.”

And just last week, Ipsos offered this: “The four-point lead that the Conservatives enjoyed just last month has evaporated, with a new Ipsos Reid poll conducted exclusively for Global News revealing the federal Liberals and Conservatives are once again tied. This tight race appears to be the natural resting point for public opinion in Canada. When one party jumps out ahead, the advantage doesn’t last long and the two leading parties return to a tie.”

Said the pollster: “If the election were held tomorrow, the Liberals led by Justin Trudeau would receive 34 per cent of the decided vote (up three points since January), while Harper’s governing Conservatives would receive 33 per cent (down 2 points) of the vote. In the last year, as Canadians continue to acquaint themselves with Justin Trudeau, most of vote-support fluctuation has been with the Liberal Party, ranging between 31 per cent and 38 per cent of the popular vote. The Conservatives, on the other hand, are the known quantity and have experienced relative stability between 31 per cent and 35 per cent.”

In other words, it’s a dead heat everywhere except in Atlantic Canada where, Ipsos reports, the Grits are running in majority territory (47 per cent, versus 26 per cent for the NDP and 24 per cent for the Tories).

All of which suggests that if the prime minister hasn’t made Canada any bluer, Justin Trudeau hasn’t made it any redder.

Let the games continue.

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One thought on “The federal race to the mushy middle

  1. Rob Smith says:

    I disagree a bit here. I loathe the phrase “mushy middle”. And I don’t that Mr. harper is in any way a centrist. He is far to the right–the most right wing P.M we have ever had. And yes, he exploits some long held attitudes, especially re crime and fear, that others in the past have had the courage not to exploit.

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