Monday, March 05, 2012

The Dippers Vote

Ballots have arrived to thousands of NDP members, who now have until March 24th to vote for a leader.

Originally, the field reminded me a lot of the 2006 Liberal leadership race, with the role of the establishment front runner lacking elected experience played by Brian Topp, the polished veteran who wore different colours provincially played by Thomas Mulcair, the bushy haired do-gooder with weak French played by Paul Dewar, and the party stalwart and consensus candidate played by Peggy Nash.

Since then, the race has morphed into something completely different, with most indicators suggesting a pack of four candidates are chasing down Thomas Mulcair.

For an NDP member's take on the field, the Jurist profiles the candidates here, and places Brian Topp atop his ballot. For an outsider's take and Liberal perspective, I offer my thoughts below:

The Most Electable Candidate

If the end goal of the NDP is to form government, Thomas Mulcair is likely the Dipper for the job. He stands the best chance of holding Quebec and, more importantly, is the only candidate who has seriously talked about putting the NDP through the kind of New Labour transformation that is needed to squeeze the Liberals out of existence and form government. Mulcair has criticized Topp's "tax the rich" platform, and has vowed to reduce the influence of unions within the NDP. When was the last time you heard an NDP leadership candidate bragging about how he "said no" to unions?

Mulcair also stands out in the debates as the best politician and best communicator in the field. He's far from perfect - he's arrogant, has been known to mispeak, is supposedly disliked by many in the party, and lacks the good natured charm of Layton. Still, if I were an NDP member with my eyes set on 24 Sussex, I'd vote for Mulcair.

Of course, if I wanted power at all costs, I'm not sure why I'd be in the NDP. So putting on my "idealistic NDPer" hat and realizing I don't want my beloved party to "become the Liberals", I'd probably cast my vote for Paul Dewar. His weak French would likely mean defeat for a good chunk of their Quebec caucus, but Dewar strikes me as the candidate most able to connect with voters - he's not as smooth as Mulcair, but maybe that's a good thing.

My Selfish Partisan Endorsement

As a Liberal partisan hoping to see the Liberals pass the NDP next election, I'd wholeheartedly encourage my NDP friends to vote for Peggy Nash. Based on her background and the language she uses, Nash comes across as the candidate most rooted in the traditional NDP mould. That's good news for her when it comes to winning the race, but not when it comes to expanding the NDP base in a general election. I've also found her performance during the debates and on camera to be rather underwhelming.

Equally underwhelming has been Brian Topp, so I wouldn't at all be disappointed to see him win. Despite being heralded as an "unbeatable juggernaut" within minutes of Layton's death, Topp has shown himself to be a political rookie lacking both Mulcair's polish and Dewar's charm. At every opportunity, Topp has staked out traditional NDP turf, promising to tax the rich and attacking Mulcair as a "Blairite" ready to "sell out NDP principles".

The Most Interesting Outcome

As a political junkie, there's always a part of me rooting for the most interesting outcome. Did I want Ted Morton to become the Alberta PC leader? No...but it would have been interesting. Was I glad that George Bush beat John Kerry in 2004? No...but it made the next four years a lot more interesting.

In this race, the most interesting candidate is Nathan Cullen, who has refused to back down from his proposal to work with the Liberals and Greens in some ridings. While this idea originally sounded like a hail Mary from a long shot candidate, Cullen has performed well in the debates and is the only candidate from BC - a province with 30% of all NDP members. So don't write him off yet.

A win by Cullen would put the question of co-operation with the Liberals back on the table for both parties, lobbing a landmine into next year's Liberal leadership race. I'm far from sold on Cullen's idea, but it would sure would spice up the political landscape.

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  • Though his chances seem to be blown with his cooperation proposal, I think Cullen could have been their best choice. From a non-Dipper point of view I would say Dewar is my favorite candidate, and agree with what you said. I also agree with your points on the other candidates. When it comes to Cullen I think he is moderate enough to move the party forward and appeal to non-Dippers, from comments I've seen his French is fairly good, he's got a sense of humor and seems very personable, he can hold his own in a debate and when "attacked" by others in debates on his cooperation plan he used humor to fend them off. He's also young and could be around for a while.

    I think you Liberals should start a "Liberals for Peggy" movement because she's likely the best hope for the party. If the Liberals can get 31,000 people to file these fake complaints to Elections Canada on voter suppression you should be able to help Peggy get elected.

    By Blogger Jordan, at 9:48 a.m.  

  • Your analysis of the candidates is quite interesting.

    I will be voting for the next NDP leader. Another blogger mentions supporting Paul Dewar with his heart but Thomas Mulcair with his head. In my opinion, Paul Dewar could best represent the party ideologically. However, ideological reasoning won't get the NDP into power. Thomas Mulcair has the knowledge and skills to get the NDP to the top. He will most likely be able to speak the same street language as Canadians who are currently living in Conservative ridings. For example, Mr. Mulcair doesn't like calling Canadians "ordinary." I wouldn't like to be called "an ordinary Canadian." If he becomes the leader, he will likely change the framing language. Also, in Question Period, Mr. Mulcair will likely tighten the focus. I generally find the NDP to be all over the map during Question Period. This will be good for the NDP.

    By Blogger Skinny Dipper, at 10:05 a.m.  

  • This will be good for the NDP to tighten their focus during QP.

    By Blogger Skinny Dipper, at 10:06 a.m.  

  • I think the NDP can be successful with any of the four.

    It's not often the NDP has more than two decent options in a leadership race.

    I don't think Mulcair can hold Quebec - I don't think anyone can. That was a one-time protest vote.

    By Blogger Robert Vollman, at 10:45 a.m.  

  • Thomas Mulcair is a citizen of France. The Tory attack ads will write themselves. If not out'n'out treason, the folks at Tim Horton's will see it as effeminate and elitist. It will come up in the English language leaders debate and will flat-line the NDP. We've seen similar things happen to recent Liberal leaders. I'm just saying.

    By Anonymous CrescentHeightsGuy, at 11:30 a.m.  

  • What I found disturbing is that during the debate, not one of them repudiated the Sherbrooke Declaration. Indeed, many of them loudly endorsed it. God help this country if any one of them actually does become Prime Minister.

    By Blogger Vancouverois, at 12:28 p.m.  

  • If not out'n'out treason, the folks at Tim Horton's will see it as effeminate and elitist.

    Honestly sometimes I wonder whether people writing this sort of drivel ever actually go to Tim's. Not that I do that often - if I can avoid it - as between their hare-brained drink "resizing" and substandard food offerings I see no reason to.

    As cheap coffee goes, I'll go to McDonald's first every time... assuming there's no Starbucks, Second Cup, or equivalent local shop around.

    By Blogger JG, at 8:13 p.m.  

  • I don't know that people have a problem with the Leader of the Opposition being a dual-citizen. I do think they have a problem with the Prime Minister (or the Governor-General) being a dual-citizen (with the possible exception of a British dual-national, as our Head of State, while not a British citizen per se, rules Britannia).

    As long as Mulcair gives up his foreign citizenship before being sworn into the Ministry as First Minister I wouldn't see it as a barrier to his leadership of the NDP.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:46 p.m.  

  • I've had similar problems but today switched my support from Dewar to Mulcair. I'm a grassroots NDP activist but realize the only way to defeat Harper is to beat him at his own game. This wont be done by Dewar, as nice a guy as he is. Going Toe to Toe in QP and organizing questions so they aren't as haphazard as they are now will be necessary to get a leg up on the Government. Only Mulcair has the acumen to do this.

    Have I sacrificed my principles? Not really. I was already a Third Way Social Democrat before and have never been as intense a partisan as other in my party (I remember at convention in Vancouver all the uber leftists in the party fear mongering that we were turning into Liberals...I like Liberals though and never bash them).

    So, Mulcair is my guy. I'm also a 10 year member and have been very active in my EDA, so I'm not removed from the inner workings of the party as it is.

    By Blogger Unknown, at 9:12 p.m.  

  • This is going to be a weird leadership convention. It has so many candidates that voters don't know much about each individual candidate. Coupled with preferential voting, it could be a quite a crap-shoot.

    Candidates with any polarizing attributes, like Mulcair, or Cullen are less likely to fare well in that kind of race.

    However, the weird hybrid of online voting and a convention may yet save Mulcair, by preventing a clear alternative from coalescing in time. Many voters will mail in their ballots, and not change them dynamically (although they can do so). However, Mulcair may be a weak enough front-runner that this won't help him much.

    One completely back-of-the-napkin way of guessing who will prevail is to think about what divides NDP voters. Off-hand, it is probably two things. There's a pro-union vs. "New Labour" divide, and there's a French-English divide.

    Mulcair, Cullen, and Singh are more oriented towards reforming the NDP to look beyond its traditional base. Topp, Nash and Ashton appear more in favour of a pro-Labour position. Dewar strikes me as being in the middle in this proposition.

    Mulcair is the candidate with the most credibility among French Dippers. Nash, Topp, Cullen and Ashton are in the middle, being fluently bilingual, but associated with English Canada (although Topp was born in Quebec). With shaky French, Singh and Dewar are on the other side of the divide.

    As a thought experiment (obviously there will be some noise), lets assume ballot 1 looks like the poll conducted by the Dewar campaign.

    As a guess for where people go when folks drop off the ballot, I use points. 4 points for an ideologically identical candidate, 3 for a 1 point deviation (eg. the candidate dropping off the ballot is centrist, while another candidate is pro-labour), 2 for 2 points of deviation, and 1 for 2 points of deviation, 0 for 3+. I assume supporters disperse based on the proportion of points.

    Mulcair: 26%
    Nash: 17%
    Dewar: 15%
    Cullen: 13%
    Topp: 13%
    Ashton: 10%
    Singh: 4%

    Round 1 Singh is eliminated. Most of his support goes to Dewar and Cullen.

    Round 2:
    Mulcair: 27.73
    Nash: 17.36
    Dewar: 16.09
    Cullen: 14.09
    Topp: 13.36
    Ashton: 10.36

    In round 2, Ashton is eliminated. Her support primarily goes to Nash and Topp, though some goes to other candidates as well.

    Round 3:
    Mulcair: 28.52%
    Nash: 20.55%
    Dewar: 17.69%
    Topp: 16.55%
    Cullen: 15.69%

    Ashton's elimination saves Topp, but ends Cullen's quest for the nomination. Cullen's supporters modestly favour Mulcair.

    Round 4:
    Mulcair: 33.75%
    Nash: 24.04%
    Dewar: 21.17%
    Topp: 20.038%

    Now Topp is eliminated, as his support jumps largely to Nash.

    Round 5:
    Mulcair 36.62%
    Nash 35.49%
    Dewar 26.9%

    Dewar is in turn eliminated, despite the suggestion that he represents the leading second choice candidate. The reality is that he is only weakly a second choice, and he may be the second choice of supporters of candidates likely to be around for the last ballot (eg. Mulcair and Nash).

    Round 6:

    Mulcair: 45.58%
    Nash: 53.42%
    (does not add up to 100% due to rounding)

    Finally on round 6 Nash ekes out Mulcair by taking the lion's share of Dewar's support. Of course endorsements can complicate the picture, and my guesses as to the orientation of the candidates may be way off. Nonetheless, this seems to me like a plausible scenario.

    I recall seeing an online preferential poll for the NDP - I wish I could find it again so I could see to what degree my guesses about who supports whom pan out.

    By Anonymous hosertohoosier, at 10:24 p.m.  

  • @h2h: very interesting analysis. My take would be that those voting in person won't necessarily be loyal to Ashton and Cullen on the second ballot. Where they bleed support, they can become Players by promising short-term and long-term support.

    I could see Cullen trying to promise support to Nash as long as she's in (and ultimately, to Mulcair), and Ashton doing something similar.

    The dynamic becomes much more difficult to predict, but the outcome can be much more rewarding for a candidate who moves early - and often.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:30 a.m.  

  • H2H: That's a very plausible scenario, but the big issue is that Nash-Topp-Dewar-Cullen are all so close that a swing of a few percentage points could change the entire dynamic. Which likely explains why Dewar is going after Topp so hard.

    PunditsGuide lists the second choice options of Dewar's poll here:

    The online preferential poll is here:
    Lots of votes in it, but it's a Dewar/Nash final battle so there's no way (to the best of my knowledge) to see who their supporters ranked second.

    By Blogger calgarygrit, at 9:19 a.m.  

  • SkinnyDipper - Good point on the NDP being more focused in QP once this is over. They've basically ceeded the "leader of the opposition" title to Rae since the Fall.

    By Blogger calgarygrit, at 9:20 a.m.  

  • I can't see the French citizenship issue being more than a sideshow.

    Dion had the same issue and it only got a bit of chatter on Twitter and maybe a spoof site. It's never going to find its way into a debate or TV ad.

    By Blogger calgarygrit, at 9:21 a.m.  

  • @hosertohoosier: Would Singh's support not mostly go to Mulcair? He certainly looked like he was Mulcair's attack dog during the latest debate - I saw some commenters suggesting that he's angling for a position in Mulcair's (Shadow) Cabinet.

    By Blogger Vancouverois, at 12:22 p.m.  

  • If the online preferential ballot poll is correct, the second choice preferences of eliminated candidates are roughly as follows (I think it could be a good measure of second choices, but not of absolute levels of support).

    Nash: 15.41%
    Dewar: 4.51%
    Mulcair: 8.27%
    Cullen: 7.14%
    Ashton: 10.9%
    Topp: 10.53%
    Nobody: 43.23%

    Topp (I'd be surprised if he was eliminated so soon)
    Nash: 20.69%
    Dewar: 17.75%
    Mulcair: 18.36%
    Cullen: 4.65%
    Ashton: 14.32%
    Nobody: 24.24%

    Nash: 27.13%
    Dewar: 17.82%%
    Mulcair: 22.57%
    Cullen: 16.14%
    Nobody: 16.34%

    Nash: 31.7%
    Dewar: 33.87%
    Mulcair: 16.51%
    Nobody: 17.92%

    Nash: 34.32%
    Dewar: 21.89% (perhaps Mulcair supporters value a French speaker)
    Nobody: 43.79% (which should highlight the consequences of not nominating Mulcair)

    The online poll, however understates Mulcair's first ballot support. I think with that correction, you'd see Mulcair survive till the last ballot.

    I think Nash is likely to be opposite him - in fact she leads in second choice preferences in every round. I also think she is likely to beat Mulcair in a runoff, assuming Dewar is the candidate that gets axed in round 6. However, things might look a bit different if Topp survives longer (I think he will outlast Ashton).

    Cullen, on the other hand, seems to have very little growth potential. That shouldn't be surprising since his signature policy is a divisive one - which is bad in a race with a preferential ballot.

    By Anonymous hosertohoosier, at 2:27 p.m.  

  • Singh appears to have a lot of supporters who have no second choices. That may suggest his endorsement would be a big get, though the online poll results don't suggest much Mulcair-Singh affinity (though maybe the Nash team has gamed the poll).

    By Anonymous hosertohoosier, at 2:32 p.m.  

  • The other interesting thing to see will be how many NDP members actually vote live at the convention versus how many simply mailed their ballots in.

    I'm not sure of how the day-of logistics will work, but if you have a couple thousand NDP members voting live, last-minute endorsements as candidates drop off could make a difference. Maybe not a large difference, but someone like Dewar walking over to Mulcair instead of Nash (for example) on the last ballow, could mean a 100 vote swing.

    By Blogger calgarygrit, at 3:32 p.m.  

  • Was just a few short weeks ago our friends from the Robocoup party were talking about voting in the NDP leadership race to skew the results. Same for the next Liberal race.

    They seemed to think it not a problem provided they could convince themselves it was legal. But dirty tricks? Pfff they said. We're just lily livered nervous nellies for daring to think it was anything but brilliant strategy.

    By Blogger liberal supporter, at 11:06 p.m.  

  • @Skinny Dipper

    Perhaps "ordinary Canadians" is a bit too condescending and conveys a very outsider-esque view of the general electorate, but phrases like "working Canadians" or "hard working Canadians" would certainly work in a general campaign.

    It seemed, though, that Mulcair opposed "slogans" more generally. That's stupid, not having phrases and slogans that activate neural networks is what screws over the US Democrats (as political psychologist Drew Westen has showed). Furthermore, "moderating" to appeal to what you think is where the electorate is at the moment (and, believe me, the electorate is never in a "fixed" position - they respond to persuasion and messaging) results in excessive concessions. Distancing oneself from income equality issues during this time-period - when they have the most traction and whole movements have sprung up over them - is just stupid.

    I'm of an "anybody but Mulcair" mindset right now. Peggy Nash would be perfect if only she had better oratorical and persuasive argumentative skills, and toned down the themes of "unity" a bit more in favour of "bringing the fight to the Cons". Vaguely minded "unitifiers" get steamrolled by a harsh, well-organized, opposition.

    By Blogger Unknown, at 11:46 p.m.  

  • Analyst, you might want to analyze the latest polls of NDP performance in Quebec under Nash, Mulcair and Topp.

    Mulcair: 40%
    Nash: 18%
    Topp: 20%

    Sure, you don't want a leader to compromise on everything. But there's something about Nash and Topp that voters in a key region for the NDP really seem to dislike.

    By Anonymous hosertohoosier, at 12:50 a.m.  

  • @hosertohoosie

    The current result shows Mulcair as having 40% support in his own Province. Peggy Nash and Brain Topp, together, have 38%. We can't know how many Quebec Nash supporters would transfer to Topp or vice versa, but some would.

    All the current poll substantiates is the thesis that Mulcair - who's been a prominent, well known, figure in Quebec for at least a decade, is more popular than Nash or Topp at the moment.

    You haven't established that there's some long-term limit or ceiling to Topp and Nash's popularity in Quebec at all.

    By Blogger Unknown, at 12:59 p.m.  

  • I'm even more of an outsider about this than Calgary Grit, being not even a Canadian, let alone a NDP supporter, but as a politics geek I have been following this race. I do have a question about something I have not been able to understand.

    Is "Third Way Blairite" supposed to be code for something? Mulcair's opponents charge him with this, and I remember it being said about Alexa McDonough as well. Since I follow British politics as well, I know that the actual Blair government could be fairly characterized as a mixture of right-wing policies, high spending, changes to the constitution, incompetence (this sounds unfair but you have to look at the record minister by minister), and a bunch of social liberal symbolic stuff. Is this what Mulcair stands for? Does he really want to help the U.S. invade another country during the next go round? I mean the man resigned on principle at one point in his career and actual Blairism is much more opportunistic.

    That said, to comment on the actual comment, Mulcair has actually run something, which I don't think the NDP has had in a leader since Tommy Douglas, but this doesn't seem to be a big deal in Canadian politics since the Conservatives and Liberals have selected leaders with no prior executive or for that matter sometimes electoral experience. Peggy Nash has run in, and won, enough competitive elections in her career that she is probably less of a turnoff to floating or swing voters than Calgary Grit is suggesting. And Cullen's proposal about the parties standing down in different ridings to give one candidate a clear shot at the Conservative candidate may stem from his background in BC politics where something like that was done successfully, but the party that was ganged up on was the NDP. I'm missing why this should appeal to NDP voters, or for that matter why tactics used in BC provincial politics should be adopted federally.

    By Anonymous Perplexed, at 10:00 p.m.  

  • @The Analyst: The 40%/18%/20% numbers aren't the amount of support each candidate has among Quebec NDPers. They're the amount of support the NDP would get in Quebec if each of those people were the NDP leader.

    By Anonymous The Invisible Hand, at 1:21 a.m.  

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