Friday, February 25, 2011

Making Sense of the NDP Gains in Quebec

In my mind, Chantal Hebert is the finest political columnist in Quebec. But I have a hard time understanding how she put deux et deux together in her column today. Here's the underlying thesis:

That hope is not totally unfounded. Over Jack Layton’s tenure, the NDP has gained a lot of strength in Quebec — mostly at the expense of the Liberals and mostly to the benefit of the Bloc.

Now, that certainly doesn't sound like crazy talk, and it fits in with what Hebert has been saying over the past year about the benefits of a Liberal-NDP merger or non-aggression pact.

Where the argument falls down, is in the supporting evidence. Let me call as my first witness, the finest political columnist in Quebec, Chantal Hebert, to rebut her own point. From earlier in the same article:

Since the New Democrats wrestled [Outremont] from the Liberals in 2007, it has fallen off the BQ radar. That was a fortunate development for NDP deputy leader Thomas Mulcair. In 2008, the erosion of the Bloc vote in his favour ensured his re-election.

Yes, despite Hebert's belief that the Liberals and NDP are splitting the federalist vote, it appears the NDP's lone victory in Quebec came with a little help from their separatist friends. This is consistent with the first two "second choice" polls I found on a google search - both show the NDP as the clear cut second choice of Bloc voters.

Now, that's not completely inconsistent with Hebert's argument. It's possible Bloc voters like the NDP but NDP voters don't like the Bloc (or, at least, prefer the Liberals). But I'm not so sure that's the case. Those same polls show that 20-25% of NDP voters in Quebec list the Bloc as their second choice. And just yesterday, Gilles Duceppe announced the poaching of a second former NDP candidate.

Moreover, a look at the 2008 Canadian Election Study shows the following previous election (2006) vote breakdown of NDP supporters in Quebec last election:

NDP 35%
Lib 23%
BQ 18%
CPC 13%
Green 5%

Yes, there's no denying some of the NDP's Quebec gains have come at the expense of the Liberals. It's certainly possible a strong NDP in Quebec hurts the Liberals. That's definitely true in Outremont.

But I just can't accept that this is as simple as the federalist vote being split. The NDP are fishing in Bloc waters, and I have to imagine that at least concerns Duceppe. And the fluidity between NDP and Bloc support in Quebec has to make you wonder if a Liberal-NDP pact would do either party any good there.

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  • You're actually absolutely right, in my mind anyways. The NDP and the Bloc take more votes out of eachother than the NDP and the Liberals seem to, except in rare cases where the Liberals face either electoral backlash (Outremont, at least during the by-election), or where the feature a popular candidate that's a clear favourite (like Gatineau).

    But even with those two examples, you still see a strong base support of Liberals, and a lower-than-expected result for the Bloc. The fact is that in Quebec, even under Ignatieff who isn't the most federalist kind of guy, the Liberals remain the largest true-federalist party. The NDP, Bloc, and Conservatives all vie for decentralist, soft-nationalist votes more than they do for the federalist votes.

    So, you remember that poll awhile back which showed a Lib-NDP Party united under Layton completely blowing out the Bloc? That's because Layton's basically the anglophone Duceppe in a lot of ways, and yes, under him we'd probably do well in the province - but otherwise, a Lib-NDP Party would not do very well, unless we veered towards soft-nationalism like the Dippers have. I see that as unlikely, at least not to any great extent. Which means any such pact would probably fail in the long haul.

    By Blogger Kyle H., at 4:29 p.m.  

  • Yeah, I get the sense Layton himself is quite popular in Quebec, even if the party still has a ways to go.

    By Blogger calgarygrit, at 4:43 p.m.  

  • This comment has been removed by the author.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:48 p.m.  

  • My apologies. I mixed her up with Blatchford. My anger got the best of me.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:53 p.m.  

  • Doesn't surprise me, and you have it right CG. The NDP have been fishing for the Pequiste vote for decades now, so it was bound to produce some results at some point. I've known this from when I lived in Pincourt years ago and the NDP still had a provincial party dans la belle.

    I'm just not certain why Hebert would write about the NDP being trouble for the Liberals as she did. Yes in Outremont they definitely are, but she knows full well what the other NDP candidates are saying in the Bloc-held francophone ridings ...and it isn't about renewing federalism.

    By Blogger Tof KW, at 8:41 p.m.  

  • I think you've identified the one of the key questions about how things might be set to move in Quebec, Grit.

    On my own site, I've been examining the evidence supporting Hébert's hypothesis that the NDP is taking from the Liberals, and that pointing in the other direction (i.e., that the NDP is encroaching on Bloc territory). It seems to depend on whether I compare vote shares over a long time period, or raw votes from one campaign to the next.

    I do agree that the Bloc seems pretty focused on the NDP these days: certainly a few muscular hits were enough to push the Dippers back in Jeanne-Le Ber last time. But the fact that the Bloc has turned to NDPers in two of their four open seats this time, makes me believe the they are more concerned than Ms. Hébert right now.

    Does that correspond with what you've observed? I wonder if we'll get any true indication before the campaign itself gets underway.

    By Blogger The Pundits' Guide, at 10:20 p.m.  

  • You lost me when you called Chantal Hebert "the finest political columnist in Quebec".

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:29 a.m.  

  • I agree Anon, she's probably the best in Canada.

    By Anonymous Jacques Beau Verte, at 9:49 a.m.  

  • NDP is the Bloc's farm team. Question is, what does this say about Mulcair's leadership aspirations. NDP going after Bloc voters is indicative of strategy that understands that provincial Liberals won't go anywhere near Mulcair, so to increase vote he has to go after Bloc. May not be successful it seems...Can he become leader if he can't even control his own provincial wing?

    By Blogger EB-5 Dreamlife, at 12:15 p.m.  

  • Very interesting stuff.

    At what point does it dawn on the BQ that the NDP, rather than being their biggest friend, is actually their biggest rival?

    At what point does it dawn on Canadian's that the NDP's Quebec wing is becoming filled with sovereigntists?

    By Blogger Tomm, at 2:20 a.m.  

  • We're talking a lot about gains for a party that has one seat in the province out of seventy-five, and has defended it in an election one time.

    By Blogger Unknown, at 7:33 a.m.  

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