Analysts and activists across the country are still trying to get a serious grip on the stunning rise in the polls of Jack Layton's NDP -- almost pinching themselves in the aftermath of fear and the loathing that characterized the first weeks of the election. How is it possible that Harper could stay in striking distance of a majority -- 39% -- when almost everyday some other outrage or scandal or dirty trick was exposed in the media? And then just as dumbfounding, how, in this atmosphere of seeming political unconsciousness, could hundreds of thousands of voters across the country -- in virtually every part of the country -- suddenly turn to the NDP?
Progressives are fighting the urge to indulge in euphoria and for good reason -- the NDP surge could have unintended consequences and that is drawing Liberal votes away in ridings the NDP cannot possibly win (surge or no surge) and hand Liberal ridings to Harper. More on that below, but clearly the danger has not passed and to get the best results strategic voting (SV) is still critical. (Even the Toronto Star newspaper, on its website, called for SV in the wake of an editorial endorsing the NDP).
As to the surge, I confess. I am just as confused as everyone else. But a couple of thoughts come to mind, one a bit off the wall and with no real evidence the other a bit more grounded. The latter I gleaned from a friend of mine who follows Facebook and Twitter pretty diligently. According to her, there was a hint of things to come before the polls started reflecting the dramatic change. The chatter suggested an increasing interest in the election and especially a serious flood of tweeting about Harper's threat to the country and the attractiveness of the NDP and its leader.
I look forward to more analysis of the role of social media in this election but as I said in an earlier post, something is definitely happening this time around that was not there in the 2008 election. The multiple strategic voting sites, the 'shitharperdid' site and its fabulous videos, and many other smaller efforts by a diversity of individuals and groups suggest a whole new dimension to Canadian politics. It is as if suddenly, a critical mass of people finally concluded "Okay, this system is totally screwed, it can't mend itself on its own and we have to do something." If it turns out that this factor was a deciding one, there is tremendous room for optimism.
And it would show that the alleged genius of the Harper machine did not see this coming any more than anyone else did. Social media has that capacity to gradually build, underground, out of the headlines, but relentless -- and actually fun. That is one of the problems with formal electoral politics -- actual involvement s profoundly apolitical: you can't talk to people (you might make a mistake, and its wastes time) and all you get to do by the time the election is called is put notices on doorknobs and phone supporters to remind to them vote (still a critical activity, but not engaging at a political level). Taking matters into your own hands, reading up on what Harper actually stands for, and taking action on your own is much more satisfying.
The second thought that occurs to me is the possible role of Quebec voters. I have always argued that the potential voter pool of the NDP is huge -- up to 70% of the population. Take the corporate media and think tanks out of the picture and the NDP would have been the government years ago. Is it possible that when Canadians outside Quebec saw Quebec voters abandoning the Bloc for the NDP they felt a new permission to consider the NDP themselves? The combination of finally paying attention to who Harper was, the evident lack of trust in Ignatieff and the legitimization of Layton from an unlikely source may have all combined to break the decades old frame of the NDP as too radical, bad on economic policy and destined to be the third party. (And, of course, it has moderated its policies over the past 10 years.)
The values of Canadians are incredibly resilient -- remove some of the historic and systemic barriers to people voting their values and a surge like we are witnessing may not be so inexplicable after all. Once it gets started, the "permission" factor keeps it going -- the more people who switch, the more others realize they agree.
It's not over yet and we know with certainty that Harper and his thugs will do anything to keep their grip on power. The latest example: the junk yard dogs at Sun Media getting their hands on Toronto police notes (the leak of notes is now being investigated by the Ontario provincial police) indicating that Jack Layton had been questioned at a massage establishment in the 1996. Unbeknown to Layton the establishment was questionable. The smear campaign could have an impact -- though so far the Conservatives have stayed away from it officially.
[This incident suggests that Sun Media will have to be seriously dealt with post-campaign. This vicious and sleazy outfit still has the potential to further poison Canadian politics. We need to consider (as difficult and expensive as this would be) a serious boycott of advertisers to this pernicious anti-democratic force.]
The NDP surge and the equally stunning collapse of the Liberals (this has been a slow process up till now) could actually produce a Harper majority by some accounts as the widespread nature of the shift to the NDP takes votes from Liberals everywhere. That means in seats where the Liberals were competitive (and even incumbent) with the Conservatives but the NDP is not.
To ensure the best possible result of the dramatic change in this election we all need to pledge to find at least one progressive friend, colleague or relative who is not going to vote and convince them (on pain of shunning for one year) to get to the voting booth on Monday.
Secondly, strategic voting, ironically, now really could decide the outcome of this election. Visit one of the sites (they are all updating based on the new polls), check for your riding, and vote accordingly.
Here's the latest email alert from Catch22.
Strategic voting urgently required to stop NDP/Liberal vote splitting
Stephen Harper's Conservatives are still within reach of winning a majority in Monday's election. Catch 22 Campaign research shows that the most dangerous factor that could help the Conservatives would be the possible collapse of the Liberal vote in several key ridings.
While the New Democrats may clinch second place in the election, a continuation of the rise in NDP popularity in key ridings that the Liberals have been expected to win would open the door for the Conservatives to come up the middle and take enough seats to win a slim majority in Parliament.
Catch 22 strategist Nick Fillmore says that "voters must keep their eye on the prize on Monday and not lose sight of doing what it takes to make sure that Harper does not win a majority. It's crucial that the Liberal vote hold in many ridings."
Harper's Conservatives moved up in the polls again and are with the range of winning a majority. The Conservatives were standing at 38 per cent in the polls as of today, reports the Nanos polling firm. In 1997, John Chretien and the Liberals won a majority government with only 37 per cent of the popular vote.
Nanos had the NDP well back of the Tories at 29.6 per cent and the Liberals at 23.3 per cent.
"Catch 22 does not favour any one party over another," said Catch 22 coordinator Gary Shaul. "We are heartened to see that the NDP will likely defeat most, if not all of the Conservatives in the seventeen of the ridings we've identified. But it's very clear that to stop a Harper majority, voters need to go out and support the Liberals in ridings where Catch 22 is recommending that Liberals have the best chance of defeating Conservatives.
"In all of these recommended ridings, the NDP has very little chance of catching the Conservative candidates, but NDP votes in these ridings on Monday could be a big spoiler."
Catch 22 is recommending that voters support Liberal candidates in 35 ridings. Please see our list of recommended ridings.
Political scientist Alvin Finkel has a warning. "While I am as excited as anyone about the NDP surge, it is clear from the polls that the chances of Canadians electing a majority of Harper Conservatives with about 38 percent of the vote remain high.
"If Harper has a majority, it won't matter much which party forms the official opposition. We'll see a rightward shift in Canadian federal policy of the kind that Britain experienced under Margaret Thatcher and from which it has never recovered, regardless of which party has formed government," said Finkel, from the Centre for State and Legal Studies at Athabasca University in Alberta.
This article was first posted on murraydobbin.ca.
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