by Angus Reid in their May 31 poll of voters' intentions should the Liberal Party and the NDP enter into a formal coalition.
Angus Reid are to be congratulated for departing from the usual Who Ya Gonna Vote For? analysis by exploring the attraction of a coalition under the leadership of one of three men: Ignatieff, Rae and Layton.
Before we dive into the results, a few cautions.
The poll results we have from Angus Reid do not show that voters were asked supplementary questions, which could well have influenced the preferences of respondents.
Full merger assumed - Secondly, the question assumed a merger of the two parties, and did not ask what voters would do if there was not a formal merger but some other type of governance agreement - the Third Option – with the first one being no merger or governance agreement, the second being a full merger as assumed by Angus Reid in its poll, and the Third Option being one which allowed the two parties to retain their independent existence but to participate in the government (such as has happened with the governance arrangement between the British parties, with the Conservative Party and the Liberal-Democrats retaining their separate existence but agreeing to share seats in a cabinet and to pass certain agreed upon legislation).
It is very important that this Third Option be considered by the LPC and NDP, and be presented to voters by polling companies, as the Third Option is a very viable one for Canada right now, for various reasons.
It is also highly probable that voters would prefer the Third Option to a formal merger of the LPC and NDP, especially if it is framed as a governance agreement for the purpose of replacing an unstable minority right wing Conservative Government with one that represents the views of more Canadians. The inability of the Conservatives to break through their granite ceiling into majority territory in opinion poll after opinion poll is caused by the reluctance of so many Canadians to allow Harper's Tories to have the ability to ignore the other parties and to implement their very conservative, ideological program without restraint. Enough Canadians know that this Harper-cobbled-together Conservative Party has a soul very different from the old Progressive Conservatives, and that the country could be plunged into the disasterous policies of the Harris-type governments which did so much damage to Ontario if Harper won a majority.
A formal merger (coalition) means the LPC and NDP would have to agree on just about everything, a difficult task given that there are decided differences of policy in several areas.
However, a governance agreement for the Third Option which lasts for an agreed period (say, 3 to 4 years), is based on each party retaining its separate existence, provides for shared cabinet seats based on the proportion of votes cast for each of the two parties, employs an electoral ceasefire as outlined by Professor Byers, requires both parties to support certain agreed programs during those 3 to 4 years, but retains the right to vote independently on other matters, is a far more palatable option at this stage, and would be substantially more attractive to voters supporting the LPC, NDP, Bloc and Green parties.
The main findings of the Angus Reid poll with respect to a formal merger or coalition of the LPC and NDP fighting the Tories, Bloc and Green parties are set out in the poll results. The formal merger would stand a better chance if Jack Layton lead it, with the next best result being a formal merged party lead by Bob Rae and with the lowest chance of success if Michael Ignatieff was the leader.
Buried in the results are other findings, which are very interesting, and which, in my view, support the substantially more viable Third Option.
Have a look at the results without any formal merger of the two parties, and after a merger.
The most interesting fact that leaps out from the detailed figures is the extent of "coalition bleeding" – the siphoning off of votes from both the LPC and NDP if they enter into a formal merger.
Note one thing: fewer voters would vote for the merged party than would vote for both the two parties without a merger. The formal merger costs both parties votes, which bleed away to other parties.
But here is the interesting thing.
The Tories do not gain as much from such bleeding of votes as one might think they would. In fact, they gain far less than I would have guessed they would.
My guess is that the granite ceiling above the Tory Party operates even if a formal merger of the LPC and NDP took place. There is not a dramatic shift of voters to the right side of our political spectrum. It is much more muted.
In fact, whether Ignatieff or Rae is the leader of the merged party, the Tories gain less than half of the votes that bleed off from the combined totals before the coalition.
Many Tory votes are "wasted" because it is essentially a western-based party, with strong majorities in Alberta and Manitoba/Saskatchewan (MB/SK), overwhelming the other parties in this region in terms of seats in our archaic first-past-the-post system of electing MPs.
Support for the Tories goes up 7% in Alberta after a coalition (from 61% to 68%) if Ignatieff leads the merged party (and 10%, to 71%, if Rae is the leader). Albertans clearly don't like the prospect of a centre-left government being formed, even more so if Rae is leading it. However, this translates in practical terms to few additional seats for the Tories. In MB/SK the Tories gain 7% (from 48% to 55%) if faced with Ignatieff as leader of the merged parties, and go up to 53% (up 5%) if Rae is the leader. Rae is not as feared in these two provinces as he appears to be in Alberta.
Nationally, the Tories gain 5% (from 35% to 40%) if Ignatieff is leader, and only 3% (from 35% to 38%) if Rae is leader. Nationally, the merged party finds its support reduced from a combined pre-coalition total of 46% to 34% if Ignatieff is leader (down 12% or a bleeding of roughly one in four votes – 26% - from pre-coalition totals of both parties). The figures are 46% to 38% (down 8% or a bleed of 1 in 6 votes – 17%) if Rae is the leader.
The Bleeding Range - So a formal merger of the LPC-NDP parties, using this poll, would cost the two parties between 1 in 4 to 1 in 6 of their pre-coalition votes – in percentage terms, a bleeding off of between 17% and 26% of votes. Significant loss of support, but not at all in the catastrophic ranges which so many bloggers and commentators incorrectly assume will apply.
Put another way, a formal merger would retain between 3 in 4 and 5 in 6 of voters who now support the two parties.
Not a bad price to pay to install a centre-left government to replace the right wing, anti-statist, minimalist Tory government of Stephen Harper.
And what did the Tories gain, nationally? Only 5% (3% for Rae) – less than half of the total bleeding. Around one in two of the voters who did not like the merged LPC-NDP walked over to the other non-Tory parties.
The Real Battlegrounds - But the real battleground is in BC, Ontario and Quebec.
BC Battleground - In BC, an Ignatieff-lead merged party loses 36% of the pre-coalition votes – from a pre-coalition total of 45% to a post-merger total of 29%, a drop of 16% or 36% of the pre-coalition combined LPC and NDP totals of 45% (a drop of 20% if Rae is leader). The Tories pick up 5% of the lost 16% (if Ignatieff is leader), while Harper gains only 2% of the lost 9% if Rae is leader.
Ontario Battleground - In Ontario, the combined LPC-NDP votes pre-merger total 54% of all votes there (Tories get only 35%). The post-merger total drops to 41% (down 13% points or 24% of the pre-merger totals) if Ignatieff is leader (down 9 points to 45% if Rae is leader). The Tories pick up 7 percentage points (going from 35% to 42% if Ignatieff is leader, and to a lower 39% figure if Rae is leader). Rae would therefore win 45% of votes cast in Ontario if he lead the merged LPC-NDP party, a margin of 6% over the post-merger Tory total of 39% of Ontario votes.
Ontario is the crucial battleground in the next election. The Angus Reid poll shows that the synergy of a merger of the LPC and NDP is most pronounced in this province, whether Ignatieff or Rae lead the merged party (but most pronounced if it is Rae). So much for the myth that Rae is the kiss of death in Ontario! Big-Deficit-Steve beats him hands down ...
The synergy of the merger is also evident in Quebec, where the prospect of a replacement government ousting the unpopular Tories is so great that the Tories only gain 1% if faced with a merged LPC-NDP (going from 18% of votes to 19% under Ignatieff as leader, and actually declining 1% if Rae leads the merged party.
Coalition synergy as Gamechanger - In conclusion, the synergy of a merged LPC-NDP grouping is so strong that the votes lost to the Tories resulting from the merger is offset by sufficient retention in the 3 battleground provinces to make the next election a game changer.
And best of all, this poll reveals that several assumptions of the results of a merger are in fact more myth than fact.
No wonder that Harper and his party are so antsy over any talk of a possible coalition of the other two parties, and so desperate to demonize any electoral arrangement by using the emotive (to their base, if to noone else) words 'socialists' and 'separatists' in their frantic framing.