Another bad poll for Scheer. But what’s the matter with Singh’s NDP?

Response to Thursday’s Abacus poll mostly focused on the poor numbers for Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer. With less than a year to an election, it has been a very rare poll that has shown his party within striking range of the 37 or 38 per cent support required to win a majority.

Abacus pegged Scheer’s Conservatives at 34 per cent — and it seems the poll did not prompt respondents for the option to support the new People’s Party of break-away Conservative Maxime Bernier.

What wasn’t much of a focus was that Jagmeet Singh’s NDP earned the support of only 17 per cent of poll respondents. And that really sums it up — Singh’s NDP have dropped off the media landscape.

The Conservative attacks on the Trudeau Liberals are often half-baked and half-truth. But at least they’re attacking. And that’s why they get in the news cycle. Singh’s NDP seems to be in splendid isolation — that’s not an interesting media story.

In the absence of an engaging, positive narrative from the New Democrats, pundits and media commentary is all too happy to fill the gap. Colby Cosh’s hit-piece in the National Post is a case in point. The result is that if the Singh NDP are thought of at all in media coverage, it’s negative.

It’s not that the New Democrats don’t have a good story they’re trying to tell. Or, that on that story, the Trudeau Liberals aren’t weak. That story is about the kitchen table realities of working class people. It’s about the cost of everyday life.

The Trudeau Liberals are anxious to tell all who will hear that this economy is great, the average Canadian is doing well, let the good time roll.

And there is some truth to that. On average. But nobody lives in an average. When Jeff Bezos walks into a bar, on average, we’re all billionaires.

Singh’s NDP have an important different story to tell — one that resonates with many people who are struggling with low wages and personal debt and many others who are doing okay, but worry about what kind of Canada they’re leaving for the next generation. But that narrative needs to punch through. Singh’s New Democrats are facing a tactical problem.

Media narrative has arc and conflict. And those who aren’t part of the conflict aren’t part of the arc. That’s where Singh’s NDP are today.

This isn’t a new problem for the NDP, every leader has had it — with the possible exception of Tom Mulcair — because of the NDP’s third party status.

When you’re the third party, conflict doesn’t come to you — you have to make it. The third party needs to work at least twice as hard as the official opposition to get in the media narrative. That may be unfair — but that’s real.

Every single morning, the NDP needs to think about how they put themselves into the conflict. And it’s not just the leader who needs to amp-up the tactical game, it’s every MP, every staffer. Everyday they’re not bringing conflict to the news and changing the narrative arc, it’s a day the Trudeau Liberals win.

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One Reply to “Another bad poll for Scheer. But what’s the matter with Singh’s NDP?”

  1. I think it’s fine that the NDP are hovering at around 16% now. In early 2011, before the orange surge, the NDP were at that level. The NDP were assumed to be a non-player, but suddenly, during the election, people were charmed by Layton. And they were surprised by this.

    By contrast, prior to the 2015 election (2012 or 2013), the NDP had seen that Trudeau was popular as soon as he was selected, and the Libs rose in the polls above the NDP and they pretty well tied with the Cons. The NDP worried about this and subsequently released, in 2014, a year early, their fabulous child care pledge.

    Later, Con attack ads saw the Libs’ polling numbers go down, and the NDP rose after Mulcair’s surprising and compelling attacks on Harper (along with a courageous stance on Bill C-51). But, Trudeau cleverly kept surprising people with new sounding stuff, whereas the NDP had already long ago shown their hand. Imagine if the NDP had not shared the plan for a million subsidized child care spaces a year prior. They could have so surprised the public (and the Libs) with such a huge NEW announcement right in the middle of the campaign. But restating something already introduced a year ago, well, who cares? And, by giving the Cons and Libs advance warning, both were able to research and thorough attack (and discredit) the child care pledge.

    We also saw the element of surprise in the recent Ontario election. Most assumed that Andrea and the ONDP would not be a factor. Yet, dental care, pharmacare, child care, student grants for tuition, along with a good opening debate performance — it was surprising and compelling. And it came just as the campaign was beginning — not a year before!!

    So, I don’t agree with your idea that the NDP need to now worry about “In the absence of an engaging, positive narrative from the New Democrats, pundits and media commentary is all too happy to fill the gap.” Let them paint us as the underdog. It sets the stage for the surprise. It’s dumb to show our hand too early.

    In the meantime, Singh has been meeting with allies (unions, activists, environmentalists, students), planting seeds for future involvement. And, when the the election begins, and some very engaging policies (along with some engaging charm from the leader) surprises people, these seeds will blossom into a movement to win.

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