Greg Lyle (The Hill Times):
Canadians are fragmented when it comes to issues. We asked respondents to pick their three most important issues from a list of 15 issues we found in party press releases earlier this year. We then grouped respondents who shared similar priorities. We found seven distinct clusters of concern with no single cluster larger than 20 per cent.
It isn’t always like that. Some will remember the 1988 Free Trade campaign. Other campaigns have focused on jobs or social programs. But there is little common ground at the start of this campaign, although with 10 weeks to go, a defining moment may yet emerge.
Three of the clusters with a total of 40 per cent of the electorate seem to favour the Conservatives. The Conservatives win 45 per cent of the vote of respondents in the fiscal cluster that focused on balanced budgets and cutting taxes. They win 48 per cent of the vote among people in the good management group who are concerned about economic stability and balanced budgets. And the Conservatives win 50 per cent of the votes of people focused on terrorism.
The NDP win big in two clusters with 30 per cent of the electorate. Among people concerned about government accountability and civil liberties the NDP wins 46 per cent support. Almost half (49 per cent) of the people whose key concern is the environment vote NDP.
The NDP wins by a smaller amount in two other clusters with another 31 per cent of voters. In the health-care cluster, the NDP have 39 per cent of the vote, the Liberals 30 per cent and the CPC just 20 per cent. The jobs cluster is more competitive with 35 per cent NDP, 30 per cent Liberal and 25 per cent CPC.
Another way to look at issues is through party brands. Parties are not seen as equally strong on all issues. Parties want voters to focus on the issues where their party is seen as stronger than the others.
There is yet a third way to look at issues, a way that explains the benefits of wedge politics.
What people think about an issue only really matters to their vote if they really care about that issue. It is good to know which party the average voter refers to on an issue, but what really matters is which party is preferred by the voters who care the most about an issue.
It is also important to note that those who really care about an issue can and usually do differ significantly from the values of the average voter. In this election, that often gives the CPC or the NDP an edge over the Liberals.
On issues such as economic stability, fiscal and tax issues as well as crime and terrorism, people who care about the issues are more right wing than the average voters. For instance, people who care the most about stable economic management are much more likely to say government should focus on creating opportunity rather than redistributing wealth. As a result, the CPC is seen as better on the economy by 42 per cent of those who care the most about the issue compared to 30 per cent on average.
On issues such as health, the environment, or civil liberties, people who care more about those issues tend to be more left wing than the average voters. For example, people who are most concerned about civil liberties are much more likely to choose civil liberties as a priority over security than average voters. So while the NDP are seen as better at protecting civil liberties by 33 per cent of the overall sample, they are seen as best by 48 per cent who care the most about the issue.
So if the Tories do better with those engaged in “right-wing” issues and the NDP do better with those who care about “progressive” issues, are there any issues that favour the Liberals? If there are, we have not found them. Generally, the Liberals do the same or worse with issues compared to their overall scores.
The bottom line is our analysis shows the Liberals face a daunting challenge. Few people are true moderates. Most people feel strongly about some issues and those who feel strongly tend to have more extreme views than the average Canadian. This provides both the NDP and Conservatives with a clear constellation of issues where they can rally specific groups of people with polarized policy issues but leaves the Liberals squeezed out.