Sunday, September 27, 2009

Does Familiarity Breed Content or Contempt?

From those of us politics watchers stuck in the bubble that is Ottawa, the past few weeks have been great. Will we vote, won't we vote? Good coalition, bad coalition? Now, with break week about to end we ask ourselves "what's next?"

If the past few weeks are an indication, the answer is "who knows?" So I will instead ask a different question.

Stephen Harper was elected Prime Minister in 2006 and re-elected in 2008, both times with minority governments. Those elections were fought against Paul Martin (still struggling under the spectre of adscam) and Dion (still struggling under the spectre of, well, Dion). As a result, the Conservatives' support has grown from one election to the next and, according to many polls, is now approaching majority territory.

My question is why?

  • Is this growth in support a reflection of the leaders against which Harper has had to compete (and in particular Dion, as Martin was clearly hampered by the RCMP-income trust allegations in 2005-2006)?

  • Or is it a reflection of Canadians becoming more comfortable with Stephen Harper as PM?

While it is easy to point ones' finger at the former, there is a lot of truth in the latter. Wearing the badge of Reform, Harper (like his predecessors) was demonized. These attack ads were, to an extent, successful. There is enough polling data - particularly during elections - which suggests that Canadians are not 100% comfortable with the PM.

What I wonder about is whether current events have changed things. In the current environment of uncertainty, are Canadian voters getting increasingly comfortable with a PM who has cast himself as a "sure hand"? Does Harper's promise of stability resonate more with Canadians who are struggling, than Ignatieff's vision of a more international Canada?

Polling results suggest so. While the Conservatives party results are slightly stronger than their rivals, Harper's leadership results are far stronger than his rivals.

Breaking the perception of Harper as the better leader will be the Liberal's greatest challenge. Are they up for it?

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