Thursday, July 20, 2006

Fading issues

There's been lots of discussion of the latest Strategic Counsel poll. But I'm not sure there's been much attention paid to a couple of relatively well-hidden issue numbers which seem likely to cause some trouble for the Cons in particular, and possibly the Libs as well.

First, and not surprisingly, the sponsorship scandal has effectively dropped off the radar as a voting issue, going from the top-ranking issue with 11% of the population to 1%. It could be that the fact that the Accountability Act has passed will ultimately hurt the Cons in the long run: now that there's an impression that the matter has been dealt with, nobody seems particularly interested in continuing to hold the sponsorship issue against the Libs.

Of course, the counterbalance to the loss of such protest votes should be the Cons' current advantage in selling their message. And in that regard, it's amazing to see the decline in Canadians who see "government stability" as the top issue, dropping from 18% last year (when it ranked as the top issue) to 7% now - and that after a campaign which resulted in both a change in government, and a second consecutive minority Parliament.

As far as I can tell, that number has a couple of implications. First, it suggests that an awful of lot Lib votes in the last election may have been based more on inertia and incumbency than any great support for the Libs' policy platform. And if that's the case, the Libs have plenty of work to do now that "more of the same" isn't an argument in their favour anymore. (Indeed, the lessened fear of the unknown may only help the NDP's cause in presenting itself as the better alternative to Harper.)

As for the Cons, though, it also means that Canadians aren't buying Harper's arguments that a "stable majority" is needed to allow the government to deal with voters' priorities. Canadians are a lot more concerned with their health and their environment than with any fear of another election or change in government. And if Harper does want to force an election, whether on national security, softwood lumber or any of the other areas where he's threatened to drop the writ, the vast majority of Canadians have no fear of breaking whatever continuity the Cons may have created.

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