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This article was published 6/6/2015 (1594 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
A lot of very strange and unprecedented things have been happening in Canadian politics lately. The NDP's historic win in Alberta's recent provincial election definitely counts as unexpected — but it was what happened afterward that really caught political observers off guard.
A series of national opinion polls showed that immediately following the provincial NDP victory in Alberta, support for the federal NDP started to climb. Polls conducted by EKOS Research and Ipsos Reid in late May show the federal New Democrats are now in a three-way tie with the federal Conservatives and Liberals. With Canadians set to cast ballots in a federal election in just a few months, this really sets up an interesting dynamic as there is no clear second choice for voters hoping for a non-Conservative government.
Support for federal and provincial parties can be quite different, which is what makes these polling numbers puzzling. Although federal NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair and his party would probably like to take credit for their provincial counterparts forming government in Alberta, the reason the NDP managed to win there had nothing to do with the federal party and everything to do with the appeal of the provincial NDP's likeable, charismatic leader, Rachel Notley, and voter fatigue/disgust after 44 years of Progressive Conservative rule in that province.
However, these results suggest some of the shine from the provincial NDP win in Alberta has rubbed off on their federal counterparts and signalled that if the NDP can elect candidates in some of the most conservative areas of the country, such as suburban Calgary and rural northern Alberta, then it can potentially win seats anywhere in Canada.
The real question, however, is whether a polling bump for the NDP caused by a breakthrough at the provincial level will have any staying power as the next federal election approaches.
We have seen before in Manitoba where the popularity — or unpopularity — of a party at one level can ripple across to the other level of politics.
For instance, the provincial Liberals have been boosted in part by the popularity of their federal counterparts. The last time Probe Research conducted a federal voting-intention survey was in October 2013, when we found 32 per cent of Manitoba voters would cast a ballot for a federal Liberal candidate. This came right at the height of new Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau's popularity nationally and also coincided with a strong uptick in provincial Liberal support. At that same point, support for the provincial Liberals increased to 20 per cent, up significantly from the low of eight per cent it had reached in the last provincial election.
The provincial Liberals have been able to maintain a pretty consistent level of support in the high teens and low 20s since that time. We will be able to see how well the federal Liberals are doing by comparison later this month, when the first Probe Research federal voting-intention numbers for Manitoba come out. But the federal and provincial Liberals have long had their fortunes tied to one another in the province — historically, when the federal party is in government or else relatively popular, the provincial party has polled better.
All of this raises a very interesting set of circumstances for the New Democrats. It will be interesting to see if in Manitoba the party is buoyed by the increase in popularity the NDP is experiencing federally, or if it will be dragged down by the unpopularity of their provincial counterparts, who are now the longest-serving government in the country and appear to be headed for an eventual defeat.
The stakes for the federal NDP in Manitoba in the next federal election are significant. It has to defend two seats — Churchill and Winnipeg North — and will also hope to win two seats back that it once held in Elmwood-Transcona and Winnipeg North.
This would be difficult under normal circumstances, but it may be even more challenging if the unpopularity of the provincial NDP makes Manitoba voters think twice about casting a ballot for an NDP candidate in the next federal election.
Fortunately for the NDP, it may also benefit from the fact that voting allegiances are becoming more and more fluid and voters are not as "locked in" for a particular party until it actually comes time to make a decision on whom to vote for. If the federal NDP manages to sustain their current boost, buoyed by their momentum from Alberta and not dragged down by their performance on Broadway, it could pay off for them at the ballot box in October.
Curtis Brown is the vice-president of Probe Research Inc. His views are his own.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @curtisatprobe