Will Layton’s surging popularity mean new NDP seats on May 2nd?

Jack Layton speaking in Thunder Bay
Jack Layton speaking in Thunder Bay earlier this year.

Jack Layton speaking in Thunder BayTHUNDER BAY – Looking at the federal election campaign at the leader’s level, it is appearing that if there has been a loser so far, it is Michael Ignatieff. The polling is showing that despite what many thought was a good first two weeks of the campaign, where the Liberal leader did better than expected, he is running into a very determined Jack Layton who appears to be far more capable of taking advantage of Ignatieff than anyone would have suspected.

Depending on the poll you choose, the Liberals could be headed to third place overall in the House of Commons. The Hill Times is reporting on a Forum Research poll state, “Nationally, the survey gave the Conservative Party support from 36 per cent of decided and leaning voters, 25 per cent for the NDP, 23 per cent for the Liberal party, and six per cent each for the Green Party and the Bloc Québécois. A separate Forum Research analysis, based partly on ridings won and lost in the 2008 election, suggest the survey results would give the Conservatives 149 of the 308 Commons seats if an election were held today, with 71 seats for the NDP, 64 for the Liberals and the Bloc Québécois would have 24 seats”.

The dynamics of the House of Commons would certainly be different if the Liberals were to be in third place. It would likely signal the fastest retreat of a Liberal leader in recent history.

How has this happened? Jack Layton likely got the closest to a knockout punch on Ignatieff during the English debate when he slammed Ignatieff over having a very dismal attendance record in the House of Commons. Ignatieff appeared not to have realized that while he has attempted to hammer the Prime Minister about his level of respect for democracy, that by not showing up for work, Ignatieff was wide open for attack.

If Prime Minister Harper had pounded Liberal Leader Ignatieff with that same statement it would have appeared as yet more bashing.

When the NDP leader stuck out his foot, Ignatieff was left looking like a cartoon charactor trying to explain away his record. Instead of responding to Layton, the Liberal leader shifted into arrogance telling Layton he “needs no lessons in democracy” from the NDP leader.

The Liberals have remained fairly static in the polls over the first weeks of the campaign. In the national media, the “Team Ignatieff” approach that marked the campaign kick-off has been replaced by efforts by the Liberals to showcase their leader as the best man to lead Canada. That effort appears to be failing to. In fact in some ways, it is possible some of the senior Liberals are starting to chart a path to a post-election leadership run.

Looking at the usually very reliable Nanos Research daily tracking poll, the Liberals and the Conservatives are, across Canada virtually where they were when the campaign started. The New Democrats started weak, but after bottoming out on April 8th have seen their numbers climbing. The key for the Conservatives in order to form a majority government is finding another dozen or so seats across the country, and maintaining all of their current seats.

The problem for Michael Ignatieff and the Liberals is that they needed to knock out the New Democrats early in the campaign.

By faltering during the French language debate, Ignatieff is looking weak, and voters in Quebec are sensing that perceived weakness and looking at the New Democrats in a fresh light.

Jack Layton is, to a great degree looking like he is enjoying the campaign. Other national leaders often appear to be struggling to demonstrate their love of connecting with people.

Maybe it is because Layton started the campaign with nothing to lose, and everything to gain that his free-wheeling campaign has caught fire. Frankly, it was the same for the old Reform Party under Preston Manning when Reform became the Official Opposition.

Will Layton’s surging popularity demonstrate itself in new NDP seats on May 2nd?

Stay tuned.

James Murray

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