Despite the current numbers, Singh has opportunity to capitalize on volatile electorate

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With the dog days of summer and the heat wave arrives another series of columns and analysis predicting the upcoming demise of the federal NDP.  Over the years, many a pundit has predicted the near-death of the federal social-democratic party.  Doom and gloom abounds regularly, but New Democrats are resilient and have been around since 1961.

While it is true that the NDP suffered badly in the 1993 election under Audrey McLaughlin, the party still finished in 4th place, ahead of the previously-governing Progressive-Conservatives.  And there was enough of a base for Alexa McDonough to build on and bring back the party to respectability, regaining party status and finishing ahead of the PCs in 1997 and 2000.

Jack Layton’s arrival prompted another wave of dismissal.  I remember a Conservative spokesperson gamely betting a year’s salary that the NDP would be “wiped out of the electoral map” in the 2004 election.  Layton slowly but surely built party support, gaining seats at every election, culminating with the 2011 Orange Wave.  I never received the flak’s money.

Despite facing strong headwind as it was battling the niqab file during the 2015, Tom Mulcair’s NDP still returned a strong contingent of New Democrats to the House of Commons.  With 44 MPs, the NDP had in 2015 its second best return and Mulcair delivered the best ever results from a rookie CCF-NDP leader.

Which brings us to today and the frequent punditification of the current situation the NDP finds itself in.  According to the CBC poll aggregator, under Jagmeet Singh, the NDP is currently polling around 13,7%.  If that number was to hold, Singh would end up with better results than the beloved Tommy Douglas’ two-first elections!

Still, considering that in the last federal election, the NDP was seen by Canadians as a real contender for power, to see that the party is now battling it out to stay in third place ahead of the Green Party is disheartening for many New Democrats.  Still, opportunities remain for Singh’s NDP.

First, voting behaviour has never been this volatile.  The growing phenomenon has been observed in the country over the past decade, where unprecedented waves have turned elections on their heads, both federally and provincially.  Voters have no patience and no loyalty, which is good news for the NDP.

Second, the NDP’s voter universe remains competitive in its size with the universe of the other two main parties.  Canadians still have a generally positive impression of the party, despite the current political narrative.

Third, the NDP is the preferred second choice of most Canadians, no matter what party they currently plan to vote for.  According to Abacus Data, among voters who could change their mind from their current voting intentions, the NDP could pick up 42% of Liberal voters.  The NDP could also pick up 27% of the current Conservative supporters, which is quite significant.  New Democrats are also the second choice of most Green voters, with 38%.  Abacus didn’t release numbers for the Bloc, but my experience has been that Bloc voters prefer New Democrats as their 2nd choice as well.

Despite the Greens’ perceived momentum, despite the residual strength of the Trudeau brand, despite the Conservatives being seen by and large as the main alternative to the Liberals, the NDP currently has the most growth potential.  The challenge, the biggest yet for Jagmeet Singh, is to convert these 2nd choice voters into 1st choice voters.  It won’t be easy to do.  But then again, it never was.

Photo Credit: CBC News

More from Karl Bélanger.    Follow Karl Bélanger on Twitter at @KarlBelanger.

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