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Election Ringside: A daily exchange for The Globe and Mail between strategists Tom Flanagan, left, and John Duffy
Election Ringside: A daily exchange for The Globe and Mail between strategists Tom Flanagan, left, and John Duffy

Flanagan and Duffy

Election Ringside, May 3: Harper's last appeal Add to ...

Election Ringside is a daily e-mail exchange for The Globe and Mail between strategists Tom Flanagan and John Duffy. Check in every weekday afternoon during the 2011 federal election campaign for their insights and opinions about the campaign as it unfolds.

From: Tom Flanagan Sent: Tuesday, May 3, 2011, 8:42 a.m. ET To: John Duffy Subject: Election Ringside

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Hi John,

In our final conversation, let's leave the big themes aside and go back to the issue of polling. The final wave of polls was more or less accurate, except that it slightly underestimated the Conservative vote and overestimated the Liberal vote. These small differences in popular vote made a big difference in results. Instead of a Conservative minority, we got a secure Conservative majority; and we got fewer Liberal seats than anyone had predicted.

There were so many polls, with such large sample sizes, that I doubt technical problems explain the discrepancy. What do you think about Stephen Harper's last-minute appeal to Liberals to vote Conservative in order to block the rise of the NDP? The timing and nature of that appeal would explain the last-minute shifts that we saw towards the Conservatives and away from the Liberals. You're much closer than I to the area where the appeal was made and was intended to work. Do you think it had an effect?

If it did, it will go down in history as an astute campaign move, similar to your late manoeuvres in 2004 that got a portion of the Dippers to vote Liberal.

From: John Duffy Sent: Tuesday, May 3, 2011, 9:04 a.m. ET To: Tom Flanagan

Dead bang right, Tom. You are absolutely correct as to the final stage dynamic. I missed it, and a lot of others did as well, but I am pretty sure that the PM and his team -- who are the best team operating in politics at this time -- crafted the move late last week.

Playing the final dynamics of a campaign is not for the faint of heart. In order to make the final majority pitch, Mr. Harper had to have some pretty committed Liberals convinced that their vote could not influence the outcome of who would be the Official Opposition and was needed to make sure Mr. Layton did not get in position to form a government. Then came the tricky part: How to land the pitch in a way that acknowledged, but did not encourage, the prospect of Mr. Layton becoming Prime Minister? This is a very difficult line to walk, but Mr. Harper and his team walked it with evident success.

The result was indeed to force the Liberal vote down past the 20 per cent the polls were predicting, to a final level of 18.9 per cent. So that's an important part of the story. The other part that matters is what it says about the Liberal voter base and how they feel about Jack Layton's NDP. The last time the Liberals won an election, the key was gathering 44 per cent of the popular vote in Ontario, to the Conservatives' 31 and the NDP's 18. Last night, Ontario went 44 Conservative, 26 NDP and 25 Liberal.

So, if you want to be extremely crude in calculating what has happened in seven years, you'd say that almost half the Liberal vote has walked away, with close to two-thirds of that group going to the Conservatives, and about one-third to the NDP. Now, no one knows what the sentiments are of the remaining quarter of Ontario's electorate that still holds to the Liberal colours. But this story line is suggestive, and will factor into the larger conversation about the future of the Liberals.

Glad to see this very agreeable experience ending on such an agreeable note, Tom. Of course, you are a wicked RepubliConservative and you have materially contributed to what I believe is a wrong turning by our country. On the other hand, you are an extremely enjoyable and informative person to exchange ideas with.

From: Tom Flanagan Sent: Tuesday, May 3, 2011, 10:48 a.m. ET To: John Duffy

OK, let's close it here with our agreement on what happened. Too bad we won't get a chance to discuss the endlessly fascinating constitutional details of minority government, but there will be other elections!

Tom

From: John Duffy Sent: Tuesday, May 3, 2011, 2:35 p.m. ET To: Tom Flanagan

Glad to see this very agreeable experience ending on such an agreeable note, Tom. Of course, you are a wicked RepubliConservative and you have materially contributed to what I believe is a wrong turning by our country. On the other hand, you are an extremely enjoyable and informative person to exchange ideas with.

A lot of our readers have been kind enough to let me know directly and to leave comments to the effect that they have enjoyed following our exchange. A recurring theme has been appreciation for the civility and mutual respect with which we have conducted the conversation. I would hope that some of that civility is one of the themes that people will take away from this election. That, and an appreciation for Bolshevik humour.

My congratulations on your party's and movement's phenomenal success last night. It's been a long time coming for you guys. For my part, thank you for a great experience - about the only one amid a pretty miserable five weeks for me and my kind. Good luck in all of your work going forward.

And to our readers, thank you for giving us your attention, especially those who offered such thoughtful comments. Even though turnout didn't go up by much, this was still a much more "turned on" election than the last one; your role in that deserves praise.

Oh yes, Carthago resurget! Or something like that; Latin was never my strong suit.

Tom Flanagan is professor of political science at the University of Calgary and a former Conservative campaign manager. John Duffy is founder of StrategyCorp and a former adviser to prime minister Paul Martin.

 

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