This is the first of a three-part series appraising the support of the three major political parties at national and provincial levels. Today we look at the New Democrats.
The New Democrats are suffering from a bit of a hangover, still on a high from their 2011 breakthrough but not feeling nearly as good as they did in the aftermath of those historic results. The federal party and many of its provincial counterparts are still putting up numbers better than their traditional levels of support, but their position has worsened considerably in 2013.
As recently as June 2012, the New Democrats were leading in the polls nationwide and their provincial partners were ahead in British Columbia, Manitoba and Nova Scotia. The NDP was the government in the latter two and looked set to form the next government in B.C., which would have marked the first time in over a decade that three provinces would have been governed by the party.
Now 18 months later, the New Democrats have dropped to third in the polls federally, hold no leads in any province, and were defeated in the provincial elections held in British Columbia and Nova Scotia this year. In fact, only in Prince Edward Island would a linear trendline of the NDP's federal and provincial polling throughout the year be heading in a positive direction.
(For more analysis and numbers, check out our political polls page.)
The federal party's support dropped primarily due to the surge for the Liberals that occurred when Justin Trudeau became the party's new leader. Since then, the NDP has averaged between 23 and 25 per cent support, after polling as high as an average of 29 per cent in January. Compared to where the party has traditionally stood, these numbers under Thomas Mulcair are still among the best the New Democrats have ever managed. But they are a disappointment when set against the promise of Jack Layton's breakthrough and the national lead that Mr. Mulcair put together shortly after he became party leader.
Where New Democrats are doing well
Though 2013 has mostly been a lacklustre year for New Democrats at both the provincial and federal levels, there are a few cases of the party heading in the right direction.
Provincial New Democrats have not had much success in the past in New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island. The party has never elected more than a single MLA in any New Brunswick election, and only one MLA has ever been elected in PEI. But the polls now put the party in a close race for second with the governing Tories in New Brunswick and put them comfortably ahead of the PCs in PEI. Mike Redmond, who was named leader of the PEI NDP in 2012, is now seen as the best person to be premier by between one-quarter and one-third of Prince Edward Islanders.
The NDP has a few other strong leaders who are making an impact. Top of the list is certainly Mr. Mulcair, whose approval ratings have been increasing steadily in the last few months on the back of his performance in Question Period. Andrea Horwath, leader of the NDP in Ontario, also polls head-and-shoulders above Premier Kathleen Wynne and PC leader Tim Hudak. She pulls her party's numbers up by a significant degree.
Where the results are more mixed
But her party's results in Ontario have been mixed. The New Democrats had moved into a second place behind the Tories when Liberal numbers tanked at around the time Dalton McGuinty announced he would resign as leader. But the NDP has since dropped back into third place. The federal party has similarly slumped in the province.
In British Columbia, Alberta, and Quebec the federal New Democrats have struggled as well. In B.C., the NDP has gone from a neck-and-neck battle with the Conservatives to often being at the bottom of the pile in the three-way race that now includes the Liberals. The NDP has dropped a little in Alberta – and their provincial counterpart has made little headway there since the 2012 election – and in Quebec, the New Democrats usually find themselves closer to the Bloc Québécois than the Liberals in most polls. Though still polling at around 25 per cent in the province, well above their historical level of support, that is a far cry from the 43 per cent that was put up in 2011 and just after Mr. Mulcair took over the leadership.
In Newfoundland and Labrador, meanwhile, the party's numbers have tanked in the wake of a leadership crisis that resulted in two MHA's leaving the NDP's small caucus to sit as independents. Coinciding with the provincial Liberals naming their new leader, the party has gone from vying for the lead to under 20 per cent support. But context is important – this is a province that has little history of electoral success for the NDP, and even this would be their second-best result ever.
And where things have gone bad
The federal New Democrats have been suffering in two regions of the country in particular: the Prairies and Atlantic Canada. In both regions, the NDP has dropped to pre-2011 levels of support, the only places in Canada where this has occurred. Darrell Dexter's government was reduced to third-party status in Nova Scotia's legislature in October's election, and the disastrous campaign in British Columbia has put an end to Adrian Dix's once-promising leadership of the party there. The only remaining NDP government in Canada, Greg Selinger's in Manitoba, is now on the ropes. They trail the opposition Tories by 14 points, and Mr. Selinger is polling as one of the least popular premiers in the country.
It is a worrying sign for the New Democrats that in the three provinces either governed or about to be governed by the party when 2013 dawned, voters have looked elsewhere (to the Liberals in Nova Scotia and B.C. and the PCs in Manitoba).
But Thomas Mulcair has some very big shoes to fill. If an election were held today, Mr. Mulcair would likely manage the second-best performance of the party in its history. Yet, after the dizzying high of the 2011 election and the dreams of Canada's first NDP government after Mr. Mulcair led the party into first place in 2012, this past year has to be considered a disappointment. However, with elections likely this coming year in two of the provinces in which the party is looking good – Ontario and New Brunswick – 2014 may prove to be the year that things get back on track.