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A rifle owner takes a walk through his hunting camp west of Ottawa on Sept. 15, 2010. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)
A rifle owner takes a walk through his hunting camp west of Ottawa on Sept. 15, 2010. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

Conservative math doesn't add up on gun registry Add to ...

The Harper government says it will persist in its efforts to scrap the national long gun registry. There 's little doubt the Conservatives believe they have a winner of an idea on their hands.

I'm trying to find evidence to substantiate the electoral upside, but it's not easy to find. The most often heard analysis of why the Conservatives are running with this idea is to win rural votes.

But the latest Harris-Decima polling conducted for The Canadian Press shows that in rural Canada, the Conservatives enjoy a whopping 16 point lead over the Liberals, and a 25 point lead over the NDP. Across all rural ridings, the Conservatives have 39 per cent support, compared to 23 per cent for the Liberals and 14 per cent for New Democrats.

This begs a couple of questions: How many more rural votes can the Conservatives realistically expect to win? Have they not already proven their bona fides on this issue? Aren't all the rural residents who are deeply upset with the registry already going to vote Conservative in any case?

While it's true that rural voters are more inclined than urban voters to want to scrap the registry, its far from a monolithic or unanimous point of view in that part of the country. Forty-five per cent of rural voters say scrapping the registry is a good idea, while 39 per cent say its a bad idea. More detailed probing reveals that 51 per cent think the registry does some good, while only 39 per cent think it does no good.

Nevertheless, if the Conservatives can truly succeed in making the gun registry a central, polarizing ballot question in these rural ridings, winning 39 per cent to 45 per cent of the votes is a pretty good outcome. It remains to be seen, I think, if it will have that prominence and if the polarizing effect will actually be that potent in moving seats to the Conservative win column. There are, after all, lots of other issues voters will likely contemplate.

If on the other hand that upside fails to materialize, then there is ample reason for Conservatives to be concerned about continuing this high-profile fight among urban and suburban voters, and in particular among women. Among urban and suburban women, the Conservatives were basically dead even with the Liberals at the time of the last election; today, they trail the Liberals by sevent points. By a margin of 65 per cent to 26 per cent, urban and suburban women think keeping the registry makes more sense than scrapping it.

The Conservatives may well be pursuing this idea simply because they think it is the best public policy, and if so, good on them for fighting for what they believe. But if they are operating on the belief that the electoral upsides are greater than the risks, it certainly isn't evident from the data I've been looking at.

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