Mitch Heimpel: Can Singh add enough Marisas to make up for losing some Deans?
The Liberal-NDP deal is going to be received very differently by different slices of the NDP's electoral coalition — and some might bolt.
By: Mitch Heimpel
The first real numbers on the Liberal-NDP deal came out thanks to Ipsos Reid, and they painted an interesting portrait of the electorate. The deal is broadly popular with the people you expect it to be popular with. It’s broadly unpopular with people you expect it to be unpopular with. Still, there are some currents here that are worth watching.
While New Democrats and Liberals are equally likely to support and oppose the agreement (opposition is ~10 per cent in both parties), 25 per cent of New Democrats express skepticism about whether the deal will be effective, while only 18 per cent of Liberals are doubtful.
These numbers make it easy to understand the NDP's decision to sign a "confidence and supply agreement" with the Liberals.
The question remains, what voters is the NDP getting? What voters are they losing?
I've run riding-level municipal, provincial and federal campaigns, mostly for Conservatives, but you can’t do that without knowing the numbers for all the players. You get to know the voting groups for everyone — you have to, if you ever want to flip them to your side. I've lost whole areas of a riding to the NDP. I've met a few thousand NDP voters at doorsteps. I thought of all those voters and how they would see this agreement. And I read the Ipsos numbers with that experience in mind. And I think the NDP is in danger here.
What follows is, admittedly, a very Ontario-centric sampling, but that's also the province where NDP gains have been promised in 2019 and 2021, only to fail to materialize on Election Day.
So, I thought about two model voters: "Dean" and "Marisa."
We’ll start with "Marisa" because she's the voter New Democrats have been trying to convince in the last two elections. Marisa is 28-to 35-years-old. She lives in downtown Toronto, or Ottawa, or Vancouver. Marisa is in a stable long-term relationship. She's university educated. She likely works in health care, education, or public administration. She has no more than one child. According to Ipsos, women (68 per cent) under the age of 35 (74 per cent) with a university education (74 per cent) who live in Ontario (65 per cent), are basically the target audience for this agreement between the two parties.
Marisa is on Twitter and Instagram, maybe TikTok. She only has Facebook because it's how her parents message her. In her first election — if she voted — Marisa voted for Jack Layton. She has voted for Justin Trudeau ever since.
She almost voted NDP last time. But they just couldn't close the sale. Marisa will never, ever, believe Justin Trudeau is a bad guy. Some things he does might make her roll her eyes, but she thinks he tries hard and is well-intentioned. Just not particularly serious.
She likes NDP policies. That's their main selling point. She thinks they're serious about reconciliation and public transit and climate change. She likes her provincial NDP politicians and voted for them.
If you're the federal NDP, you think the deal with the Liberals helps you with Marisa. As New Democrats have been saying, "If we can do this with 26 MPs, imagine what we could do with more!"
The question Marisa needs the NDP to answer for her is: if I can get NDP policies by voting Liberal, why should I vote for the NDP?
Now, let’s meet "Dean."
Dean is 55-60. He's high-school or trade-school educated — that's how he refers to it, as trade school, not college. He lives in Tecumseh, Timmins or Prince Rupert. He's divorced. He's a union guy, wears his hat everywhere. He works in steel manufacturing, or auto manufacturing, or he's a resource worker. According to Ipsos, high-school or college-educated (48-58 per cent) men (47 per cent) in Dean's age range (46-52 per cent), are the most likely to see this as a betrayal by the parties of the voters who voted for them.
Unionization is key to understanding Dean.
The unionization rate in the private sector; according to StatsCan in 2021, the rate was only 15.3 per cent. But, in manufacturing, it's 22.9 per cent (25.8 per cent for men) and in the resource sector it's 18.4 per cent (20.6 per cent for men). Since 2017, the unionization rate in both manufacturing and resources has continued to decline (in manufacturing by 2.4 per cent, in resources by almost six per cent). Those losses have almost entirely been absorbed by men.
Dean has seen a lot of friends and coworkers lose their jobs. The whole reason Dean votes NDP is because of their history with unions and protecting jobs. Dean liked that the union stepped up in the face of vaccine mandates to help some of his coworkers keep their jobs. A lot of Dean's friends and coworkers voted PPC in the last election (The PPC got 13 per cent in Timmins, 10.4 per cent in Windsor-Tecumseh).
Some people might think Dean is already a Conservative voter. In some parts of the country, he is. Think of cities like Brantford or Regina or Oshawa. Those "Deans" lost their jobs decades ago. The other reason people tend to think of Dean as a Conservative is because he is proudly not a Liberal. He's not a climate-change voter. Justin Trudeau has no appeal to him as a politician.
Dean doesn't like the Liberals and doesn't trust the Tories. He mostly doesn't trust the Tories on health care. He likes that Canada tries to take care of folks. He's okay with the dental care part of the deal the NDP struck with the Liberals, but the words "just transition" make him think that this deal is going to cost him his job.
If you're Dean, and voting NDP now gets you an extended term of Liberal government, what's the point in voting NDP?
It's important to remember that most parties have half a dozen to a dozen core and target voters. "Marisa" and "Dean" are just two voters at what are now the outer reaches of the NDP coalition. They stuck out because "Dean" has been leaving the NDP for a while. But the places where "Dean" still votes NDP, the NDP wins seats. "Marisa" is a voter the NDP has been targeting for a decade, with limited success, and this deal appears to have made her happier with the Liberals. The question for the NDP is, what if Dean checks out, before Marisa shows up for the party?
We'll get our first test on June 2nd in Ontario when we see how the legions of "Deans" and "Marisas" vote. I’ll be watching. And I know the NDP will be, too.
Mitch Heimpel has served Conservative cabinet ministers and party leaders at the provincial and federal levels, and is currently the director of campaigns and government relations at Enterprise Canada.
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