OTTAWA — Tom Mulcair’s New Democrats started the 11-week federal election campaign with the wind in their sails. The NDP was leading in opinion polls, having wrested the mantle of change from Justin Trudeau’s Liberals, who had slipped into third place.
But with only one week left in the marathon campaign, the roles have reversed. Polls suggest the Liberals are now the main challenger to the ruling Conservatives while the NDP has steadily fallen further and further behind. The party is in danger of being squeezed out altogether if voters who want change stampede to the Liberals.
Here are five key things New Democrat strategists believe the party must do to turn things around and win on Oct. 19.
1. Persuade voters who want change that the NDP is still the party best positioned to defeat Stephen Harper’s Conservatives. And that means convincing voters — and reporters, whose campaign coverage is filtered through the lens of opinion polls — to ignore the national horse race numbers.
New Democrats argue that national polls say little about the dynamic in individual ridings, underestimate the value of incumbency and don’t take into account that the NDP vote is more efficient than either of the other main federal parties. That is, the NDP can win more seats with fewer votes overall because its support is concentrated in regional pockets.
2. Make the case that the number of seats each party held going into the election is more important than the party’s current position in horse race polls.
New Democrats spin the message this way: based on the number of seats won in 2011, the NDP needs to win only 35 more seats this time to defeat the Conservatives, while the Liberals need to win 100 more seats. Ergo, the NDP has an easier path to victory than the Liberals. That message will be repeated over and over on doorsteps and in telephone canvassing and radio ads.
3. Demonstrate a sense of energy and momentum and motivate the ground troops with big, enthusiastic rallies.
4. Shift Mulcair from attack mode to inspirational mode, closing the campaign on an upbeat note intended to motivate supporters to actually get out and vote. Expect to messages along the lines of: “Together we can beat Stephen Harper and build the Canada of our dreams.”
5. While the air war — the leader’s tour and paid advertising — remains important, the real battle will shift in the final week to “hand-to-hand combat” in the ridings. The NDP has always prided itself on having an enthusiastic volunteer base and an efficient get-out-the-vote machine but it is pumping more money and effort than ever before into identifying its supporters and ensuring they actually cast ballots.
The Canadian Press