Sunday, September 03, 2006

Recent Canadian Poll . . .

To quote an old Southern expression which appears to be quite appropriate in this situation:
"You lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas."

September 3, 2006

Bush ties leave Harper in bind
Poll suggests PM's relationship with U.S. prez hurts popularity


OTTAWA -- A fascinating national opinion survey suggests Stephen Harper and his Conservative government would do well to heed an old political saw about Canada-U.S. relations: Canadians like to see their prime ministers in the White House rose garden, but not in the presidential bedroom.

After seven months of an aggressive Washington courtship, the prime minister has apparently left a significant number of Canadian voters with the impression he is 'twixt the sheets with George W. Bush, and far too close for comfort.

In fact, the poll suggests Harper's perceived love-in with the increasingly unpopular U.S. president is the foremost single cause of what ails the minority Conservative government.

The survey of 1,003 voters was conducted in late August by the premier polling firm SES Research, exclusively for the Sun.

While Harper and his strategists have run the government with the single-minded goal of building towards a majority in the next election, the SES-Sun poll shows the Conservatives' popularity has slipped back to where they started on voting day seven months ago.

The big question, of course, is why? The SES-Sun poll probed voters' likes and dislikes about the Harper government, and what is it that is making fully 45% of voters "uncomfortable" with the mere concept of the Conservatives ruling with a majority in parliament.

While voters said what most impresses them is Harper "keeps his promises" and "gets the job done," what exactly the Conservatives are getting done is the main source of negative reaction.

Topping the list of things voters dislike most about the Harper government is "too close to the U.S.," and the Conservatives' military policies -- presumably Canada's role in the Afghanistan war.

Among those who said they would be uncomfortable with Harper assuming the powers of a majority government, "his policies" were the single largest cause of queasiness.

Put all the data together, and the SES-Sun polls paint a political landscape pocked with major challenges for the Harper government between now and the next election.

First, the war in Afghanistan and, to a lesser degree, Harper's pro-Israel stance on the conflict in Lebanon, are taking a definitive toll on Conservative popularity, particularly in Quebec where the party has tanked since the spring.

Second, the Conservative communications strategy of making the government "all Harper, all the time" has also turned him into the lightning rod for voter discontent.

Asked what they don't like about the Harper government, voters didn't point to Conservative policies, but "his policies."

SES pollster Nik Nanos says the results suggest those who don't like the Harper government are far more passionate than those who do.

"Those who support the Conservatives are saying Harper is doing a good job, he's getting things done so let's give him a chance ... Compared to the previous prime minister (Paul Martin), Harper is seen as the anti-Dithers."

On the flipside, Nanos notes, those who don't like the Harper and/or the Conservatives, REALLY don't like them. "They don't trust them."

The polls point rather clearly to the road ahead for Harper.

For starters, he will be in a lot fewer photo-ops with Bush, and in lot more waving the flag in the far North where our sovereignty is somehow threatened by the Yanks (who, for the record, say they aren't the least bit interested).

But more than anything, Nanos says, the Harper government desperately needs to "change the channel to domestic issues that do not involve the U.S." That means moving public attention away from issues such as softwood lumber, border security, the environment and Kyoto accord, and away from conflicts in the Mideast and Afghanistan.

None of which will be easy: The lumber deal has yet to be finalized; new passport rules for entering the U.S. start to kick in next year; the Conservatives are presenting their alternative to Kyoto this fall; and Afghanistan will continue to be a killing field for Canadian troops.

At the same time, the Conservatives' much-touted "five priorities" barely registered with voters' likes and dislikes in the SES-Sun polls. Nanos says if the Conservatives are smart, they'll latch on to their promised health-care guarantee, an issue that is certainly Canadian and equally un-American.

One way or another, Harper needs to wake up and smell the rose garden.

No comments: