After devoting much of last summer to a bus tour, and part of last fall to holding town-hall style meetings, Michael Ignatieff is hitting the road again to start 2011. But this time there’s a strategic difference: in an 11-day blitz of 20 ridings, the Liberal leader plans to visit only seats his party failed to win in the 2008 election. If that suggests he’s taking the fight directly to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, though, Liberal strategists are stressing a different adversary. Ignatieff’s mini-tour concentrates on ridings where they’re aiming to capture votes, not from the Tories, but mainly from the NDP.
Nine ridings on the tour are held now by Conservative MPs who could lose to Liberals if the NDP vote falls and moves to them, even if the Tory vote holds up. Another two are Bloc seats where an NDP stumble could easily elect a Liberal. And there’s some evidence for the Liberal view that they have a better chance of taking NDP votes in these battlegrounds than the other way around. Alice Funke of the website Pundits’ Guide points to survey data from the 2008 campaign, which shows that NDP supporters who said the Liberals were their second choice were more likely to make that switch by election day than Liberals who named the NDP as their second choice.
But Conservative backers are widely considered least likely of all to waver. Frank Graves, president of the polling firm Ekos, says Harper’s unshakable core support now stands at about 30 per cent, a few points below his party’s steady support range in the polls through 2010. The rest are theoretically up for grabs. “Michael Ignatieff’s challenge,” says Graves, “is somehow uniting those voters in their common distaste—and that’s too weak a word—for Mr. Harper.”