Bruce Anderson's latest polling analysis, culled from the most recent Harris-Decima survey, may go a long way to explaining the ongoing state of paralysis in the horse race between Conservatives and Liberals.
Anderson writes about future voting intentions as they are revealed in the poll -- as opposed to the usual survey question about "if an election was held today..." When you look at those numbers, you see that most Canadians don't think of themselves as died-in-the-wool party members. Only a small proportion of voters would never consider casting a ballot for Conservatives or Liberals. As Anderson writes:
One of the things that's remarkable about these patterns is how much they contrast with the polarization south of the border. We tend to blend our values, and around the middle of the spectrum more than the edges. Almost half of Canadians say they lean right on economic matters but left on social questions: a massive, rich political fishing ground. A social liberal is not always a big-L Liberal, a fiscal conservative not always a big-C Conservative.
All those armchair political strategists out there might want to take note. It's become common for Liberal commentators to complain that Michael Ignatieff isn't doing enough to be clearly different from Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Similarly, there are complaints in Conservative quarters that Harper is being too Liberal, abandoning his hard-right-Conservative principles to pander to voters. (Notable exceptions: census, abortion, etc.)
But as Anderson notes, Conservatives and Liberals should be keeping their eyes on a big, mercurial mass of voters, who could change their vote at any time. Conservatives have to sound a bit like Liberals to keep their attention; Liberals must demonstrate a little conservatism to the same end.
So while it's encouraging that Canadians aren't into polarizing politics, by and large, this also explains the frustration that big-C conservatives and big-L Liberals are feeling about the lack of clear distinctions between Harper and Ignatieff. As long as that big voting mass remains hard to pin down, so it will go with the Conservatives and Liberals. Why risk taking a stand that could repel valuable (if fickle) voters?