NB Liberal leadership race? Never heard of it.

Over the past several months, I’ve taken a break from blogging.   Honestly, between work and family commitments, I’ve been too busy to devote much “brain-width” to this hobby.  I’ve been planning to restart my blogging when things became less hectic.  I can never tell from week to week if this will become a regular thing for me, but it’s something I do enjoy and who knows, you might see more from me.  Something very interesting over the past week prompted me to write though, so I wanted to share some thoughts on the NB Liberal leadership race.

nbla-convention-carousel-EOver the past year, the New Brunswick Liberal party has been rebuilding itself after the decisive defeat in September
2010.  As you may know, there is a leadership race well underway with three candidates – Nick DuivenvoordenBrian Gallant and Mike Murphy.  The convention where the leader will be chosen is quickly approaching, scheduled for October 27 in Moncton.  The group of people managing the leadership campaign on behalf of the Liberal Party have done a fabulous job engaging the party grassroots in the race.  Recently, it was revealed that over 19,000 New Brunswickers have registered to vote for the new leader.

As the date of the convention approaches, the race is heating up.  On October 2, the Mike Murphy campaign released a poll of average New Brunswickers on the Liberal leadership race.  It was later revealed that the poll was designed and funded by the Murphy campaign, and Corporate Research Associates, a local polling firm, was engaged to conduct the survey.  It’s almost a week later but pundits and analysts are still talking about it.

On the surface, the poll had some encouraging news for the Murphy campaign.  It asked if the respondents could name any of the candidates for the leadership, which candidate would the respondents support the most, and which candidate would be in the best decision to defeat Alward in the next election.  In every case, Mike Murphy led Brian Gallant and his rivals, often by a significant margin.

The Murphy campaign engaged in a bit of spin to remove those who were undecided (answered “don’t know/no opinion”) to make the margins for Murphy look larger.  For example, with the undecided removed 56% of decided respondents think Murphy is better positioned than Brian and Nick to defeat the Alward government in the next election.  Not surprisingly, the poll shows that newcomer Gallant has less name recognition than Mike Murphy with New Brunswickers, which may move some votes.  But, while this poll isn’t great news for Gallant, it’s not all that bad either because it’s hardly a ringing endorsement of anybody at all.

What was revealing for me is that out of the 604 people surveyed, 78% of them couldn’t name a single candidate for the leadership.  At this point in the campaign, if a person can’t name at least one candidate, it’s probably safe to say that they are completely unaware of the race.  Another 2% named people who weren’t running at all (1% named Dominic Leblanc, I’m still wondering who the other 1% named… Victor Boudreau?  Shawn Graham?  Frank McKenna?).  Only 20% of the people polled could name any of the three candidates for the Liberal leadership.

When asked who the respondent would support for the Liberal Leadership, the vast majority (42%) said “don’t know”.  When asked who is in the best position to beat David Alward, the majority (47%) also said “don’t know”.  This makes sense to me because if you call someone to ask about the Liberal leadership race and 78% have never heard of it, “don’t know” is what you’d expect them to say to the second and third question.  Or, if you heard a name you recognized in the second question, you’d probably pick that one to avoid sounding embarrassingly unaware of current events.

I can almost hear how the typical polling call went:

CRA: “Hi, this is Wendy from CRA conducting a poll on New Brunswick politics.  Do you have time to answer 3 questions?”

Respondent: “Hi,… ummm.  Okay, I guess.”

CRA: “Can you name any of the declared candidates for leader of the Liberal Party?”

Respondent: “The what now?”

CRA: “Leadership race for the Liberal Party? Can you name any of the declared candidates for leadership?”

Respondent: “Ahhh… listen Wendy, I don’t get the paper.  No idea.”

CRA: “That’s okay.  Which of the following three candidates would you personally support the most – Mike Murphy, Brian Gallant, or Nick Duivenvoorden?”

Respondent: Didn’t she just hear that I have no idea who is running? “Um, Wendy… I have no opinion.”

CRA: “Sure, that’s fine.  One last question – of these three candidates, which one, in your opinion, would be in the best position to defeat the Conservative Government in the next election?”

Respondent: Wow, how many times do I have to say I don’t know? “Gotta go, take care Wendy.”

Personally, I’m supporting Brian Gallant on October 27, but Mike is a good second choice for me.  Either of these talented guys would make a fine choice for the NB Liberal leader, and have unique talents and strengths.  Seriously, pick one that best aligns with your views and the Liberal Party will be fine (um, sorry Nick.  You’re a great guy but I don’t think you’re ready).

If one hung around the most active social media forum on the Liberal leadership – the #nblibleader hashtag on Twitter – you would see some pretty awful exchanges between supporters of the leadership candidates.  Supporters of both leading candidates have been exchanging misinformation, insulting characterizations, and distortions for months.  Keep in mind, these people are on the same team.  I’ve participated in a couple of exchanges when I thought others were unfairly distorting the positions of candidates.  In one case, I was called a coward and a liar for my troubles… wow.  Suffice it to say that I avoided these strident observers after that.  Then, there are those ugly leaked emails from the Murphy campaign – good grief.  Meanwhile, 78% of the province has never heard of any of this drama.

There’s 19 days of this race left, and then over 19,000 Liberals will choose their next leader.  Afterwards, Liberals have a lot of work left to do to heal the rifts, rebuild the party and get back in touch with the rest of the province.  As successful as the campaign has been at reengaging a demoralized party, it has not captured the imagination of the electorate.  Even though Liberals should be rightfully elated in the level of engagement in this leadership race, remember when this is all over everyone will need to come back together on the same side and get to work.

Passion and engagement are great, but don’t say anything you can’t take back folks.  If the Liberals have a prayer of replacing the Alward government in the next election, they are going to need to work together to convince the 80% of the province who are thankfully unaware of any of this muck.  There’s a lot to be proud of happening in this race, and there’s a big job ahead.  Make sure that everyone is still on the team three weeks from now.

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