Saturday, March 26, 2011

Conservatives Begin Canadian Election Campaign With Elusive Majority In Sight

I predict a strengthened Conservative government, and probably a majority. There are a number of reasons for that, most having nothing to do with timely specifics, policies, or image. The trends are towards a Conservative majority, and I don’t believe anything has occurred that changes that trend.

Tracking elections since Mulroney’s 1984 triumph (the last time the victor won over 50% of votes) is instructive. Since that victory, the Bloc split (largely taking votes that went to Mulroney’s PC’s), and so has Mulroney’s party, with first the Reform party and then the Alliance and then a return, in the merger/takeover of the PC party. Aside from the 2004 election, was the first following the merger, and many PC’s appeared to avoid voting rather than vote for the Conservative party they considered taken over, this vote has been relatively stable since the 1993 election that saw Kim Campbell’s party reduced to 2 seats . It is stable in terms of the percentage of ‘electors’, which is Elections Canada’s term for eligible voters. In the following graph the votes were added for all of the predecessors of the Conservative party. On the left, while articles started to circulate suggesting it last year, we really have nothing new occurring. Chretien’s enormous 1993 victory saw a very small NDP vote, and while it is most likely when these parties do add a vote, it comes at the expense of the other, the relationship is less clear.

That purple line is the voter turnout percentage, as indicated by the axis on the right. So the trends are for Conservatives to collect about 22% of the eligible voters, and less of the other eligible voters to vote.
There isn’t anything at work to change this trend. While the anti-Harper sentiment is strong, it has been since 2004, when figures show PC voters couldn't accept him a that time. They seem to have gotten over it - and the other 78% of the electorate are, more than anything else, not voting at all.
Elections are, most meaningfully, 308 concurrent, but separate, elections. A few months ago there were some reports that the Conservatives had identified 190 seats to concentrate on for achieving their majority. A few years ago (in 2009), I was commenting at the Globe and Mail something along those lines (and being ridiculed for it). My approach was examining the margin of victory – looking at seats where the margin of victory was under 10%. Recently I read an article with a Liberal bias along the same lines, but claiming seats under a 15% margin of victory should be considered ‘in play.’ I won’t review my data, but the notes I have from that time are that only 28 (of 143) Conservative seats were won by under 10%, 25 (of 77) Liberal seats were, and 14 (of 37). So not only do the Conservatives start with the most seats, they start with the greatest percentage of secure seats.
However, many of the seats that were won by under 10% depended on the split between the Liberal and the NDP votes – and many others the Conservatives really weren’t in the picture regardless. The list I made 2 years ago is:
Edmonton-Strathcona, Burnaby-Douglass, Nanaimo-Cowichan, Elmwood-Transcona, Western Arctic, Esquimalt-Juan de Fuca, Vancouver South, Ajax-Pickering, Brampton-Gore-Malton , Brampton-Springdae , Brampton West, Kingston - and the Islands, Mississauga South, Sault Ste. Marie, Malpeque, Guelph, Eglinton-Lawrence, Welland, and York Centre
The outcome of general elections in Canada has some luck involved – which makes for some strange campaign moves. I’m not in a position to predict the outcome in those ridings, but I do think there is evidence many Conservatives looked at the same things I did, and they’ve been doing the groundwork since early 2009 to prepare for this election in many of these ridings. I don’t believe it is possible to predict BC at the best of times – this time might be no different, although the last poll I saw looked very promising for the conservatives there.

Poll watching is great fun, and most polls have regional breakouts. The data for the last 3 elections (all minority government outcomes) helps interpret the polls as they come out – this data might provide some context for the curious as the election polls come out daily:

I’m watching one set of polls, the EKOS polls, slightly different. These polls usually have a break-down for the major cities in them too. Vancouver, Toronto, and Montreal census metropolitan areas (CMA's, which are much larger than the individual cities) comprise about 40% of their respective province’s populations. The 905 region surrounding Toronto is included in the Toronto CMA, but we know the 905 behaves somewhere between rural Ontario and the heart of the city of Toronto (it was even evident in Rob Ford’s recent victory in Toronto’s mayoral election).

This has set up, entering the election, perfectly for the Conservatives. They have rural Ontario, rural BC, and apparently they are the federalist option in rural Quebec (rural including secondary cities). The election was triggered by a Liberal motion of non-confidence in respect to the contempt finding . I doubt anybody is winning or losing votes on that issue. While people complain about politicians endlessly (ie. have contempt for them), it seems to require bags of money changing hands to incite people to alter their voting habits. Ontarians, in particular, have tended to punish whatever party is seen to have caused an election – although in this case my guess is the minority had a long enough life this won’t be a deciding factor.
I don’t believe there is yet a compelling reason provided for the vote, and failing that I’d expect the trends of declining turnout, and Conservatives maintaining their core turnout better than others, continuing. Campaigns should change things – and I hope we have one that does have some big ideas and a discussion of meaningful issues - but entering the campaign the situation is positive for the Conservatives, and the stage is set for an outcome that will infuriate many people. The road map for majority government doesn’t show the old cities of Toronto, and Montreal.


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