Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Poll Position: Greens

It is very difficult to properly gauge the levels of support for the Green Party. For all intents and purposes, they are a marginal party with marginal support. While they often have as much national support as the Bloc Quebecois, their voters are diffused from one coast to the other, making it very difficult to elect any MPs. Having a national support of 7% in a country of 32 million is impressive, but less so when you consider that 7% is more or less what the party receives in all 308 ridings.

The Greens present a problem for pollsters. There are so few Green voters that the margin of error can represent half of their total result nationally, and can sometimes be larger than their support levels regionally. For example, most polls interview anywhere from 70 to 100 people in Atlantic Canada. If the pollsters manage to find five Green voters, that can mean a 5% result. If the next time around they're luckier and find ten, that means 10%. Has the party's support doubled, or is that just the result of chance? You can see the problems inherent in polling for a small party.

Nevertheless, with so many polls we can get a picture of Green support. At the national level, the party improved greatly in 2008, jumping from 4.5% to 6.8%. Since then, the party has been polling between 5% and 10% (I'm discounting the crazy Strategic Counsel poll that placed the Greens at 26% support in Quebec), well within the margins of error. The best string of polls for the Greens came in February and early March, when three out of four polls had the party at 10%. Lately, the party has been slightly better than their 2008 performance.

In British Columbia, where the party has a relatively successful provincial version of itself, the Greens did well in 2008 with a 9.4% result. The polling results since the election have swung from 6% to 13%. The most heavily weighted poll (March 11, by Angus-Reid) had the party at 11%, which would be a good improvement for them, but still not good enough for a seat.

The party also did well in Alberta in 2008 with 8.8% support, only a few points behind the Liberals and the NDP. Polling since the election has placed them between 4% and 11%, with recent polls being on the higher side. The polls have put the Greens and NDP neck and neck at times, so a moral victory for the Greens could come by placing third during the next election. A seat win here is out of the question.

The Prairies were not great to the Greens, as they had a 6.3% result in 2008. Polls since then has been as low as 0.7% and as high as 14%, a very wide margin. Eight out of 11 polls have put the Greens lower than their 6.3% result, which should be a concern for them. The last two polls had the party at 2% and 0.7%, which puts them completely out of the running for even being competitive.

Ontario is one of the better regions for the party. In 2008, they had 8% support. The polls here have been relatively consistent, ranging from between 5% and 13%, but most of the polls place the party between 8% and 10%. There is a possibility that the party will inch upwards from their 2008 support level and get into double figures. The Greens haven't had a poll that would have given them an Ontario seat in my projection, but once they get over the 10% range it starts to become a possibility.

Quebec, by contrast, has been one of the worst regions for the Greens since 2004, and was the worst region in 2008, with only 3.5% support. This was actually a drop from 2006 when they had 4% support. Polls for them have swung widely, from 12.2% to 1%, but most of the polls have placed the party at between 3% and 6%, which is within the margin of error from their 2008 result. The Greens would need a huge jump to start being in the running for a seat. They would have to supplant the NDP and the Conservatives to get there.

Because of Elizabeth May's determination to win in Nova Scotia, the Greens need to make the Atlantic region one of their best. With 5.8% in 2008, that wasn't the case, though May did come close to winning. The polls here have been between 0% and 12%, but there is a slight trend. From December to February the party did horrible in polls here, with a majority placing them below 3% (and two of them at 1% or lower!). Since March, the party has been polling much better. Out of six polls, four of them have had the party at 8% or higher (though there still was a 1% result). The last EKOS poll was enough that it would have given Ms. May her seat in my projection. So there is hope for the party here.

The Greens are rarely in the headlines and so it is difficult for them to attract anything but a protest vote. May did well in the last campaign, getting herself into the debates, but I don't think she showed herself to be any more worthy of votes than the other party leaders. The Greens need to be more than a niche party, because the environment is not a large enough issue to win them more than a fluke seat. It doesn't help that the NDP, the Bloc, and at times the Liberals make the environment a top issue. The Greens have started to develop a real platform that is more than the environment, but few people recognise this. I'm a close follower of politics, and I have difficulty describing what the party stands for aside from its position on the environment. It is difficult to put the party anywhere on the political spectrum, because it can be more conservative fiscally than you'd think while being liberal socially and environmentally.

The Greens can't become THE centrist party, and being A centrist party will not help them either. Centrist voters are the luckiest, as they have two options they can lead towards that could form government. People left-of-centre have to choose between a Liberal government or the opposition. The Greens need to define themselves clearly and strongly in the public eye, and if they want to get elected they have to drop a pan-Canadian strategy and regionalise themselves. A party with 7% support can't run a national campaign. The Bloc has shown that a 10% party can do extraordinarily well if it is regionalised. Of course, the Greens can't go as far as the Bloc in that department, but May is electable in Nova Scotia. The Greens could re-align themselves to focus on Atlantic Canada - not to the extent of ignoring the rest of the country, but basing their platform on the side that would be most attractive to Atlantic Canadians. They'll still find 4%-6% support throughout the country if they are strong on the environment, but they could get 10% or more in Atlantic Canada if they strove to speak for them in particular.

In any case, the Greens face the greatest challenges as a federal party. To become electable, they need to shed some of their grass-root, protest-vote reputation. But by doing so, they stand to shed some of their grass-root, protest-vote support. Not an easy place to be.


  1. I think the Greens best shot at a seat would be to focus on a particular region, as you suggest, but I don't think Atlantic Canada is the best, I think Southern Ontario is the way to go for the Greens.

    Guelph is I think the Greens best shot. It's a polarized riding, where every party has a solid base of support, so you don't need to dominate the riding to win (the Liberal who did win only got 32%), compared to Central Nova, which was a solid 2 way fight and May would probably need to get at least 40% to win. The Greens have a solid base of support, getting around 20% both provincially and federally. If the Greens could take 3% support from the Libs, NDP, and Tories each, they could win the riding.

  2. While I agree Atlantic Canada isn't the best place for the Green Party, Elizabeth May is the candidate they want to elect, not the guy in Guelph. And southern Ontario isn't "regional" enough to focus on. Atlantic Canada is definable and has political tendencies that are different from other parts of the country. Their issues aren't necessarily out of step with the Green Party, unlike southern Ontario. One of the most important issues in southern Ontario is the auto industry, something that is anathema to environmentalists.

    A Green message that can be sold to Atlantic Canadians is probably much easier than one that can be crafted for southern Ontarians.

  3. Hi Eric,
    at your' invitation, I will comment on this post. As an organizer, and campaigner, I take a very different view of politics. It happens at the Riding, and even more localized level. Popular support in the polls is the background to the real action. As such, I simply don't see any breakthroughs happening in Atlantic Canada, because the organizations don't exist on the ground. Ontario, BC, and sometime in the next decade or so Alberta will become regional strong points. The reason is that the organizational strength goes beyond a couple of people per EDA, so the local organization will survive normal attrition. Every election leads to improved databases, larger supporters and donors lists, and growing support networks. A top down analysis of poll results simply does not capture local organizational potential. For example, the enormous success of Bruce Grey Owen Sound is not attributable to anything except the lucky coincidence of a number of good volunteers, coming together with a popular and talented local organizer, who also made a gifted candidate. This can potentially happen anywhere in the country. Green Policy, and election platforms have been pretty robust, and unquestionably sound policy since the 2004 election. With the declining relevance of national media outlets, local communications skills are becoming more and more important.
    The fortunes of the Green Party will depend very much on the talents of the local candidates. There are about 5 or 6 Electoral districts in Ontario where a very strong candidate, a good three or even better 4 way split in the vote, and the basic minimum of a fully funded campaign could produce a seat. The same holds true in BC. Calgary could easily produce a seat, if and when the CPC does its next disappearing act, given how the Conservative supporters periodically get up all at once and head for the exit. Alberta is pretty much a long shot though. To the eternal shame of the GPC, they have never even tried to break into Quebec. When lacklustre, (and frankly lazy) people like Claude Genest are touted as provincial champions, with absolutely no serious effort to organize the local EDA's, no amount of popular support will get out the vote on election day. As far as efforts by the central Party, I think that they should split their efforts between a frankly opportunistic support of those ridings where organizations manifest themselves, and in targeting ridings where the three way split exists. Quebec should be a beautiful place to develop trus regional strength, because the existence of the Bloc provides a hell of a lot of ridings with close three way splits, and even a few with pretty damn close 4 way splits. The conditions exist where a really dedicated and cohesive campaign team, with a strong local municipal politician as candidate could win the seat with 25% of the vote.
    For the same reason, Atlantic Canada is a total write off. Being third, or fourth in a two way race is the GPC's fate in most of the Maritimes for the forseeable future.

  4. Very interesting, thanks for the time you took to reply. I have some experience at the local political level as well, but what I've experienced didn't have the same importance as it does for the Green Party, who absolutely require strong local efforts.

    You're right that the Greens haven't made much of an effort in Quebec. It's no surprise that the Green Party had some of its worst results here. The Greens have extra obstacles to overcome in Quebec, because the Bloc represents another option for environmentalists, whereas in the rest of the country the NDP or maybe the Liberals are the only options. Also, Quebec politics include the National Question, which the Greens aren't really involved with. There's a large portion of voters in Quebec, perhaps 30%, who will never vote for any party other than the Bloc, because sovereignty is their most important issue. The Greens don't have a large budget, and it simply might be the best economical strategy to give a minimal effort in Quebec, because the Green Party would have to spend two or three times as much as it would in a winnable riding elsewhere in the country.

  5. Actually Eric, I think that the National Question presents an evolving opportunity for the Parti Verte du Canada. There are intergenerational nuances, and todays youngsters didn't live through the quiet revolution. It must be tiring for 20 something year old activists to listen to old school rhetoric all the time, when they never really lived through any of the nastiness in the seventies. The Parti Verte doesn't have any associations whatsoever in peoples minds, and so is in the unique position of being able to define themselves. Properly presented, the environmentalists vote could go exclusively to the Greens. Also, the fact that the Bloc exists, and will provide a permanent split allows for strong local talent to pick up sufficient votes to score wins. For example, there are Montreal ridings, and to the North Shore where there is a large, and young allophone population. If a strong local Mayor, or even a councilor with strong local support networks stood as candidate with 10%-15% of vote in hand, then a strong environmental message, with a passing nod to the National Question could tip the balance to a 25% result. Voila, they're in. The Greens need to do this eventually, but it will take a very strong Quebec leader/Deputy leader, plus organizing money. In other words, they have to give a damn.

  6. The problem is, a vote split of this type is probably not possible. The NDP doesn't do well enough to get 20% in any but a few ridings, and the Conservatives only get 20%+ in a few ridings as well. It is rare that you'll find a four-way split in Quebec, and if the Greens were in the mix, it is more likely that one of the parties with a more unstable suport base, specifically the NDP or the Conservatives, would bleed most of its support to the Greens. So, you might end up with the Greens at 20%+, but the NDP and/or the Conservatives will be low 10%, making it easy for the Bloc or the Liberals to win with 30%+.

    In a lot of Quebec ridings, people won't drift from the Bloc or the Liberals that easy. It isn't like other parts of the country, those two parties are the sovereigntist/federalist parties and that issue is far more important than, say, the environment for a lot of Quebecers.

  7. Eric, I grew up in rural Quebec, so I know exactly what you mean about the political conservatism of Quebecois, whatever their roots. However, in many respects Quebec is more volatile than anywhere else in the country, with the possible exception of Alberta. Remember the Union Nationale? The very existence of the Bloc was a tectonic shift. The Pheonix like ADQ, that came and went in a blink? The magical implosion of the federal Liberals? In Quebec, when the elite speaks, the electorate listens. Since politics is the realm of the possible, and there is no question that Quebec's electorate can be as fickle as any, the Parti Verte could, and should be working to effect the next sea-change. You must admit that the Quebec political landscape is pretty tired, or else the ADQ never could have been. Environmentalism is now in the front seat, and coupled with good communications strategy, and local organizing might well constitute the next paradigm shift.
    I'm not saying it will. It is however possible, and no amount of backwards looking data analysis will accurately predict the outcome of the next generational shift in La Belle Province. I like your site. You are providing a valuable service. There are limits to backwards looking predictive models though, because they don't capture sufficient data on where the electorate is going. I treat this stuff as the raw material on which the next steps are built.

  8. You make a good argument. There is some wiggle room, but there is also a large portion of the vote that is locked for the Liberals and the Bloc.

    And by the way, it would be the Parti vert, not verte.

  9. Parti Verte? Did I write that? (repeatedly). Now you know why I wasn't very successful in today's Quebec. Honestly though, since I moved to Ontario in 1984, I've had more occasion to speak Italian, or Spanish than French. I'll go cringe in shame now.
    As you can see, I'll not be the one to inject new energy into the Parti VERT, as the last thing we can afford is to be the party of disgruntled minorities in Quebec.


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