Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Regional Trends: British Columbia

After Ontario and Quebec, British Columbia is the most important battleground in the country. The province has 36 seats, almost 12% of all seats in the House of Commons. For the last three elections, it has been dominated by the Conservative Party.

In 2004, the Tories took 22 seats here with 36.3% of the vote. That dropped to 17 seats in 2006 despite a tiny increase in votes (37.3%), but then roared back to 22 seats with 44.4% of the vote in 2008. The remaining 14-19 seats are fought over by the Liberals and the New Democrats. In 2004, the Liberals took eight to the NDP five (and one independent), but since 2006 the New Democrats have established themselves as the second party in the province, winning 10 seats in 2006 and nine in 2008. The Liberals took nine in 2006 and five in 2008.

The Liberals maintained their votes in 2004 and 2006 (28.6% and 27.6%), but dropped significantly in 2008 down to 19.2%. The New Democrats have a solid base, and moved from 26.6% to 28.6% between 2004 and 2006, and have since dropped slightly to 26.1% in 2008. The Greens toiled in fourth with 6.3% and 5.3% in 2004 and 2006, but had a bit of a breakthrough in 2008, increasing their vote total to 9.4%.

The province can be split up into four regions: the BC Interior (generally the northern and eastern parts of the province), Fraser Valley and the Southern Lower Mainland (east of Vancouver and running along the American border), Vancouver and the Sunshine Coast (Vancouver and the Pacific coast), and Vancouver Island.

The northern and eastern parts of the province (the Interior and Fraser Valley) are dominated by the Conservatives. In 2008, the party took 16 of the 19 seats in these two regions. The New Democrats took two and the Liberals one. This has been a constant since the formation of the Conservative Party, as they took 16 in 2004 and 14 in 2006. Neither the Liberals nor the New Democrats have managed to break into this region, as in 2004 the two parties took one each and in 2006 the Liberals took two and the New Democrats three.

Things are far more competitive in Vancouver and along the Pacific coast. In 2008, the Conservatives and Liberals each took three seats, with five going to the NDP. In 2006, the Tories only took one seat, while the Liberals took six and the NDP four. In 2004, it was again evenly divided, with the Tories and NDP taking three seats and the Liberals taking five. Overall, the region has a slight lean towards the Liberals, who have won 14 seats over the last three elections, compared to 12 for the New Democrats and seven for the Conservatives.

Vancouver Island is even more of a toss-up, but is slightly more favourable to the Tories. They took three seats in 2008 while the NDP took two and the Liberals one. Over the last three elections, the Tories have taken eight seats, the New Democrats six, and the Liberals only four.

Now that the electoral history is out of the way, we can look at the voting trends since December.

The Tories started out the year strongly in British Columbia, holding a clear lead from December to the end of March. Support went as high as 56% (in December) and 50% at the beginning of March. There was a slip in Tory support around the New Year, as the party polled in the high 30s. But neither the Liberals nor the New Democrats were able to separate themselves from the pack, as the Conservative drop coincided with a Liberal and NDP increase to the 20s.

Things changed at the beginning of April, when the Tories and Liberals were tied at 35%-34%. The Tories then dropped even further to third place at 26% (tied with the Liberals). The Greens saw their high-watermark in this poll, at 16%. Since then the Tories have moved themselves back into first place, but their lead is not as clear. While they polled 42% in a late April Ipsos-Reid poll, the party also polled 31% in the massive EKOS poll late last month. The beneficiaries of this Tory instability have been the Liberals, who have moved themselves comfortably into the high-20s, low-30s. This doesn't put them in a position to take the lead, but does put them within striking distance of the Tories when they have a bad poll.

The New Democrats have been stagnant in the high-teens and low-20s, which translates into a big seat loss for them. A downward trend has appeared for them here since the beginning of May, as the NDP has moved from 25% to 15% in a steady decline.

Interestingly, looking at the polling chart you can see that often when the Conservative number is low it is the Greens or the NDP who benefit, not the Liberals. This could just be a coincidence, and a result of, say, Liberals moving to the NDP and Tories moving to the Liberals, but it is a counter-intuitive trend.

As a general conclusion for each of the parties based on the chart, it is clear that the Conservatives have lost a little momentum. They've regained some of it recently, but overall their trend seems to be downward. The Liberal trend is very steady, but is slightly trending upwards. The New Democrats have been steady as well, and appeared to be trending strongly upwards between February and April, but have since started to go downhill. The Greens have maintained themselves between 15% and 5%, which puts them in a good position to repeat 2008's result.

I'm currently projecting the Tories to keep their 22 seats, but the Liberals could reach 12 seats, the highest they've been since the formation of the Conservative Party. I project a disastrous result for the New Democrats with only two seats. Things won't improve for them unless they can get themselves over the 26% mark.


  1. Éric, your understanding of the province is quite limited if you're only looking at recent elections; you would have been more accurate to say that the NDP has "re-"established itself as the second party here. And it's not at all counterintuitive to see Conservative-NDP switching in BC, or indeed in many places in western Canada, as it's a populist vote. Meantime, as many Liberals will tell you, they usually do better in between-election polls than they do on election day itself in BC, because they don't have a very strong federal party infrastructure outside of Vancouver and Victoria. The NDP has a number of seats it can still pick up from the Conservatives in the Interior and on the Island, as a review of the recent provincial results would confirm.

  2. I only went back to the 2004 election because before then the Conservative Party did not exist. That election was a watershed for other reasons, since it was the re-emergence of the NDP, which languished after Ed Broadbent left. Comparing the current political situation to elections prior to 2004 is unwise, as the NDP was a different creature and the PC/CA totals don't translate into CPC votes.

  3. Using recent opinion polls of BC voters to project how it's 36 seats will play out is fine IF each poll includes data on sample size, AND the number of participants from each region.
    How polling firms determine regional subgroups is up to them but without knowing if people in one area were more responsive to being interviewed than those contacted elsewhere information is applied to the wrong area..

  4. True, but with so many pollsters the margin of error is reduced significantly.


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