Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Votes vs. Seats

I thought it would be interesting to take a look at where votes come from for each of the parties and how that compares to the proportion of seats won and the proportion of Canada's population. Are parties using too much energy in provinces that give them few seats? Are certain regions under or over represented for each party?

First, let's look at the percentage of Canada's population each region of the country has:

Ontario - 38.9%
Quebec - 23.4%
British Columbia - 13.4%
Alberta - 10.6%
Atlantic Canada - 7.1%
Prairies - 6.7%

Remember these numbers. Let's look at the Conservative Party first. Here is the percentage of the party's votes each region of the country provided:

Ontario - 38.8%
Alberta - 15.8%
British Columbia - 15.3%
Quebec - 15.1%
Prairies - 8.7%
Atlantic Canada - 6.1%

So, Conservative support in Ontario is proportional to the province's population. Alberta, British Columbia, and the Prairies over-perform for the Tories, while Quebec and Atlantic Canada support the party in numbers below their proportion of Canada's population. To sum up, the Conservatives are a Western party and are under-represented in the eastern part of the country.

As to the percentage of seats each region provided, we get:

Ontario - 35.7%
Alberta - 18.9%
Prairies - 15.4%
British Columbia - 15.4%
Quebec - 7.0%
Atlantic Canada - 7.0%

This shows that Conservative votes are most efficient (in that fewer votes are required to provide a seat) in Alberta, the Prairies, and Atlantic Canada. Ontario under-performs a little, British Columbia is proportionate, and Quebec under-performs a lot. Tory votes there don't translate into a lot of seats. This means efforts in Quebec are probably not worth it.

Now, let's look at where votes come from for the Liberals:

Ontario - 48.0%
Quebec - 23.7%
Atlantic Canada - 12.6%
British Columbia - 9.5%
Prairies - 4.2%
Alberta - 4.0%

So, for the Liberals Ontario and Atlantic Canada over-perform, while British Columbia, the Prairies, and Alberta under-perform. Quebec is about right, proportionately. This means that the Liberals are over-represented by Ontario and Atlantic Canada, and lack true representation in the West. Not much of a surprise. Now, proportion of seats:

Ontario - 49.4%
Atlantic Canada - 22.1%
Quebec - 18.2%
British Columbia - 6.5%
Prairies - 2.6%
Alberta - 0.0%

So, this shows that votes aren't very efficient for the Liberals. This translates into many second-places. Only in Ontario and Atlantic Canada did the party receive a higher proportion of seats than they did votes. Votes in that latter region are especially efficient, but efforts to gain votes in the West seem to be wasted.

Now, the NDP and their votes:

Ontario - 37.3%
British Columbia - 18.6%
Quebec - 17.5%
Atlantic Canada - 11.1%
Prairies - 8.7%
Alberta - 6.4%

For the NDP, British Columbia, Atlantic Canada, and the Prairies over-perform for the party. Ontario is close to its proportion of Canada's population, but Quebec and Alberta under-perform. This means the party's base is in BC, the Maritimes, and the Prairies - which is historically where the party has always been. Now proportion of seats:

Ontario - 45.9%
British Columbia - 24.3%
Prairies - 10.8%
Atlantic Canada - 10.8%
Quebec - 2.7%
Alberta - 2.7%

So, NDP votes are most efficient in Ontario and BC, and don't amount to much in Quebec and Alberta. Thus, efforts in Ontario and BC are well rewarded while they aren't in Quebec and Alberta. Considering the amount of effort that was expended by the party to elect Thomas Mulcair, that it only provided 2.7% of their caucus makes one wonder if it is really worth it. The political value of these sorts of victories, however, cannot be quantified.

Finally, let's look at the Greens (the Bloc, which gets 100% of its votes and seats in Quebec, can be left aside!). Their proportion of votes:

Ontario - 43.7%
British Columbia - 17.9%
Quebec - 13.4%
Alberta - 11.9%
Atlantic Canada - 6.8%
Prairies - 5.9%

So, the Greens over-achieve in Ontario, British Columbia, and Alberta while they under-achieve in Quebec, Atlantic Canada, and the Prairies. However, it should be noted that aside from Quebec the Greens do pretty well throughout the country. Their support is very evenly spread. But their poor result in Quebec is perhaps the most significant challenge. But as we have seen, Quebec is an under-performing in seat wins for every party except the Bloc.


  1. Éric, Could you specify what ratio or formula you are using to calculate the "efficiency"?

    One weakness in my own work to this point (e.g., attempting correlations between spending levels and vote shares) is that there may be a one-election lag between the impact of some variables; such that something that occurred in one election in a riding might affect behaviour there next time, and I haven't set things up to track that as yet (although I intend to).

    This makes me wonder if prescriptions such as "efforts in province X are probably not worth it" might be the same if we thought about things in a broader way (i.e., across multiple elections). If you made the same calculations for the 2006 election, for example, would it have predicted the 2008 results? Or if you made them for 2004, would it have predicted 2006?

    If a party tries to change its patterns, such as the Conservatives tried in Québec or the Liberals are now trying in the west and the NDP in Quebec and down east, would we really expect to see the full effect of their efforts in just one election?

  2. I merely looked at the proportion of votes each region provided to a party's national total. Then, did the same with seats. If a party got 50% of its votes in Region A but only 25% of its seats, it would be under-performing region, since despite all the votes the proportional amount of seats were not also won.

    You are absolutely correct, it would be necessary to look at several elections to see whether things pay off. This analysis is in no way an in-depth look at the situation, just a tiny morsel of the pie.

  3. I'd be curious to see who under/over performs in Quebec if the Bloc is taken out of the calculation


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