Monday, May 17, 2010

Money and Canadian Votes

Elections are expensive things. Altogether, the five major parties in Canada spent over $58,000,000 on the 2008 election. But just how valuable was that spending? Which party got the most for every dollar spent, and what did they spend it on?

That's the topic for today's post. Below, you'll see a chart comparing the amount of money each party spent in order to receive one vote. While I do intend to look at the Bloc Québécois and the Green Party, their special circumstances make them less useful as a basis for comparison. The three major parties, however, are on the same playing field: they are well-known parties, have long standing organizations, and run in every part of the country.Clearly, from this it is obvious that the Greens have gotten the best bang for the buck. But as they start to spend more money ($498,000 in 2004, $911,000 in 2006, and $2,796,000 in 2008), the amount spent on each voter goes up. However, despite this, they are still the best performing party with only $2.98 spent per vote earned in the 2008 election.

The Bloc, historically, has been the second-best performing party. This should come as no surprise, as they run in one province and so everything they do is magnified and they are in the spotlight more often. They've become less efficient with their use of money, however, going from $2.68 per vote in 2004 to $3.53 per vote in 2008. The lower voter turnout, however, plays a role in this. They have spent the same amount of money in each of the elections: $4,502,000 in 2004, $4,544,000 in 2006, and $4,876,000 in 2008.

But what about the other parties? Aside from their electoral loss in 2004, the Conservatives have made the best use of their money in the 2006 and 2008 election - and this with only marginal increases in spending each year, going from $17.2 million in 2004 to $18.0 million in 2006 and $19.4 million in 2008. Their best result was in the 2006 election, when only $3.35 was spent per vote, compared to $4.30 per vote in 2004 and $3.73 per vote in 2008.

The Liberals have become steadily worse in their use of their own money, rising from $3.33 per vote in 2004 to $4.00 per vote in 2008. And that was with less money spent in 2008: $14.5 million as compared to $17.4 million in 2006 and $16.6 million in 2004.

Finally, the New Democrats have always spent more per vote than the other parties, with $6.66/vote being spent in 2008, compared to $5.22/vote in 2006 and $5.65/vote in 2004. They have also increased the amount of money they have spent, with $12 million in 2004 rising to $13.5 million in 2006 and $16.8 million in 2008. Yes, in the last election, the NDP out-spent the Liberals.

But what does this mean? Out of the three major parties, the Conservatives have gotten the best bang for their buck lately. In the last two elections when they have out-performed the Liberals and the NDP, they have spent less of their money on their leader's tour and party salaries than the other two. In 2006 and 2008, the percentage of total money spent on the leader's tour was 17% and 13%, respectively. The Liberal numbers for those two elections are 19% and 17% respectively, and the NDP's are 27% and 24%, respectively.

This seems to indicate that flying your party leader around the country is not an efficient use of your money, as opposed to, say, advertising. Of the three parties, the NDP spends the least amount on advertising and has the worst results.

In the last two years, the Conservatives have spent about 4-5% of their total on salaries, compared to 10% for the Liberals and NDP. It seems that having a large group of paid employees does not help in getting votes.

When we take the last three elections and average them out, we get $3.79/vote spent for the Conservatives, $3.74/vote for the Liberals, $5.84/vote for the NDP, $3.05/vote for the Bloc, and $1.74/vote for the Greens.

From this, it seems to suggest that for the main, traditional parties, the amount of money spent can dictate the amount of votes earned. The Conservatives and Liberals have averaged about the same $/vote since the Conservatives were re-born in 2003. This means the Tories are at an advantage because they currently have more money.

The NDP has to spent a lot more to get votes, and it doesn't appear that spending more means getting more votes. Spending has out-paced vote growth for the NDP, indicating that the fact the NDP spent like the "big boys" in 2008 had less to do with their electoral success than the performance of the party itself.

Over the last three elections, the NDP has averaged 46% of its expenses spent on advertising. For the Conservatives, that number is 49% and for the Liberals it is 57%. Perhaps the NDP needs to spend more on advertising - their best electoral result, in 2008, was the time they spent the most on advertising.

The Bloc has averaged 54% over that period on advertising and the Greens 38%. That last number is misleading, as they spent 65% of their money on advertising in 2008 but only 15% in 2006. And 2008 was their best electoral result.

When it comes to party salaries, the NDP has spent 10% of their expenses on that, compared to 4% for the Conservatives and 8% for the Liberals. The Bloc has averaged 12% and the Greens 32% (again, misleading, as they spent 48% of their money on salaries in 2006 but only 4% in 2008).

It is difficult to come to some solid conclusions from these numbers. The Bloc and the Greens are better at using their money, but that may be caused more by their special circumstances. The Liberals have gotten worse, but on the whole are not too different from the Tories. The NDP spends way too much per voter.

In 2008, when of the three major parties the Tories performed best in $/vote, they spent the most on advertising (55%) and the least on the leader's tour (13%) and salaries (4%). The NDP performed worst, and spent the least on advertising (50%), the most on the tour (24%), and the most on salaries (10%).

In 2006, when the Tories again out-performed the other two parties, they spent the least on the leader's tour (17%) and salaries (5%), but were middle-of-the-pack on advertising (51%). The NDP performed worst again in this election, and spent the least on advertising (44%), the most on the tour (27%), and tied the Liberals with 10% spent on salaries.

Finally, in 2004, when the Liberals performed the best, they spent the most on advertising (61%), but were middle-of-the-pack on the leader's tour (17%) and salaries (6%). The Tories did worse than the Liberals in this election, and spent less on advertising (42%), more on the tour (22%), and less on salaries (3%). The NDP spent 45% on advertising, 3% on the tour, and 10% on salaries.

The 2004 result muddies the water a little, but it seems that when a party spends more money on advertising and less on an expensive tour and salaried employees, they perform better.