Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Forget percentages - what about real votes?

As this blog concentrates on polls, we're always dealing with percentages. Sure, the parties that receive the highest percentage of votes cast wins, but it is those real votes that decide elections. And, they are probably the best barometer of a party's political support over the years.

Case in point. The Conservatives had 37.7% support in the 2008 election, an increase from their 36.3% result in 2006. That would seem to indicate that the Tories had more support in 2008 than they did in 2006.

But in reality, the Conservatives lost about 165,000 votes between 2006 and 2008, a reduction of 3.1%. In fact, all of the parties except the Greens lost actual, flesh and blood support between the 2006 and 2008 elections.

This chart shows the amount of actual votes each party received over the last three elections. As you can see, both the Conservatives and New Democrats saw gains between 2004 and 2006 but losses in 2008. The Liberals and Bloc Québécois lost votes in each election, while the Greens were the only party to show steady growth in the face of ever lower turnout.From 2004 to 2006, the Conservatives found 1.4 million new supporters. Although we can't know exactly how voters shifted from party to party, it appears that about 1/3 of them came from the Liberals, who lost about 500,000 votes. The New Democrats gained about 460,000 new voters, and the Greens about 80,000. The Bloc lost about 130,000 voters.

Those who gained also brought new voters to the fold, as the number of voters grew by 1.2 million between 2004 and 2006. Perhaps the thought of replacing the Liberal government brought people out of their homes on voting day.

However, about 1 million voters who voted in 2006 stayed home in 2008. This caused losses of 165,000 voters for the Conservatives, 845,000 voters for the Liberals, 75,000 for the NDP, and 175,000 for the Bloc. The Greens gained 275,000 new voters. The loss of support for the traditional parties is not completely due to the drop in turnout. Many of those voters actually went to the Greens.

The following chart shows how the growth or decline in support of each party compares to how their support should have changed due to the growth of the electorate.

For example, the Conservatives had 4 million voters in 2004. Based on the growth in the size of the electorate, the Conservatives should have had 4.1 million votes in 2006 if their growth was proportional to the growth in the electorate. Instead, they had 5.4 million votes. Based on the growth in the electorate from 2006 to 2008, the Conservatives should have had 5.5 million votes in 2008. Instead, they had 5.2 million. This demonstrates how the party's growth between 2004 and 2006 was due to voters changing their allegiance, rather than mere population increase. But their fall in 2008 was due to voters leaving the party.For the Liberals, it is easy to see that their drop in support has been far greater than what we could expect. They dropped from 2004 and 2006, and instead of keeping support and going from 4.5 million votes in 2006 to 4.6 million in 2008, they fell to only 3.6 million.

The NDP has been generally stable, growing more or less at the same rate as the population. However, in 2008 they had 144,000 fewer votes than their 2006 result would have predicted.

This also shows how the Greens have consistently out-performed normal growth, going from 664,000 votes in 2006 to 938,000 in 2008 - rather than the 682,000 normal population increase would have given them.

Getting a good portion of the vote is, of course, important. But being able to get 5.2 million Canadians to vote for you, as the Conservatives did in 2008, requires a bit more work. And when we see the Liberal vote drop from 5.0 million in 2004 to 3.6 in 2008, we can see how difficult of a task they have in front of them.

8 comments:

  1. Hi Eric:

    Just wondered if you were going to put up the Leger Poll from last week. I do appreciate all the variations and permutations you've been providing us with.

    Thanks,

    Earl

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  2. I need more than the details in the Sun. Léger hasn't put them up on their site.

    If any has complete details of the poll, please let me know.

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  3. Earl - Can you point me to those Leger results? I'd like to record them in the wiki archive.

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  4. There are many reasons for Green growth. The fundamental cause is of course the party's philosophy, direction and platform.

    Beyond that, though, Green support may be more related to generation than age. It's not a passing fancy that younger voters outgrow; it's something they carry with them as they mature.

    Is the same true of voting rates? If not, the traditional parties could face a perfect storm. If non-voting Green youth become voting Green thirty-somethings, we'll see a Green jump a few years down the road. At the other end of the demographic curve, the strong commitment to voting traditionally must eventually decrease abruptly.

    Does anyone have data (or more specifically, an analysis of data) to support or refute either hypothesis (young Greens stay Green; young non-voters become older voters)?

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  5. There is also the problem where you get the majority of votes but lose the election because your majority is concentrated in too few ridings.

    Classic example I suspect is Alberta where the Tories overwhelm. If those votes could be spread out across the country more evenly they might just have got their majority ?

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  6. John said "It's not a passing fancy that younger voters outgrow; it's something they carry with them as they mature."

    Although some young people may continue to vote Green as they age, many will leave their idealism and join their parents into the current voting realities.

    Once you own your own house, and pay taxes typically you voting paterns start shifting from left to right, Green or NDP to Lib or CPC. When you realize how much money the government takes from you, and you realize how crucial low cost fuel is, your voting patterns are likely to change toward a more rightward direction.

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  7. NorthernRaven: Although some young people may continue to vote Green as they age, many will leave their idealism and join their parents into the current voting realities.

    I do see a common thread of idealism in Greens. However, that applies from the students right through to the retirees.

    Once you own your own house, and pay taxes typically you voting paterns start shifting from left to right, Green or NDP to Lib or CPC. When you realize how much money the government takes from you, and you realize how crucial low cost fuel is, your voting patterns are likely to change toward a more rightward direction.

    That explains a Dipper->Grit->Tory shift. Fitting Greens into that model is more challenging.

    Older voters typically want sustainable health care. They want fiscal responsibility. They may even want a future for their children.

    Cheap fuel doesn't help any of those. Renewable power sources do and provide long-term jobs to pay for them as well. That's just a small part of the Green solution.

    The biggest Green challenge is informing voters what the party stands for. Too many voters have a caricature of Greens gathered from other parties' framing. That's part of the reason I comment here: to show readers that Greens are reasonable, reasoning, realistic people.

    Oh, and most Greens I know own their own houses and pay taxes. Several own businesses too. I've never seen any wearing Birkenstocks.

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  8. There is a problem with using 2004 for comparing.
    It was the first election for the new Conservative party. The separate PC/Reform parties collected between 22 and 25% of all eligible voters since 1993. The one exception is 2004 as not all PC voters initially bought into the combined party. They came back in 2008. Combined PC/Reform vote in 93's Chretien majority was 23.8% - in 2008 the combined Conservatives were 22.2%.
    The decline in conservative votes in 2008 is accounted for primarily in Alberta (why vote?), and Newfoundland (ABC so why vote?).

    Conversely, The Liberals percentage of eligible voters in elections since 1998 (2nd Mulroney majority) have gone:
    23.8
    28.4
    25.4
    24.7
    22.1
    19.4
    15.5

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