Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Left vs. Right since 1867

Since the days of the French Revolution, politics has been a conflict between left and right. While that might be a bit of a generalization, it is nevertheless true that over the years of our Canadian democracy politics has usually been divided into two general world views, one that is called the left and one that is called the right. These can be most easily summed up by the names of the two main Canadian parties: liberal for the left and conservative for the right.

Obviously, since 1867 the parties have changed and re-branded themselves. But, nevertheless, I thought it would be interesting to look at the voting behaviour of Canadians since 1867 as regards to those two poles of the political spectrum.

For this exercise, the left has included parties like the Liberals, Labour, CCF, NDP, Greens, and Bloc Québécois while the right has included parties like the Conservatives, Progressive Conservatives, Reform, Canadian Alliance, and Social Credit.

What we get is a picture of how left or right Canada has been since it's inception (which, by the way, is an awesome movie I saw last night).

Looking at the chart below, we see that Canada has, for the most part, voted left-wing with brief interludes to the right.From 1867 to 1930 it was a close-run contest, with either the left (at the time epitomized by the Liberals) or the right (epitomized by the Conservatives or Liberal-Conservatives) garnering the most electoral support. Until 1917 we can even say that the right had the advantage.

But things turned to the left's advantage in the 1920s and 1930s, with increased awareness about labour issues and the impact of the Great Depression. Mackenzie King's Liberals dominated during the 1930s and 1940s, with the left (now included the CCF) topping 60% until 1957.

From then until 1962 it was the right that held the advantage, but from that point until 1984 the left was in clear control, garnering anywhere from 55% to 65% support. Brian Mulroney's Progressive Conservatives changed things in 1984, but since then the right has been in steady decline as more varied options appear on the left. Left-wing parties have earned more than 52% support since 1988, and have not been below 60% since 1993. Their vote, however, is declining a little, from a high of 69% in 2004 to 61% in 2008. The Conservatives, now alone on the right, have not had more than 38% support since 1988.

If we wanted to average things out in terms of epoch, it breaks down as follows:

From 1867 to 1882, when (at least Wikipedia's knowledge of) full results were spotty, the right averaged 37% compared to the left's 33%. This was the time of John A. MacDonald.

From 1887 to 1911, our pre-First World War period, the right still led with 48% support to the left's had 47% support. Our minds weren't made up at this time.

From 1917 to 1926, the post-war (yes, I know the war ended in 1918) and pre-depression period, the left dominated with 52% support to the right's 45%.

From 1930 to 1940, the depression era, not surprisingly the left increased it's lead to 55%, while the right garnered only 41%.

From 1945 to 1965, which I'll call the "good old days", the left held firm with 55% to the right's 42%.

From 1968 to 1980, the Trudeau years, the left absolutely dominated with 60% to the right's woeful 39%.

From 1984 to 1988, the Mulroney years, the gap narrowed to 50% for the left compared to 48% for the right.

From 1993 to 2000, the era of the split right, things got better for the left, with 61% to the right's 37%.

And from 2004 to 2008, our current time period, voters have sided with the left to the tune of 64% to Stephen Harper's average of 35%.

Food for thought. Obviously, in our system of first-past-the-post and multiple parties, this is really only academic. The right has formed government for a greater period of time than they have led public opinion. And, of course, the Liberals are more of a centrist party than a left-wing party. But, if Canadians are divided into two poles, it is interesting to see how they fall.