Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The value of star candidates

I was once told by a politician that the local race represents about 5% of the vote - everything else is influenced by the on-going campaign and historical voting patterns.

I thought over how I could test this hypothesis, but there is no way to conclusively look into this matter with the resources at hand. But one way to get a hint of it is by looking at the influence a star candidate has in a local election campaign, so several weeks ago, I asked my readers for some help on identifying some star candidates who ran for election in a given riding for the first time in 2006 or 2008.

Aside from other local issues and the on-going national or regional campaign, a star candidate can play a large role in making voters shift from one party to another. It can be easier to identify with an individual, particularly one you know from your neighbourhood or one that you've regularly seen on television or in the news, than a national party. It also makes it easier to vote for someone, rather than voting for a party's local candidate that you've never heard of or seen before.

I embarked on this little analysis wanting to compile a list of "star candidates" that first stood for election in a riding in 2006 or 2008. We can really only use the last three elections to tell us anything about what might happen in the next election, due to the merging of the Progressive Conservatives and Canadian Alliance. And since using the 2004 election would force us to look back into the 2000 campaign, I could only use the last two elections.

I would take these star candidates and see how they did compared to the previous election. If a star candidate increased his party's vote by 1,000 people, that may act as an indicator of the star candidate's pull. But in order for this analysis not to be too tainted by the on-going campaign, I also compared the change in vote from one election to the next election in each riding to the wider changes in each province. So, if a star candidate increased his party's vote share from 20% to 40%, but the party also doubled its vote provincially, I would assess the star candidate's pulling power as a factor of 1. In other words, no drawing power.

However, if the party only increased its vote share provincially by half while the star candidate doubled it in his or her riding, I would assess the star candidate's drawing power as a factor of 1.33 (actual vote (40%) divided by expected vote (30%) = drawing power (1.33)).

My method of choosing a star candidate was based on my own personal judgment, and I assembled a sample of 38 candidates. Star candidates included former provincial party leaders, provincial cabinet ministers, former federal politicians or ministers, actors, mayors, journalists, and well-known local notables and professionals.

My choice of star candidates is, obviously, the least objective part of this analysis. But, of course, my results are to be viewed not as gospel but as an indication of what a star candidate's drawing power can be, based on the parameters I've outlined.

Before getting into the results, here are a few selected "star candidates", and how they performed.

First, Maxime Bernier, who ran as a Conservative for the first time in 2006 in the riding of Beauce. I remember not knowing who he was, but that everyone in the Beauce knew who he was because of his father. Bernier took the party from 8,091 votes and 17.1% in 2004 to 36,915 votes and 67%. He increased the party's share of eligible voters from 9.9% to 45%, a huge accomplishment. But, the party did well in Quebec in general in 2006, and based on that provincial increase we would have expected the Conservatives to get 47.9% of the vote in Beauce. As Bernier received 67%, he gets a drawing power factor of 1.4.

But not every son-of-a-well-known-person does well. Justin Trudeau, in the Montreal riding of Papineau, did see his party's vote go from 16,785 in 2006 to 17,724 in 2008. That was 38.5% of the vote compared to 41.5% in 2008. But based on the Liberal Party's growth in Quebec as a whole in the 2008 election, Trudeau should have gotten 43.9% of the vote. So, his drawing power is rated at 0.95 for a negative drawing power.

The experience of Marc Garneau, however, demonstrates how an individual's "drawing power" can be inconsistent. In 2006, Garneau dropped his party's support in Vaudreuil-Soulanges from 38.8% to 28.4%. But he should've seen his support go down to 23.7%, giving him a drawing factor of 1.2. On the other hand, in Westmount-Ville Marie in 2008, he only increased his party's share of the vote from 45.7% to 46.5% (though that was a loss of about 800 voters), instead of the expected 52.1%, giving him a drawing factor of 0.89.

Here are the drawing factors of a few selected individuals:

Michael Fortier (CPC) - Vaudreuil-Soulanges - 1.42
Lawrence Cannon (CPC) - Pontiac - 0.54
Jim Flaherty (CPC) - Whitby-Oshawa - 1.09
Michael Ignatieff (LPC) - Etobicoke-Lakeshore - 0.98
Tony Clement (CPC) - Parry Sound-Muskoka - 1.00
Paul Summerville (NDP) - St. Paul's - 1.14
John Baird (CPC) - Ottawa West-Nepean - 0.99
Jean-Pierre Blackburn (CPC) - Jonquiere-Alma - 3.89

Now, to the overall results.

On average, star candidates for New Democrats averaged a drawing factor of 1.27. The result was 1.26 for the Conservatives and 1.27 for the Greens. The Liberals, unfortunately, broke the consistency with their 1.06.

If we dropped the best and worst results for each party, we got 1.27 for the Greens, 1.26 for the New Democrats, 1.14 for the Conservatives, and 1.04 for the Liberals.

Former politicians alone averaged a factor of 1.26.

So, there appears to be some degree of consistency. On average, a star candidate will actually help a party's standing.

In 2006, the average factor was 1.25, or 1.11 if we take out Blackburn's anomalous result. In 2006, it was 1.16.

Overall, that gives us an average factor of 1.21 with Blackburn, and 1.14 without.

The chart on the left gives an indication of the consistency and inconsistency of these results (blue are NDP, green are Conservative, red are Liberal). Each dash represents one candidate. As you can see, there are a few outliers at both ends of the scale, but most results are clustered between 0.9 and 1.3. If we were looking at all candidates from all parties, we'd expect a cluster centred around 1 rather than 1.2.

So what does this analysis tell us? Certainly, that there is no hard-and-fast rule for the drawing power of a star candidate. Some do better, and some do worse. But most do better, increasing their party's support by about 14% over and above what we would expect them to get. In general, they're worth about three to six percentage points, indicating that the "5% is the local race" rule might not be so inaccurate.

The next thing I need to mull over is whether to include this factor in the projection, and how. Should I use the 1.21 or the 1.14 that excludes Blackburn's result? Should I use a lesser portion of this factor to act as an indicator for probable outcomes but leaving a good deal up to the wider campaign? As I expand the projection into all 308 ridings and include a great deal of many different factors, each of which I will try to analyze in posts like this, I will have to ask myself these questions more and more.