Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Party Leader Factor

Being a party leader puts you in a far more secure position than any other politician standing for election, right? The answer would seem to be an obvious one, but it turns out that a party leader's ability to withstand regional and provincial trends is roughly zero.

As I did recently with my analysis of the effect star candidates can have on a race, I took a look at whether party leaders have an ability to do better than their party as a whole.

For example, if a party's vote from one election to another decreases by a proportion of 10% in a given province, will the vote in a party leader's riding in that province also decrease by 10%, or will they be able to withstand the larger shift taking place around them?

This "party leader factor" was scored as follows: if a party went from 20% to 40% in a province (an increase by a factor of two), we'd expect a party's leader vote in a riding in that province to also increase by a factor of two. But if, say, the vote in the leader's riding went from 30% to 50%, instead of 60%, the leader would be rated at 0.833, as that is the result of 50 (actual electoral result) divided by 60 (expected result).

These calculations would provide a factor that could be plugged into a uniform swing model.

So, here are the results for all the men and women who have led their parties into an election since 1997, with the exceptions of Joe Clark and Stockwell Day as their personal electoral histories did not make these calculations possible:
Liberal leader Paul Martin, who led the party in the 2004 and 2006 elections, withstood the wider changes in his province better than anyone else, with a rating of 1.26. Next best was NDP leader Alexa McDonough at 1.178, followed by Bloc leader Gilles Duceppe at 1.014 and Conservative leader Stephen Harper at 1.008.

These four are the only leaders who managed to do better than their parties as a whole. If there is an advantage to being a party leader, these four made full use of it.

But the five other leaders that were eligible for this analysis all did worse than their parties did in each of their provinces. Jack Layton has a rating of 0.982, Preston Manning has a rating of 0.909, and Stéphane Dion has a rating of 0.902. Jean Chretien and Jean Charest bring up the rear, with a rating of 0.868 and 0.692, respectively.

Though Paul Martin did see his vote in LaSalle-Émard drop from 66% to 48% between the 2000 and 2006 elections, he should have had his vote drop to as low as 35% in 2006. Alexa McDonough, too, had her vote drop from 49% to 40% in Halifax between 1997 and 2000, but it should have dropped to 34% based on the NDP's loss of support in Atlantic Canada in that election.

Of all the leaders in this exercise, Gilles Duceppe was party leader for the most elections. He did better than his party on three occasions, in 1997, 2006, and 2008, but was worse in 2000 and 2004.

Stephen Harper has followed his party's trends in Alberta very closely, with a rating of 1.004 in 2006 and 1.012 in 2008.

Jack Layton has been pretty steady in Toronto-Danforth, receiving 46% support in 2004, 48% in 2006, and 45% in 2008. But in those last two elections he did slightly worse than his party did as a whole in Ontario.

So what do we get out of all of this? Is there a "party leader factor"?

The answer seems to be that there isn't.

The NDP had the best average factor of the three national parties, with a rating of 1.08. The Liberals were next at 1.01, while the Conservatives/Progressive Conservatives/Reform were worst with 0.87. If we take the average result of the nine leaders in this analysis, we get an unimpressive 0.979 rating for party leaders.

But if we average out all performances by all leaders since the 1997 election, we get an average factor of 0.999.

In other words, party leaders should expect the vote in their riding to shift at almost the exact same rate as their party's vote shifts in the province or region as a whole.

That means there is no need to add a "party leader factor" to the projection model.

The results of this exercise are surprising, to say the least. But what should come as no surprise is that leaders rarely put themselves at risk of being defeated, standing for election in ridings that are usually among their parties' safest in the country.


  1. Thanks for doing this Eric.

    Lots of people asking about whether Ignatieff will get re-elected.

    Its certainly an open question,

    with the Tory breakthrough in the 905 and Rob Ford's impressive showing in Etobicoke.

    He seems to be the only party leader in any real danger.

    And now that he's the leader he'll be expected to campaign across the country and be out of his riding the whole time.

  2. I don't think I understand exactly what you're measuring, Éric.

    Is it the difference between the leader and her/his fellow candidates in a given election? Or is it the initial bump when a leader runs in a seat, or in the first election after s/he ascends to the leadership?

    There seems little doubt to me that Jack Layton was in a better position to wrest Toronto-Danforth away from the Liberals as party leader than when he ran as a candidate earlier. Alexa McDonough similarly was electable in Halifax based on her being party leader as well (and she had pretty good coattails in 1997 in Atlantic Canada).

    Joe Clark would not have defeated Reform MP Eric Lowther in 2000 without being the PC leader then. Elizabeth May's candidacies have only achieved the success they did by virtue of her being party leader of the Greens.

    Then, there's the fact that opposition parties know the leader's campaign is going to be very well resourced, and put a lower priority on running strong candidates against a party leader, so the extent of their support is never tested to the same extent, except when they're viewed as being vulnerable.

    So, I wonder if you're measuring what I think you are. Maybe I've misunderstood the premise.

  3. Hmmm... I wonder what it would look like if you compared vote share and/or vote total in elections prior to the person becoming leader. That may give you a clear sense of how being leader changes the vote.

    This would only work for Charest, Martin, Duceppe (?), Dion.

    Couldn't use this methodology for Layton, Manning and McDonough, because they only ran in their riding after becoming party leader. (I'm not certain of this -- talk about political Trivial Pursuit)

    Anyway, that would give you a very clear sense as to whether that individual, having already represented the riding, saw a bump after becoming leader. I think that would say more than comparing to the provincial swing.

    And anecdotal evidence (see McDonough and Layton) would suggest being party leader can help win a riding your party didn't have before.

  4. There are probably 2 separate, but equal and opposite forces at work in a leader's riding. One would be the boost they might get by being party leader, the other might be the slight hit that they would take by not knocking on doors in their own riding, while their opponents are.

  5. Alice, I'm measuring the effect being party leader has in a riding where he or she is the incumbent. So, the initial boost is not recorded (that would be more along the lines of the "star candidate" factor).

    The analysis is based on the following question: if I take the results from 2008 and adjust them according to current levels of support in a province or region, do I need to take into account an ability for a party leader to change the dynamic in any given riding? The results of this analysis argues that it isn't a factor.

    Incumbency in general, however, could be. That will be investigated later on.

  6. The price of gold and the price of bread may fluctuate in roughtly the same proportions, but gold will always be worth more than bread.

    In the same way, a party leader's popularity in his riding may fluctuate roughly the same as those of his other party's candidates, but the leader will still tend to get more votes than a no-name candidate would otherwise get. Eg., Chretien's popularity fluctuated in Mauricie just as did other Liberal candidates, but there is no way the Liberals would have won Mauricie without Chretien running there.

    You could compare the difference between how a successor candidate does in the next election after a party leader retires (eg., the PC candidate in Manicouagan in 1988 vs. 1993, the Liberal candidate in Mauricie in 2000 vs. 2004, the NDP candidate in the Yukon in 1993 vs.1997) with the overall change in the party's popularity between the two elections. I'm pretty sure you would see that parties tend to do worse than average in a former leader's riding.

  7. Shadow,

    "Tory breakthrough in the 905"? You mean Julian Fantino? The 11th Conservative MP in the 905 area? That breakthrough?

    And the "Rob Ford factor"? Seriously? I'm so sick if the ignorance that people spew out sometimes.

    Think about this: the entire time during the Mike Harris era, when Etobicoke was dominated by right-wing Conservatives provincially, why did the federal ridings not fall to the Conservative wave then? Why not during the Mel Lastman era?

    I don't doubt that local factors can influence the vote of some people. But to assume that one vote, one way, translates into the same votes all ways is foolish. It's yet to happen in your precious conservative microcosm of Etobicoke, just as I doubt Nenshi's win will turn Calgary into a Liberal fortress.

  8. Volkov the thing is Ford ran a very ideological campaign, so did Fantino.

    Get tough on crime and stop the gravy train are winning messages.

    The CPC candidate has an impressive private sector resume and is very active in social media.

    Check out the messaging on his facebook.

    Very ideological too.

    Its going to be classic low tax vs high tax, low spending vs high spending, tough on crime vs soft on crime.

    Recent elections show that its a messsage that the suburbs of Toronto are ready for after so many years of Miller/McGuinty.

  9. That means there is no need to add a "party leader factor" to the projection model.

    I really believe you are missing the point of the party leader factor.

    It is not whether he gets elected in his own riding. That is relatively a given for the big 4 parties and would be THE STORY of an election if a party leader loses their seat.

    what I see as the "party leader factor" is whether the voters in 308 ridings vot is influenced by the Party leader.

    The Canadian voting public is not totally stupid. They understand that even though they are voting for a local MP the real power is going to a party leader. Harper has 1000 times more power than say James Moore. Ignatieff as opposition leader has 100 x more power and influence than Irwin Coulter.

    The "party leader factor" is the ability of a leader to get and extra couple thousand people to vote for his party in a Moncton riding or if the people don't like him to stay home rather than vote for their party.

    Political party's understand the "party leader factor". Whole elections have been run with the party leaders name and face on all the campaign literature and lawn signs. This is because they feel their leader is an asset and will draw votes in the 307 ridings he is not running in.

    This is a very simple concept that you seem to have chosen to ignore by asking a question you made up that has no bearing on your model.

    Your hypothesis and test show that no fringe party can count on at least one seat and that the plurality of the leader of a major party in their own riding may not exactly reflect the overall election race. If it did pollster would just have to poll the heck out of 3-5 ridings and could ignore the other 303.

  10. just as I doubt Nenshi's win will turn Calgary into a Liberal fortress.

    of course not.... Nenshi is not a big Liberal party member like Bronconnier that he replaces.

    If anything Nenshi is a shift to the right relative to the past mayor.

    The most partisan Liberal would have to agree that at best Nenshi maintains the status quo in Calgary.

    The most partisan Liberal would have to agree that Ford replacing Miller is a dramatic shift to the right in Toronto.

    The more important factor was that the federal and provincial Liberal political machines including the MSM were up against the fed/prov Conservative machine in Toronto.

  11. BCVoR,

    I asked the question I wanted to answer. That I didn't answer the question you wanted me to answer is really neither here nor there.

  12. What possible results that you might of found in your question could have moved you to change your projection model?

    If a party leader won his seat with 100% of the vote would that have changed your seat prediction model?

    I guess my main problem is that "the party Leader factor" would imply the influence the party leader would have on the overall election results. This would be the consensus interpretation of such a factor.

    Your interpretation it relates to how well the party leader does in his own riding with is a very small impact on a party getting into power an the leader becoming PM.

  13. Again, that I didn't look at this in the way that you would have preferred is not my problem.


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