Monday, February 14, 2011

Sophomore MPs prove no easier to beat than veterans

With each election comes the promise of change. Voters can throw a government out, install a new one, or give those in power a new mandate to tackle the issues the country faces. Millions of dollars are spent, names are dragged through the mud, and, in the end, about four out of every five people we elected last time are sent back to Ottawa again.

The rest of the article can be read on The Globe and Mail website. The Hill Times study mentioned in the article can be found here.

I've been getting used to using the resources on the Elections Canada website, and have gotten quite fond of them. This is an incredibly useful site managed by the Parliament of Canada, and has electoral results stretching back to 1867.

I had approached this article with the intent of showing that veteran MPs are harder to knock off than sophomores. It seemed like an obvious hypothesis. But my analysis showed that there really isn't much difference between a four-term MP and a one-term MP.

You might be wondering why I didn't do a complete study of all 308 ridings. Time constraint is the reason, but my sample was representative. The re-election rate of incumbents in the 192 ridings I analyzed for 2006 and 2008 was only a tiny bit higher than the actual rate (89.1% to the actual 87.4%).

While looking into this, I also tracked other factors related to incumbency. I'll have to finish studying the ridings that remain and crunch some numbers, but it appears that in the vast majority of cases an incumbent's rate of increase or decrease in vote share from one election to the next is less than that of the incumbent's party in the region as a whole. If this turns out to be the case, it will be useful for my projections. The test I am running on the new projection model is good, out-performing other methods of projecting, but seems to be hung-up on over-achieving incumbents. With the results of this analysis I think I will be able to achieve a higher rate of accuracy. More to come when I have completed my tests.


  1. This is no shock to me. Incumbents have amazing amounts of money given to them by the government to use for re-election plus tons of free publicity from the local media. For example, in Halton Hills (where I live) the local MP and MPP both get monthly columns in the local paper, plus get their names mentioned prominently in articles on a very regular basis. Not once have I see an article by a candidate or president of the local riding for any other party outside of the letters to the editor that I get printed (I am president of the Wellington-Halton Hills Green Party).

    Now, they might be willing to print more letters if more of us sent them, but in the end there is an amazingly high hill to climb in name recognition. Next comes having the local MP/MPP in the Santa Claus parades, having them show up at ribbon cutting ceremonies, the automatic invite they get to almost anything remotely political. Mix in the free handouts they get to send to every last household in the riding at no cost to their budget and the 60% of election costs they get back each election and you've got another massive advantage.

    It may not be as high a hill to climb as they have stateside, but it is massive. Might be interesting to see how much of an advantage the incumbent party has when the MP has retired (non-scandal version) as they still get a lot of recognition.

  2. The article does take a look at how a party does after an incumbent leaves. Granted, it doesn't classify by reason of leaving.

  3. Good point Éric - sorry about not reading the full article before commenting (a bad habit of mine).

    We had two major turnover elections since the 70's - 1984 when the PC's won over 200 seats and the Liberals were dumped down to 40, and 1993 when the PC's dropped to 2 from 169 (151 when the election was called). I wonder if those types of game changers can be predicted? Wikipedia shows the 1993 polls had the PC/Liberals in a statistical tie from Sept 11 to 20th then a quick drop for the PC's with the PC's having more support than Reform up until a week before the election. The infamous ad attacking Chretien obviously had a strong effect, but the drop started earlier.

    Hrm... does a party leadership change while in power have a drastic negative effect? Since the 70's it seems so (major shifts in 1984, 1993 and from majority to minority in 2004). Does it hold for provinces as well?

  4. "Granted, it doesn't classify by reason of leaving."

    I'd think that was one of the very important things that would be included in such a study.

    Are incumbents jumping ship before because they know it will be a bad result? for their party? just for them?

    Is there a good leader they don't agree with?? or a bad one they don't want to be associated with?

    Without knowing the reason behind the leaving, it is even more impossible to gauge the probable outcome had they stayed.


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