Wednesday, May 4, 2011

How vote-splitting gave the Tories Ontario - and a majority

The Conservative Party can finally lay claim to Ontario – and the majority bragging rights that come with it – but it was the NDP that may have made the decisive blow to the former Liberal fortress.

You can read the rest of the article on The Globe and Mail website here.

I believe a little further explanation is needed for this article. Clearly, if we add the Liberal and New Democratic votes together the Conservatives would have lost many ridings. In an email to me, a professor from the Université de Montréal noted that doing so would have reduced the Tories to only 137 seats. While this might be true, this isn't what I mean by vote-splitting. The Liberals and New Democrats are two separate parties, and their votes can't simply be added together.

What I was looking at was how New Democratic gains contributed to Liberal defeats. The best example of this is the riding of Moncton - Riverview - Dieppe in New Brunswick.

In 2008, Brian Murphy of the Liberals received 17,797 votes. The Conservative candidate had 16,297 votes while the NDP candidate finished third with 7,394 votes (source).

Using Elections Canada's preliminary results, we see that on Monday night Robert Goguen of the Conservatives received 17,408 votes, an increase of 1,111 votes. Brian Murphy dropped 2,553 votes to 15,244, while Shawna Gagné of the NDP gained 6,659 votes for a total of 14,053.

One could argue that by adding the NDP and Liberal votes, the anti-Conservative option would have almost doubled Goguen's total. But that is not the argument my article makes.

The gap between Goguen and Murphy was 2,164 votes, meaning that those who switched over from the Liberals (primarily, we can't know exactly how the vote split) to the New Democrats helped elect Goguen. Only 2,165 of the 6,659 new NDP voters in this riding (32.5%) needed to vote Liberal to avoid voting in a Conservative.

It was the same situation in many ridings in Ontario, where NDP gains were greater than the gaps between Liberal incumbents and Conservative challengers. Certainly, people need to vote for the candidate they support but there may have been some unintended consequences.

This is not to put the blame on the New Democrats, nor does blame need to be assigned. With their level of support, the Conservatives earned their majority. And in fact, in many of the ridings won by the Conservatives from the Liberals, the Liberal candidate was simply beat. The Conservatives made significant gains in many ridings, something that Liberal-to-NDP vote switchers could not have stopped. And it was the failings of the Liberal Party that pushed many of their supporters to the New Democrats and the Conservatives. Nevertheless, this vote shift played an important role in electing a Conservative majority government.