Monday, February 13, 2012

What U.S.-style primaries might look like for the NDP

The excitement surrounding the NDP leadership race pales in comparison to the headline-grabbing contest for the Republican nomination in the United States. But what if the New Democrats adopted U.S.-style primaries to choose their next leader? 

You can read the full article on The Globe and Mail website here. Once you do that, come back to read the details of this hypothetical NDP primary.

Politicos in Canada are spoiled being by so close and having so much access to the political drama that unfolds every two years in the United States. The mid-terms are an appetizer but the presidential race is a true meal, lasting over a year. The 2012 Republican primaries are about as roller coaster as they come, yet here in Canada the race to choose our next leader of the Official Opposition is not nearly as exciting.

Because of the way our parties do things, leadership races here are very much aimed at the party and their members and little else. Whereas in the United States some primaries allow registered Republicans, independents, and even Democrats to vote (i.e., everyone), here in Canada the privilege is limited to members only. The chances that a party will choose someone that doesn't have wide appeal always exists, because a leader has to hit the right notes among the party faithful in order to be chosen. Whether a message that resonates with the party faithful will also resonate with a plurality of Canadians is, sometimes, a secondary consideration.

So what if the New Democrats held primaries in each province in order to choose their next leader, allowing anyone who supported the NDP to vote? I thought that would be a fun and interesting exercise.

How did I calculate the results? Four factors were weighted equally to come up with the support each candidate would get in each province. The four factors were the recent Forum Research poll of NDP supporters, the recent Abacus Data poll of which candidates would make people more likely to vote NDP, ThreeHundredEight's endorsement rankings divvied up by province, and the endorsement rankings adjusted by the Q3 and Q4 fundraising totals for each of the candidates. Those were combined together to give a vote share for each province. Delegates were divided up proportionately across the 13 provinces and territories to total 1,000, and delegates were awarded to each candidate proportionate to their vote share.

The Globe piece provides a narrative with a few US-inspired touches, but let's look at the actual results this exercise gave for each of the provinces, in the order that the primaries are deemed to have been held in this hypothetical scenario. The schedule was determined mostly by the debate schedule of the NDP leadership race. And if these graphics resemble those of a certain American 24-hour news channel, that is not exactly by accident.
Thanks in large part to good endorsements in the province and decent polling numbers in the region, Thomas Mulcair wins the first primary in PEI (scheduled January 24) with 43%, with Brian Topp trailing with 28%, Paul Dewar with 13%, and Peggy Nash with 8%. Niki Ashton heads the bottom tier with 4%. With this first win, Mulcair takes two delegates to one for Brian Topp and one for Paul Dewar.
With the debate in Halifax on January 29, primaries are held in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick on January 31. Brian Topp has the strongest polling numbers in Atlantic Canada, and with good endorsements in New Brunswick he wins 57% of the vote in the primary, followed by Mulcair at 17%, Dewar at 12%, and Nash at 5%. Ashton comes up fifth with 4%.

In Nova Scotia, Peggy Nash's endorsements give her the win with 31%, followed closely by Topp at 29%, Mulcair at 19%, and Dewar at 13%. Again, Ashton comes up fifth with 4%.

With these two primaries, Brian Topp moves into the lead with 21 delegates, followed by Mulcair with 11, Nash with nine, Dewar with seven, Ashton with two, Martin Singh with two, and Nathan Cullen with one. Romeo Saganash has zero, and in real life he pulled out of the race after the dates I scheduled for the first three primaries. So he was dropped off for future primaries.
After unofficial debates in Saskatoon on February 7 and a forum in Edmonton on February 8, the next primary is held on February 14 in Alberta and Saskatchewan.

Topp's good polling in Alberta and Nash's labour support make them the two top finishers in the province, with 35% for Brian Topp, 25% for Nash, 19% for Dewar, and 13% for Mulcair. Ashton finishes fifth with 6%. In Saskatchewan, Topp's endorsements allow him to walk away with it with 51% to 25% for Mulcair, 10% for Ashton, and 9% for Nash. Dewar finishes with 7%.

This puts Brian Topp further in the lead with 75 delegates. Peggy Nash is second at this point with 40, followed by Mulcair with 32, Dewar with 30, Ashton with 12, Singh with three, and Cullen with two. One can already imagine the grumbling in the Mulcair and Dewar campaigns after a few bad finishes.
The primaries in the territories and Newfoundland and Labrador are then held on February 21, with Peggy Nash winning both of them thanks to her endorsements in both areas. Nash wins 31% in Newfoundland and Labrador, with Mulcair taking 25%, Topp 23%, and Dewar 12%. Ashton finishes fifth with 4%.

In the territories, Nash takes 38% to Topp's 24%, Mulcair's 20%, and Dewar's 12%. Nathan Cullen finishes fifth with 2%.

At this stage, Brian Topp would still lead in the delegates with 79. Peggy Nash closes the gap a little with 46, while Mulcair (37), Dewar (32), Ashton (13), Singh (3), and Cullen (2) trail.
After the Winnipeg debate on February 26, Manitoba holds its primary on February 28. In the Prairie provinces, Mulcair, Topp, and Ashton have polled the best but in Manitoba most of the endorsements have gone to Dewar and Ashton. The result is a narrow Mulcair win with 28%. He's followed closely by Paul Dewar (one can imagine this being Dewar's first "big effort" province) at 23%, Brian Topp at 22%, and Niki Ashton with 17%. Nash follows in fifth with 9%.

This win gives what would have been Mulcair's sagging campaign a boost, but Topp would still lead in the delegate count with 87. Peggy Nash follows at this stage with 49, with Mulcair (47) and Dewar (40) not far behind. Ashton lands six delegates in Manitoba and is at 19 at this stage, with Cullen and Singh at three apiece.
The first big primary is then scheduled for March 6, after the debates in Quebec City (February 12) and Montreal (March 4). Obviously, this one is Mulcair's to win and he does with 69% of the vote. Brian Topp finishes second with 17%, with Nash at 8% and Dewar and Singh at 2% apiece.

With this big win, Mulcair moves to the front of the pack with 206 delegates to 126 for Topp, 68 for Nash, and 45 for Dewar. Ashton follows with 22 delegate to Singh's seven and Cullen's five. The race would change complexion here with Mulcair now the frontrunner.
And then comes what I dubbed Super Tuesday in my article, the primaries in British Columbia and Ontario on March 13. With the majority of the delegates at stake, the race would be won or lost here.

In British Columbia, Brian Topp and Nathan Cullen lead in both the polls and the endorsements, meaning that Brian Topp wins with 45% of the vote to Cullen's 19%. Mulcair trails in third with 13%, followed by Nash (11%) and Dewar (7%). It's a big win for Topp and gives Cullen a boost.

In Ontario, the polling is far more favourable to Nash and Dewar and they are the two frontrunners. Nash edges out Dewar with 32% to 26% of the vote, followed by Topp at 18%, Mulcair at 15%, and Cullen at 4%. Dewar or Nash had to really win big in Ontario to have a shot at overtaking Topp or Mulcair.

After the last primary, Thomas Mulcair still leads the delegate count with 282, but he is far short of the 501 needed to win. Brian Topp takes 256 delegates to the convention, with Peggy Nash claiming 208 and Paul Dewar 154. After his good performances in Ontario and British Columbia, Nathan Cullen pulls ahead to stand fifth with 47 delegates, while Niki Ashton has 35 and Martin Singh 18.

There you have it - a plausible description of what might happen if the New Democrats held primaries to choose their leader and opened up the race to all supporters, rather than just members. Does it tell us anything about the race itself? Not really, though it does give an indication of the regional pockets of strength each candidate might be expected to have. It is really more of a fun little exercise that shows how much more interesting primaries would be than the current model our parties use here in Canada.