Monday, June 25, 2012

N.B. by-election tough first test for nationally leading NDP

A provincial by-election is taking place today in New Brunswick in the riding of Rothesay, just outside of Saint John. Though it is a strong riding for the governing Progressive Conservatives, the New Democrats are taking a run at it by nominating Dominic Cardy, leader of the party, as their candidate. The by-election marks the first electoral test for the NDP as the leading national political brand.

Of course, provincial and federal politics are very different beasts. While the provincial New Democrats took only 10% of the vote in the 2010 election in New Brunswick, the federal NDP captured 30% in the province in the 2011 federal election. Nevertheless, the provincial and federal brands of the NDP are more closely linked than either their Conservative or Liberal rivals - and it is hard to separate the recent surge in NDP support that has been registered in Atlantic Canada at both levels of government.

But Rothesay could be a very difficult nut to crack. It has been held by the Progressive Conservatives since 1999, and they have not taken less than 48 per cent of the vote in their four consecutive victories. However, all of those victories were won by Margaret-Ann Blaney, who has left to take a post in the public service.

Hugh John (Ted) Flemming III has somehow fit his name on the lawn signs for the PCs, while John Wilcox is running for the Liberals and Sharon Murphy for the Greens.

ThreeHundredEight forecasts Rothesay to be a strong PC riding, giving them a very high probability of coming out on top tonight. But with the presence of Cardy on the ballot, this makes the riding much more unpredictable than the recent by-elections in Quebec.

Polls are quite rare in New Brunswick, but Corporate Research Associates puts out quarterly numbers. They have shown very little change in voting intentions over the last year.

Since August 2011, the Progressive Conservatives have been solidly between 41% and 45%, while the Liberals have stood between 28% and 34%. The New Democrats, at between 19% and 23%, are well behind in third place. All of these variations are well within the margin of error.

The swing from CRA's last poll suggests that the Tories should still be able to win the riding by a margin of 21 points, even with Cardy on the ballot. But he has the potential to shake things up considerably, just as Kevin Lamoureux was able to take the federal Liberals from also-ran to winner in 2010's by-election in Winnipeg North.

The Progressive Conservatives are still likely to win the riding. They have history of winning, taking 57% of the vote in 2010. But there are several factors which put the riding at risk. Blaney was awarded a plum post in the provincial civil service, highlighting the issue of patronage. That could hurt the Tories significantly. Also, the last time they lost the riding was in 1995 when Blaney was not on the ballot. Since 1999, has Rothesay been a PC stronghold or a Blaney stronghold? The forecast gives the Progressive Conservatives between 52% and 53% of the vote, though I suspect they could be easily whittled down below that mark. But the Tories are still doing well in the provincial polls and Premier David Alward is relatively popular, so they are still the favourite to win. The next provincial election is far away, so a win will be a win for the Tories.

The Liberals are in a much more difficult position. They have been competitive in this riding before, winning it in 1995 and taking 47% of the vote in 2006. But that fell to 28% in 2010, and with the party leaderless they do not have the wind in their sails. They have nevertheless held relatively steady in the polls, suggesting that they are holding on to their vote from the 2010 election, but there is little reason to believe that the voters of Rothesay will be looking to Wilcox as the best alternative to the PCs. The forecast puts them between 23% and 27% of the vote. If anti-PC voters flock to Cardy and the NDP, they could take significantly less support than this. But without a leader, they have a ready-made excuse for a bad performance. There is little at stake for them in Rothesay.

Not so for the New Democrats. With Dominic Cardy on the ballot, the NDP is taking a big risk - but it is a necessary risk. The NDP hasn't held a seat in the legislature since 2005 and desperately need to back-up their decent polling numbers. Support for the party is double what it was on election day and they need something concrete to solidify these numbers. Rothesay is not a particularly good riding for the party, as they only took 9% of the vote in 2010. With the exception of their poor showing in 2006, that is generally where they party has been in Rothesay: they captured 12% in 1995 and 2003 and 10% in 1999. So while they do have a decent base from which to work, they need to eat into the Liberal vote as well as the PC vote in order to come out on top. It is a tall order, and the forecast only gives them between 15% and 19% of the vote. However, I think Cardy will do considerably better. If the NDP can manage to place second with over 30% of the vote, I would consider that a moral victory. If they can actually win the riding, it would be spectacular for the party.

With less than 10,000 voters in the riding, even a small amount of swing can drastically change things. If 5,000 turn out to vote, which would be a decent showing for a by-election, only 500 votes going from the Liberals to the NDP would be enough to put the New Democrats in second place. It will take a lot more than that, however, for Cardy to defeat Flemming. But with the NDP making gains at the provincial level and leading federally, it is far from implausible.


  1. Eric,
    Your forecast for Rothesay fails to acknowledge any of the unique circumstances surrounding the by-election, the most dominant one of course being the candidacy of NDP leader Dominic Cardy. The ranges for each party in your forecast match the figures I would get if I merely applied the latest CRA poll to the 2010 results, and appear to be lacking any other considerations. A closer look at the historical performance of seatless NB NDP leaders would suggest that the NDP can expect to win a notably higher share of the vote than your forecast states. Please see:

    1. Thanks for commenting after skimming, but not reading, my post.

  2. Hi Eric - interesting stuff. A couple of data points that you might want to chew over but may not be aware of:

    1. The NDP commissioned a poll earlier this year of Saint John-area ridings that showed them way ahead. Though it is a party-commissioned poll, it was done by a reputable pollster and I thought you may want to see it:

    2. I have transposed the results of all provinical elections since 1987 and all federal elections since 1997 onto the current Rothesay provincial boundaries, you may find the results of interest, here are the NDP popular vote percentage figures for those 13 contests:

    1987- 28
    1991- 11
    1995- 9
    1997- 9
    1999- 7
    2000- 7
    2003- 10
    2004- 13
    2006- 12
    2006- 4
    2008- 11
    2010- 10
    2011- 26

    It is worth noting that Kings West (which included most of the current Rothesay, Quispamsis and Hampton-Kings districts) was contested by then-NDP leader George Little in 1987 (as well as in 1982, and in 1978 before he became leader).

    1. 1) Yes, I saw that poll. Got in touch with Environics about it. Apparently was not commissioned by the NDP but rather a municipal politician. But it did not include Rothesay, so it is difficult to know what it represents. I calculated the swing with the Environics Saint John poll and it made it closer, though still a PC win.

      2) Fascinating! Aside from 2011, lines up pretty well with the provincial results. Good sign that Cardy should be able to garner strong support.

  3. "the forecast only gives them between 15% and 19% of the vote. However, I think Cardy will do considerably better"

    It doesn't say much for your forecast model if you don't stand by it.

    1. I am not silly enough to believe that by-elections can be predicted with a strong degree of confidence, especially in case like Rothesay where the province is polled only once every four months with samples of 400 people.

      As I wrote in my introduction to the By-Election Barometer: "being hyper-local, they can be unpredictable. The By-Election Barometer serves as a measure of what might be expected in by-elections and of what actual polls are showing, in addition to providing a basis for comparing expectations to results."

  4. Thanks for the update, Eric. It will be very interesting to see if the NBNDP can capitalize on all of the federal party's buzz.

  5. I see the haters are out in force today. :(

  6. Even if the NDP wins Rothesay, it won't be a breakthrough in NB politics. New Brunswick is a relatively moderate province, just like PEI. Most of the people in these provinces either vote for PCs, or the Liberals. The only way for the NDP to acheive second or fist place in these provinces is to soften up some of their policies to appeal to centre or centre-right voters.

  7. CBC reports that the PCs retained the seat. (see

    Results were:

    PC: 1,625 (38.3%)
    Libs: 1,328 (31.3%)
    NDP: 1,158 (27.3%)
    Greens: 69
    Independent: 62

    Percentages were my own math, so apologies if I miscalculated something. Regardless, looks like PC vote is down considerably (though not down enough to actually lose), the Liberal vote is up ever-so-slightly since 2010, and the NDP vote is way up, but still not quite enough to get into second place.

  8. Very interesting result out of Rothesay: PCs hold, but with a much diminished share of the vote in a race where less than 500 votes separated first from third.

    PC: 1625 (38.3%)
    Lib: 1328 (31.3%)
    NDP: 1158 (27.35)
    Green: 69 (1.6%)
    IND: 62 (1.5%)

  9. Close 3-way race in the end. Hrm.

  10. It looks like the non-CONservatives split the vote... UGH ..

    Clearly, as is the case provincially and federally in almost all ridings in Canada, the ACTUAL majority (as in the majority of the population/voters) rather than parliamentary majority (just seat distribution), is to the left of the Conservatives.

    The only question is, to what degree?
    Sure, many right-wingers will point out that even though 62% voted against the Tories, 70% also voted against the Liberals and NDP each, thus, according to them, making my statement hypocritical).

    HOWEVER, the reason I believe that a Tory win IS worse and even more undemocratic is this:
    The one thing the majority has in common is that, whether they voted NDP, Lib or Green, they voted for parties that are (to varying degrees) to the LEFT of the Tories.

  11. (...Continued...)

    So, while First-Past-The-Post is certainly flawed no matter who wins with less than a vote by the majority, a Tory win would be the FARTHEST from where the majority of the electorate is on the political spectrum.

    If the NDP or Libs (non-Tory) had won with such numbers, sure, that would STILL be undemocratic. HOWEVER, at the very least the voters would be getting SOME form of a more left-leaning representation.

    So, a Tory win is the exact opposite of what the majority of the electorate voted for, which was a party that is to the left of the Tories.
    I hope I'm explaining this right and you guys get my drift.

    In other words, the message from the voters is: The majority of us want a party that is to the LEFT of the ConservativeParty.
    So, when a Tory wins, it's like: In addition to the already-well-known flaws of the First-Past-The-Post system (a minority of voters determining the outcome due to vote-splitting)..etc, the fact that a TORY wins is like an additional slap and spit in the voters' faces, because on top of everything, the winner is as far as possible from what the majority voted for.

    (Btw, I'm not a Liberal and also would NEVER vote Tory).

    On this (voting reform) issue, many right-wingers call non-cons hypocrites for saying that the current(Harpy) majority is a false majority, by pointing out things like the Chretien Liberal majorities of 1993, 1997, 2000 being the same thing (as in 60% of the voters voted against the Liberals).
    I, OF COURSE, actually agree with that. Our FPTP system is flawed and undemocratic and was flawed back then too no matter who wins/won.
    HOWEVER, the reason the Harper maj IS most certainly WORSE is:
    Despite, back then, the majority voting AGAINST Chretien's Libs (yet them winning a maj. gov't)-just like Harper2011- , the majority voted for "left-of-Conservative"(Green/Lib/NDP/Bloc)parties.
    So, with Chretien winning, AT LEAST the voters got "some form of gov't which is to the left of the Tories".
    Same with when the NDP wins a majority federal gov't (the voters voted for a party to the left of the Tories).
    And before any right-wingers jump on me: I'm NOT saying that FPTP is condonable as long as the Tories don't win. I'm saying that yes, FPTP IS flawed and undemocratic no matter WHO wins like that. HOWEVER, it is even MORE flawed and undemocratic and even less representative of the majority of voters when the Tories win.
    AND, you can't say I'm "arbitrarily supporting the Libs", because 1) That was just an example I chose because it happened to be recent, and 2)I'm NOT a Liberal and especially considering how far towards the centre-right the Libs have moved after Chretien left..Paul Martin dragged the party to the right and they are more "red tory" and are like the old federal"Progressive Conservatives" (before they merged with Reform and became the ultra-right-wing Harperites).
    But I digress...

    Anyways, so FPTP, in Canada and based on the numbers of Canadian voting patterns and statistics regarding where the majority of the Canadian electorate is on the political spectrum (to the LEFT of the Conservatives), is flawed and undemocratic and should be tossed in favour of SOME sort of "PROPORTIONAL REPRESENTATION" system regardless WHO benefits from FPTP.
    However, the unfairness of FPTP is amplified when Tories win.

    That's all...sigh.

    (Sorry for the REALLY lengthy post, but I just wanted to be as sure as possible to explain myself as thoroughly as I could.

    In fact, I think I will copy/paste/save this into Notepad or smthg so that maybe I can post it on a forum/thread that is more specifically discussing voting/electoral systems (although I DO think it's also relevant here).


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