First it seemed boring. Canada was sleepwalking to yet another Conservative minority, with hardly any change in the four represented parties’ seat totals. Then it got exciting. The NDP was surging, and there was talk of Prime Minister Layton, winning a majority with the backing the remnant of the Liberals, joining to defeat outgoing PM Harper’s Throne Speech.
Then they had the election. Boring. Just another two-and-a-half (or should that be two-and-a-third?) party system under FPTP. Positively British, or at least the way Britain used to be. Two big parties, one of the left, the other of the right, one of which has a comfortable majority. Plus a small third liberal party squeezed between the big two. A few scattered “others.”
The pollsters and prognosticators generally got the NDP right: around 30% of the votes and 100 seats seemed to be the consensus. However, they missed the extent of the Liberal-Conservative swing. The Tories won almost 40% of the vote, when more like 35% was expected. The Liberals failed to make it to 20%. More importantly, the Conservatives will have 167 seats, when most projections had them in the 145-150 range (where 155 is a majority). The Liberals are reduced to just 34 seats, the Bloc Quebecois to 4 (yes, four). The Greens picked up their first seat. (See overall results at CBC.)
I have hesitated until now to run the seat-vote equation on the polls for Canada’s current election, because the campaign has been so unpredictable and regional and riding-level factors are likely to be decisive. Then again, maybe this is Canada’s most nationalized election in two decades or so…
(Most other vote projections do not differ much from this.)
Disclaimer and background: The seat-vote equation is NOT a seat predictor. This is not a “projection”; you can find those elsewhere. The seat-vote equation simply tells us what the main parties’ seat totals “should have been” for a given votes distribution, based on “mechanical” features of the electoral system–how many districts there are in relation to the number of voters. It offers no insight into district-level factors. It has missed some past Canadian elections badly; in fact, I assembled the database specifically to see which elections were so out of line with how FPTP works that electoral reform might be put on the agenda. There have been many of those over the years in Canadian provinces, although at the national level Canada’s FPTP has not been prone to “anomalous” results, but rather has tended to be relatively proportional compared to other FPTP systems. (The seat-vote equation performed either admirably or terribly in the UK 2010, depending on your criteria.)*
With that disclaimer and background out of the way, what does it say the seats “should be” if we use the above votes?
Of course, the BQ is not going to win only one seat, and the Greens just might won one, as well. I said it was not a projection!
The seat-vote equation does not like parties that win seats despite having quite small national vote shares. It is right about the Greens getting 0 or 1 seat on their ~6%, but not about the BQ, despite the latter also being on only 6%. Regional concentration, or its absence, matters in FPTP.
Nonetheless, and for whatever it might be worth, the estimates for the Conservatives, NDP, and Liberals are well within the range of the EKOS seat projections. To be precise, the CPC and NDP numbers are near the upper end of the EKOS projections, and at least one of them will need to be nearer the lower end (130, 103, and 36, respectively, at EKOS) to make room for 10-20 BQ seats.
But, yes, a third straight Conservative plurality–possibly reduced from what it was in the dissolved parliament–and an NDP total around 100-125 really could happen. And if those were the top two parties’ seat totals, it would mean that Canada 2011, far from being any sort of anomalous FPTP election, would be in line with what the seat-vote equation says “should be” the outcome, given these expected votes.
* For more on the seat-vote equation, just click those words in the “Planted in” line above. I have been writing about the equation and various elections, especially Canadian federal and provincial elections, since 2006. The first entry in the series provides the most detail about the equation’s application. If you want the full explanation, please see:
Matthew S. Shugart, “Inherent and Contingent Factors in Reform Initiation in Plurality Systems,” in To Keep or Change First Past the Post, ed. By André Blais. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008.
Just before the 2010 UK election, I noted that final polls put the leading party at around 36% of the vote, the second party just under 30%, and the third just over 20%.* I asked how uncommon such a distribution of the top three parties’ votes was in FPTP systems.
I counted five such cases out of 211 FPTP elections in a database I assembled for a project on reform (or its absence) in FPTP systems.
Canada’s election Monday promises to be a fun one to watch. I can hardly wait!
Unless the polls–and I mean all of them–are way off in the measure of voter intentions, or its many mediocre-quality candidates and limited “get out the vote” capacity of the New Democrats in many ridings (districts) cause that party to under-perform significantly, we will be looking at a significantly changed composition of parliament. Most likely the Conservative seat share will not change a great deal, and will be just below 50%. But the NDP will have replaced the Liberals as the second party, and the Bloc Quebecois will have lost around half its seats (maybe even that of its leader).
That is not to say that the Conservatives could not yet eke out a majority. As noted at the EKOS polling blog on Friday, trends in Ontario could allow the Conservatives to win over 50% of the seats on only about a third of the nationwide votes. “It is hard to imagine what impact this would have on the Canadian public’s view of its first past the post system,” comments EKOS.
If there is no majority–and that seems most likely–the next parliament could be more dysfunctional than any of the recent minority parliaments, with less willingness on the part of any of the other parties to work with a Conservative government. Of course, we could see an NDP-Liberal government, or an NDP minority, although cabinets led by the second largest party are relatively rare (unless that party and another had cooperated in the election, which is absolutely not the case here).
Reflecting on some themes of previous threads, and especially the very thoughtful comment by Ross, I offer these pre-election questions and thoughts about the chances of a non-Conservative government forming when the newly elected House of Commons convenes:
Would the NDP be willing to rely on a collapsing Liberal party for its majority? For that matter, would the Liberals be willing to openly support any government after such a thrashing? The answer to both seems, based on patterns in “typical” coalition/minority parliaments, to be “probably not.”
And then there is the fact that the NDP will have a caucus, including (or should I say, especially) in Quebec made up of a lot of neophytes (and worse). It might not be an auspicious time to enter government. Better to wait for the next opportunity to bring down the Conservative minority in 2-3 years.
Please, someone, tell me why my analysis is wrong, and why Canada will have Prime Minister Jack Layton. Because that would be really interesting…
I still don’t really expect this to be what the final result will look like. But with the election now just five days away, outcomes like the latest EKOS projection are starting to seem less outlandish:
It continues to show a breathtakingly different Parliament in which the Conservative government is reduced to 131 seats but the muscular new NDP have 92 and the Liberals have 63. This new political math would produce a Parliament where the non-Bloc opposition would have 155 seats, a bare majority and 24 more seats than the Conservatives.
The same poll shows the NDP within six percentage points of the Conservatives in the vote, and the latter below 35%. The Liberals, at 22.9, are almost as far behind the NDP as the NDP is behind the Conservatives.
For a week or more, nearly all polls have been picking up a surge in support for the NDP, so it no longer looks like a blip.
As can be expected when a party becomes competitive in seats it never expected to have a chance to win, the NDP has some rather dodgy candidates in Quebec. Will they ultimately be a liability and bring the party back down? Or will the next House have some highly colorful rookies?
I expected this to be a fairly boring election when it was called, but it looks like a thriller now.
Well, this projection at The Mace is certainly attention grabbing: “if an election were held tomorrow, the NDP have a 95.2% chance of winning more seats than the Liberals.” They also show the combined NDP-Liberal seat total as greater than the Conservatives’ (81+73 vs. 131).
Now that would be interesting.
I still am suspicious that the NDP surge, now confirmed in many polls, could be another Cleggmania bounce that will wither. On the other hand, Layton has been around a while, so we can’t say the NDP surge is as much a popular excitement with the unfamiliar, as was the case with Clegg.
The latest release of the Nanos daily tracking poll (which uses a three-day rolling average) in advance of the Canadian general election (2 May) shows some interesting regional dynamics.
The national trends continue to show the Conservatives well ahead but fairly flat since early April, at 39% of the vote. The Liberals are slipping slightly, now on 28% and the NDP is up a bit since the debates, at just under 20%. Really, not much has changed at the national level recently, but the regional picture is a different story.
In Quebec in the last few days, the NDP has surged into second place (25%) while the Conservatives have fallen to fourth place (17%). The BQ is on only 32.5%, well below where it was at the 2008 election (38.1%). The NDP figure is about double where the party was at the last election.
In Ontario, the NDP lags far behind its national share, with just under 13%, and that’s well below its 18.2% result at the last election.
Also of note is the NDP’s recent rise in polling in British Columbia, almost in a tie for second with the Liberals (although the NDP remains about where it was at the last election, 26.1%). The margins of error in the regional breakdowns are fairly large (on the order of 6% or more), so caveats in order.
A PDF report of the poll is available from Nanos. (Thanks to Wilf for the tip.)
Canada’s party leaders–or rather four of them–are holding their only pre-election debate in English this evening at 7:00 p.m., Eastern Time. (A debate in French is tomorrow, the date having been changed for the thoroughly Canadian reason of conflict with hockey.)
In Monday’s Globe and Mail, John Ibbitson says, in explaining why leaders, and by extension debates, matter:
while they ["political analysts"] know that Canada is on paper a parliamentary system, in reality voters think presidentially. They don’t vote for the candidate they want to represent them in the House of Commons; they vote for the leader and party they want to form the government
There are actually two statements in there, one fairly accurate, and the other way off. So let’s unpack them.
In virtually all parliamentary democracies, voters vote mainly for the “leader and party” they want to form the government–or gain a share of it, where coalitions are expected–and not for the candidate they want to be their local or regional representative. That’s parliamentary politics 101.
However, the first part of the quoted passage makes a much bolder claim, that voters vote as if it were a presidential election. This is a very different claim from simply asserting, as the second sentence implies, that the leader might be a key part of the reason for a voter’s party choice. It actually suggests that voters go a step farther, and vote for a given party if they want the leader to head the government–full stop. That has to be what “thinking presidentially” means. For what makes presidentialism distinct from parliamentarism in the voting process is precisely that voters can vote for a presidential candidate without also voting for that candidate’s party in the legislative election.
There is a literature in political science on “presidentialization” of prime ministers. It may be clear from these remarks what I think of it. If it is not, please consider reading (better yet, buying and reading!) Presidents, Parties, and Prime Ministers, because I could quite literally write a whole book on the topic (with lots of help; thanks, David!).
The short(-ish) version is that personalization is not the same as presidentialization. The personal characteristics of the executive candidate (or the legislative candidate, for that matter) might be a major factor in vote choice, perhaps more important than the party program or simple party loyalty. But unless you can show me that the candidate was selected to appeal to voters who would not otherwise vote for the party, and with the party having accepted that said candidate may not actually share the collective preferences of the party, then please do not tell me it is presidentialization. Because, one can show that parties in presidential systems make these sorts of tradeoffs all the time, and often to the detriment of the party as a whole. But one can also show that it simply is not the case very often in parliamentary systems. Yes, it happens. Blair and Koizumi come to mind. But I do not believe any of the about-to-debate Canadian leaders represent parties that have made such presidentializing tradeoffs, and certainly not Stephen Harper, who is running his fourth consecutive campaign and whose party has won a plurality, but not a majority, in the last two.
In 2010, Greens won their first seat in each of two of Her Majesty’s Realms (UK and Australia*). Could Canada’s Greens follow suit in 2011?
The Globe and Mail today has an interview with party leader Elizabeth May, who has relocated across the country from Nova Scotia, where she ran last time. This time she is the party’s candidate in Saanich-Gulf Islands, in British Columbia.
She explains the politics behind the move:
On the political side the Green Party decided after the 2008 election that perhaps they’d made a mistake not making my riding a priority. … The party had an epiphany … the council members were saying “good heavens, we did so well in this election, we got one million votes and all we’re getting is abuse … people are saying we didn’t elect the leader, but we weren’t even trying to elect the leader!” It was kind of a thought bubble that stayed dangling over the room while people started thinking, “Why didn’t we try to elect the leader? …”
I said you have to do some research … and Saanich-Gulf Islands emerged in every analysis as the place in the country where more voters were … excited about, in large numbers, the idea of electing the leader of the Green Party.**
In 2008 in the riding (district) the Conservative MP Gary Lunn was reelected with 43.4% over Liberal candidate Briony Penn, on 39.4%. The Green candidate, Andrew Lewis, came in third with 10.5%.
The Greens actually did far better in 2008 in several ridings in Ontario, even coming in second in one or two. But their research said this BC riding was the one to go for, and May claims (though take this with a grain of salt) that their own internal polling says it’s a two-candidate race between her and Lunn.
* Referring here to single-seat contests in the House of Representatives. They had held seats for a while in the PR-elected Senate.
** All ellipses in the quoted passage are in the original, except for the last one of the first paragraph.
The minority Conservative government of Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper could be defeated in the House of Commons on Friday.
The government tabled its budget this week. It has been long expected that both the Liberals and Bloc Quebecois would vote against it. Yesterday the New Democrats, not finding enough “sweeteners” in the budget, announced that they also will vote against.
The immediate trigger for an election, however, would be a motion by the Liberals that the government has lost the confidence of parliament on account of having been ruled “in contempt” for failing to provide the House with information on some of its policy costings.
If there is an election, it will likely be in early May, and it will be the county’s fourth in about seven years. The Conservatives, who have been leading in the polls but not usually sufficient for a majority of seats, are counting on their budget to have enough in it to please Canadian voters even if it did not please any opposition parties. In fact, it appears that was precisely the government’s strategy: send a budget the opposition would “have to” reject, and have an election.
If Harper falls just short of a majority, he is likely safe for another few years as head of the government. But what if he falls well short again? Could talk of a coalition, like the aborted one after the last election, be revived?
Writing in The Globe and Mail, Bob Plamondon suggests that Canadian PM Stephen Harper might regret his regular warnings to voters that the opposition parties might gang up on his Conservative Party and form a coalition. Harper has been hammering this theme ever since the aborted coalition proposal that emerged just after the 2008 election.
Polls continue to show that the Conservatives enjoy a lead, but likely not enough to win a parliamentary majority. An election is not certain this year, but there is much speculation that there could be one this spring. The budget will soon have to be approved in the Commons, and if the opposition parties are not satisfied with “sweeteners” in it, they could bring down the government. And, of course, if Harper wants an election, he can send them a budget they must refuse.
in one of the most significant (and least noted) public opinion polls conducted since that election, EKOS Research Associates discovered earlier this month that many Canadians would be prepared to support a coalition were it to be on the ballot.
Of course, such a pre-election coalition remains unlikely, but Plamondon asks:
Would the prospect of losing their third election in a row cause Liberals to make common ground with the NDP, and possibly the Green Party? Is a Liberal-NDP coalition remotely possible?
A dimension of comparison that scholars of political parties have not paid enough attention to–and that means me, too–is the presence and impact of direct election of big-city mayors in countries that are parliamentary at higher levels of government (national, state/provincial, etc.).
The election results show a victory by Rob Ford, with 47% in a multi-candidate field.
Like many a presidential candidate, he won by emphasizing himself, personally, as an agent of change. And even though he has served on the city council, he is an “outsider” in the sense of not having allies, as the Globe and Mail commented the day after the election:
Before he ran for mayor, Mr. Ford was an isolated city councillor who often failed to understand the issues he was ranting about at city council. As a candidate, he ran on a series of simplistic slogans that say nothing about the real problems of a grown-up city.
Certainly, not the sort of leader who could become “PM” of the city, were the city to have a parliamentary system like the province of Ontario or Canada at the federal level.
The election is by first-past-the-post, and it had many of the classic dynamics of FPTP in a multi-candidate field. The second-place candidate, George Smitherman, had 35.6%, and Joe Pantalone was third with 11.7%. The fourth candidate, Rocco Rossi, dropped out of the campaign, saying:
Despite my efforts to focus this race around issues and ideas that I feel matter, it has become clear that the majority of Torontonians have parked their support with one of two candidates: Mr. Smitherman or Mr. Ford.
All federal MPs from Toronto are currently Liberal or NDP. Yet the voters of the city have taken advantage of the direct election to choose a right-wing mayor.
With direct election, the process of selecting the mayor of Toronto could hardly be more different than the selection of the premier of the province or the PM of Canada. The federal parties may be “taking notes” on the Ford campaign, but the lessons will go only so far, given that the differences in executive type that structure their campaigns.
Some other parliamentary democracies also have directly elected mayors of large cities, including Japan and the U.K. There may well be a literature about this “presidentialism embedded in parliamentarism” that I have missed.
The eastern Canadian province of Canada has a history of anomalous results from its FPTP electoral system. Yet, despite the province’s record (of which I have written before–click “N.B.” above), a referendum planned on an MMP system was canceled three years ago–just after a spurious alternation! (In 2006, the incumbent Conservatives won a plurality of the vote, but the opposition Liberals won a majority of seats.)
In this year’s vote, the Conservatives won the vote by a wide margin, 48.9% to 34.4%. This translated into over three quarters of the seats for the plurality party. Meanwhile, the NDP won over 10% and the Greens 4.5%, but neither of these parties won a seat.
The battle over the future of the long-gun registry is narrowing as a clash of rural and urban values could very well bring about a tie vote on the floor of the House of Commons.
While the governing (but minority) Conservatives are likely to be fully united behind a bill to lift the current gun registry requirements, and the Liberals and Bloc Quebecois unite behind the status quo, the unity of the New Democrats will be sorely tested. The NDP caucus is divided between urban ridings (districts) and rural ones. Classic wedge politics. Or is this a (risky) “Western strategy” opportunity for the NDP itself?
UPDATE: The “Western Strategy” is on hold. G&M today (15 Sep) reports that NDP leader Jack Layton says he was convinced most of his rural caucus to block the proposal to lift the registry requirement. “The NDP plans on introducing its own private member’s legislation next week, which will propose changes to the registry that alleviate rural concerns,” it further reports.
If by my laws you walk, and my commands you keep, and observe them,
then I will give-forth your rains in their set-time,
so that the earth gives-forth its yield
and the trees of the field give-forth their fruit.
--Vayikra 26: 3-4