Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Calgary 2010 Aftermath, Part 2: How the heck did Nenshi get those votes?

If you've yet to hear about it, Naheed Nenshi was elected in Calgary as Mayor not too long ago. In contrast to the quite angry vote that ended up giving Toronto a fairly poor choice for mayor, Nenshi's campaign was about constructive, progressive ideas that aimed to build Calgary into something new, something better. So, how the hell did this guy win?

This is Part 2 in my little troika of blog posts examining how Naheed Nenshi managed this upset in the city formerly known as Cowtown. Part 1 is here.

To begin with, I modified this quick map of Calgary's Wards as won by each of Calgary's mayoralty front-runners.
The lighter colours denotes a win with less than 5% separating the two leading candidates, slightly darker 5-10%, and much darker +10%. As is evident from the outset, Nenshi won heavily in Calgary's north, especially the western and north-eastern portions of the city. Runner-up Rob McIver managed to keep his base in southern Calgary, easily outpacing Nenshi in his former Ward 12 seat, just edging out Nenshi in Ward 14, and coming in very close behind Nenshi in Wards 9 & 13, as well as nearly knocking out Barb Higgins in Ward 10. Higgins lost Ward 5 by just under 200 votes to Nenshi.

It's hardly a coincidence that Nenshi's strongest areas, specifically Wards 3, 7, and 8, are also where the provincial Liberals hold seats, and the federal Liberals manage to score some of their best results in Calgary. Nenshi clearly captured the "progressive" or "centre-left" vote in Calgary, and competitive results in other areas of the city that are not-so-traditionally progressive voting helped him cruise to a victory of relative and unexpected ease.

But what got Nenshi these votes? How did this little-known university professor capture all these votes?

Some think it's the youth vote that got Nenshi elected. I'm unsure about that, as the youth demographic is a notorious thing to try and get out to vote. We unfortunately don't have any polls that indicate voter turnout pertaining to certain demographics, though we do have the next best thing: an Ipsos Reid poll, taken about a week or so before the election, that gives us some numbers in regards to what you could call "voter enthusiasm."

While the poll was relatively off in regards to voting intention, it was one of Nenshi's better polls (they had him at 21%) and it's the only one that actually asks whether people will vote (58% said they would in this poll, not too far off the 52% that actually did), along with how. The results show that the demographic aged 18-34 were the ones who were the least likely to be "absolutely certain" they were going to go out and vote, with 40% giving a certain answer, while older demographics were by far more certain (34-54 65% certain, 55+ 72% certain).

Furthermore, looking at the voter intention question, Nenshi was pretty much equal in getting 18-34 year old's votes, as he was to get 35-54 year old's votes (24 to 22), but with 55+ voters giving him only 16% support. This would make sense, as Nenshi would probably round up the majority of his support with younger demographics, and trail among older ones. The Leger poll taken between October 6th and 11th showed Nenshi with a 43% lead among the 18-34 demographic, but consistent with the Ipsos poll, about 25-30% were "Somewhat" to "Very Unlikely" to vote.

In basic conclusion, I have doubts that the younger demographic really made that much of an impact in the actual vote itself, though certainly in polling, in presence, and in momentum, they helped boost Nenshi's profile. Which brings me to the thing that I believe really helped elect Nenshi as Mayor of Calgary: communication.

Nenshi's campaign is noted for its brilliance in getting out the word online and to the media. He has an effective website, constantly updates his Twitter feed, and wrote his ideas and policies in a simple, easy-to-read-and-understand format. Far from being the supposed effete egghead, Nenshi's basic ideas appealed to many Calgarian's concerns during the election: transportation, spending, and quite simply, the incumbency on City Council. The latter article also describes how older demographics were more upset with the incumbent Council than were younger demographics, something that more than likely helped Nenshi round out his votes.

Team Nenshi's ability to play with the big dogs over in McIver and Higgins' teams allowed Nenshi to build credibility as a serious candidate. This, combined with energetic youth volunteers and support, brought Nenshi out to the forefront, giving those in the older, more-likely-to-vote demographics a chance to see his platform, catch the Nenshi bug, and actually consider voting for him. This, more than some wild increase in the youth vote, seems more likely to me.

Part 3 will have my conclusions, and a comparison that I believe fits well with Toronto's mayoralty election, in which I hope to answer the question of how a progressive, non-angry, Muslim university professor was able to take out an experienced alderman and a popular media figure, while a provincial cabinet minister who was often thought to be the second-most powerful figure in the government, lost heavily to a little-known right-wing councillor from Etobicoke.


  1. What contributed to Naheed Nenshi's win was that he did have a media presence before he announced his candidacy, which probably helped him a lot.

    The Youth Vote got a very strong push this time around, plus there are many local issues now that people feel strongly about compared to other elections.

  2. True, like I said - communication is key. I was unaware of Nenshi's media presence beforehand, but it did give him somewhat of a base to work out of, I suppose.

    As for the Youth Vote stuff, I've seen many initiatives like that come and go. How successful was it really? I'm sure it got quite a few youth out to vote, probably more than in other elections, but I still doubt it really made an impact when all the votes were counted.

    But, yes, local issues dominated that campaign. Nenshi took good advantage of it.