Sunday, November 14, 2010

NDP's Afghanistan opposition will get them only so far

Warren Kinsella came out with this gem a couple days ago, during that rightly-labelled debacle of missing priorities:
"9.  And political people actually wonder why both the Liberals and the Conservatives are dropping below 30 per cent in the polls, and why the NDP is moving up.  And they wonder why people are growing more and more cynical about democracy, and democratic institutions, and are angrily lashing out at politicians."
The second part I have no issue about - he's right on that. But the first portion I think is just reading a little too much into a poll that came out before this issue reared its ugly head.

Nevertheless, something I've heard before is that the Dipper's opposition to the Afghanistan war is their main ticket to success. That Canadians will see how warmongering the Conservatives and Liberals are, and will vote for the NDP because they're so goshdarn disgusted with the parties and their positions on this. Certainly, this rout of Parliamentary privilege by the two main parties on this issue is a catalyst, right? Right?

No. I don't doubt the NDP will get votes because of it, but the fact is that there simply is not enough traction with the issue to give the NDP enough of a boost to overcome maybe even 20%. While opposition is very high (at least according to Angus-Reid), the priority of the issue is very low right now, at least if the allocation of budget priorities is any indication.

Even if the issue was to gain traction, I want you to take a gander at a similar situation that happened only a little while ago: UK's 2005 general election.

The 2005 election was the one that occurred after the decision to send troops to Iraq, made by PM Tony Blair back in 2003, and it took a bite out of both the ruling Labour Party, and the opposition Conservatives, to the main benefit of the anti-war Liberal Democrats. But, this wasn't the election where the Lib Dems managed to surpass both traditional parties to win government. No, instead, they jumped up in the popular vote a couple of points, also managed to gain a few more seats, and, well, that was all she wrote.

Now, the Lib Dems did manage their highest seat count in years, and that's certainly something. But the two pro-war parties were able to fend off the challenge of the Lib Dems, and fairly easily at that, with Labour cruising to another victory and the Conservatives safely ensconced as the main Opposition.

Part of the problem was that the Lib Dem vote is inefficient, and much like the NDP in Canada, tends to spread itself out rather than concentrate in specific areas, as you have to do if you want to be successful in first-past-the-post systems. In fact, the NDP are more efficient than the Lib Dems at it, considering that in 2008, the NDP received 18% of the vote and 12% of the seats, and in 2005, the Lib Dems received 22% of the vote and only 10% of the seats.

So, let's say that, like the Lib Dems in 2005, the NDP jump up from 18% to 22% of the vote. Using UBC's election forecaster, taking equal parts from the Conservatives and Liberals (about 6% each), the NDP jump up from 37 seats to 42, taking 3 from the Conservatives and 2 from the Liberals. That's a 4-point bump, without much success.

Let's say that at least 70% of the new NDP votes come from the Liberals - shifting about 10% between the two parties. The NDP jump up from 37 to 44 seats, the Liberals drop 9 to 68, and sit with only 23.6% of the vote, while the Conservatives coast with an easy 144 seats. Interesting, successful results to be sure, but still not exactly a huge bump in the seat count.

Then, for fun, let's say that some of the Bloc vote jumps to the NDP, given that Quebec is so virulently anti-Afghanistan. With a shift of about 5% of the vote from the Bloc to the NDP, and 5% from the other two parties, we get to our magic 22%, and the NDP get 43 seats, including an extra one from Quebec (Gatineau). Again, not a hilarious amount of success.

This is because, like the Lib Dems, the NDP tend to peter out after a certain level of popular support because of their vote efficiency is so low. For instance, in pure swings, the Lib Dems need a swing of at least 5% more than 24% (what they got in 2010) until they get into territory where they can make a lot of pickups. The same is true for the NDP, where it requires them getting to at least 25% of the vote until they can take a lot of pickups from the two traditional parties.

To get into a little more technical, this happens because in swings, the NDP vote total in each district rises accordingly with each rise of the national vote. So, for instance, if 5% of the Conservative's vote transfered to the NDP in Burlington based on the 2008 results, the NDP would rise from 11.2% of the vote and 6,600 votes, to 13.7% of the vote and 8,000 votes. Now, do this in all ridings across the country, and see what results you get. That's a national swing, and for a party like the NDP, whose vote is inefficient (it doesn't build up in specific regions or ridings as much as the Liberals, Conservatives, or Bloc) and spread out, it's an accurate way of predicting how many votes it will take until the NDP vote can win huge amounts of ridings.

Now, keeping this in mind, what are the chances that the NDP's opposition to the Afghanistan issue, where the priority is low even though opposition is high, along with all the various other factors that go into every individual's vote (but my grandfather will disown me if I vote NDP!), is going to lead them to any sort of effective victory?

Like the Lib Dems, the NDP shouldn't make the mistake of riding on the coattails of an issue that will give them limited success in both the short and long terms.

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