Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Is it really so easy for Harper to get a majority?

It is, at least according to Nik Nanos and Jane Taber. Both pundits say that, because the Conservatives will employ a "cluster strategy" in the GTA, the ridings there could fall to the Conservatives, handing the party its much-coveted majority.

The so-called "cluster strategy," is one pioneered by the Republicans down south, where the strategy is to target certain "clusters" of ridings to win, instead of building or depending on national or broad-based regional swings. It isn't exactly a novel idea - it's been employed by parties ranging from the CCF to British Labour to the Liberals to the Bloc - but is a highly effective one. How Jane Taber and Nik Nanos didn't catch this before, I'm not sure, but hey, let's not get ahead of ourselves.

The main idea is that the Conservatives are going to target the "cluster" regions in and around the 416 (Toronto) and 905 (GTA) area codes, stealing away vulnerable ridings from the Liberals. Given that the Harper Conservatives are only 10 seats away from a majority in practice (adding Calgary Centre North and Prince George-Peace River, they have currently 145), grabbing certain low-hanging fruit in the GTA would probably give them the barest of majorities. Here's a list of those ridings, within 10% or more, that the Conservatives could conceivably grab on a low swing:

Brampton West (0.6%)
Brampton-Springdale (1.6%)
Mississauga South (4.3%)
Eglinton-Lawrence (5.3%)
Don Valley West (5.4%)
York Centre (5.6%)
Ajax-Pickering (6.4%)
Bramalea-Gore-Malton (7.8%)
Mississauga-Streetsville (9.8%)

Those are the 9 ridings within the GTA that the Conservatives, in their "cluster strategy," could, should, and probably will target. There are also a number of under-15% ridings, which I would put as a basic high water mark of Liberal ridings the Conservatives will grab based on 2008, because it was the margin between the Liberals and Conservatives in Vaughan in 2008. These ridings includes Ignatieff's Etobicoke-Lakeshore riding, and 6 others, bringing the total number of low-hanging fruit in the GTA to 16 seats for the Conservatives, more than enough to put them over that 155-seat mark.

So, there you have it - how the Conservatives will win their majority, destroy the Liberal Party, and rule the country with an iron fist. But, wait, there's a cavaet - they'll do this with the Liberals jumping up their national numbers 5%! That makes sense, doesn't it?

In fairness, Nanos' most recent poll also shows that the Conservatives have propped themselves up to 42.3% of the vote in Ontario, compared to 35.4% for the Liberals. This represents a bump for both parties, of 3.1% and 1.6% respectively. However, this comes from the Green Party almost exclusively, as they dropped from 8% in 2008, to 3% in Nanos' poll. The NDP have a modest bump to 19.3%, about their 2006 numbers.

So, the entire idea here, according to Taber/Nanos (how about Tabnos?), is that 3.1% bump for the Conservatives will come from a "cluster" swing in the GTA, where the Conservatives will campaign on their "tough on crime" agenda to win multitudes of votes and kick several Liberal MPs out of the job. Given that most of these votes seem to be coming from a collapse in the Green Party's votes, since they don't seem to be coming from anywhere else (though it is impossible to tell), let's say that 3.1% bump, limited to those 9 GTA ridings I mentioned, comes from the Green's votes in those same ridings. Let's do the math:

2008's result - 9 ridings, all Liberal <10% margin
LIB - 183,548 - 43.5%
CON - 161,946 - 38.4%
NDP - 45,137 - 10.7%
GRN - 29,016 - 6.9%
OTH - 2,150 - 0.5%

3.1% of a total of 421,797 votes = 13,076 votes.

13,076 + 161,946 = 175,022
29,016 - 13,076 = 15,940

That's a 45% loss of votes for the Green Party, and an 8.1% increase in votes for the Conservatives. That's our baseline - a swing of 45% from Greens to Conservatives. That's not a broad swing, mind you - it's just the amount of votes Conservatives gain in each riding from the Greens, and given that each riding has differing totals of votes for all parties, you have to apply them individually to each riding.

For example, let's take the closest riding, Brampton West, and the one with the biggest gap, Mississauga-Streetsville, and compare them doing this increase of votes:

Brampton West - 2008
LIB - 21,746 - 40.3%
CON - 21,515 - 39.9%
NDP - 7,334 - 13.6%
GRN - 3,329 - 6.2%

Brampton West - hypothetical
CON - 23,013 - 42.7%
LIB - 21,746 - 40.3%
NDP - 7,334 - 13.6%
GRN - 1,831 - 3.4%

So, a Conservative win in Brampton West. What about Mississauga-Streetsville?

Mississauga-Streetsville - 2008
LIB - 21,579 - 45.6%
CON - 16,946 - 35.8%
NDP - 4,711 - 10.0%
GRN - 3,177 - 6.7%
OTH - 941 - 2.0%

Mississauga-Streetsville - hypothetical
LIB - 21,579 - 45.6%
CON - 18,376 - 38.8%
NDP - 4,711 - 10.0%
GRN - 1,747 - 3.7%
OTH - 941 - 2.0%

Not a Conservative win. Indeed, not even in range of 5%.

Now, do this to all 9 ridings, and we get these results:

Hypothetical results - 9 ridings
LIB -  183,548 - 43.5% - 7 ridings
CON - 175,022 - 41.5% - 2 ridings
NDP - 45,137 - 10.7%
GRN - 15,940 - 3.8%
OTH - 2,150 - 0.5%

The Liberals retain 7 of the 9 ridings, while the Conservatives take 2 - Brampton West and Brampton-Springdale. This is on just a pure swing in these 9 ridings, the Conservatives bumping themselves up 3.1%, 45% of Green votes going to them, and all they can net is an extra 2 ridings. Woot. These same results occur even when applying an 8.1% increase to Conservative vote totals in these ridings. Indeed, in order to take all 9 of these ridings, the Conservatives need something like a 30% increase in their vote totals, or the Liberals need to drop about 25%, which works out to a 5% swing from Liberal to Conservative, and that's not including how the other various parties voters react. If 10% of NDPers decide to vote Liberal, then all of it is negated, and the Conservatives need to jump an even larger hurdle.

Now, as is obvious, this is all hypothetical. There are too many factors at play to say its anywhere close to a prediction, but I think its safe to say that, simply put, it is not as easy as it seems for the Conservatives to take the ridings they think they can get in the GTA. I was being fairly generous with my model, given that its highly doubtful all of the Green vote will go Conservative, and that there will be no changes in the votes of the other parties. If Nanos' numbers hold true, than the Conservatives simply couldn't depend on a swing in the GTA for that majority, nevermind the fact that the Liberal vote would more likely than not increase, if not in the GTA, then in other areas of Ontario, probably picking up at least one seat.

Let's take Vaughan, for instance. In that riding, if we apply the percentages in the by-election to 2008's vote totals, the Conservatives increased their vote count a whopping 43%, from 34.3% to 49.1%. But how much of that was party swing, and how much of it was because of Fantino? If we apply 308.com's standardized 14% as the "star candidates" drawing power (this is, again, being generous), then that drops down to 29% swing on party basis. If we include the fact that the Liberals lost only 5.5% of their vote total, the Conservatives drop to 23.5%, as their total increase of votes if they had run some no-name, standard candidate, which would have given the Conservatives the riding, on a pure swing with the Liberals of just over 16%.

A 23.5% increase in votes would certainly net some GTA ridings, up to that under-15% mark it seems, at the very least. But, in Vaughan, had those NDP and Green votes still drifted, the Liberals would have had just under 55% of the vote to the Conservative's 42%, and then the Conservatives need to go from 23.5% increase in votes, to a 35% increase, a very large hurdle. Not impossible, but large, very large, and certainly larger than anything Nanos has shown.

So unless the Conservatives can field a star candidate in every riding that they're targeting with the name recognition and drawing power of Julian Fantino, they have their work cut out for them. If they want a solid base, they need to increase their vote count in those 9 ridings by at least 15%, by gathering those votes from the Liberals, and keeping vote drift between the smaller parties to a minimum, or co-opting them for themselves. And all of it has to be done with a no-name candidate. Not an impossible task, but still an extremely hard proposition, especially if the current polling has anything to say about it.

People may not have realized it yet, but the Liberals are very, very deeply entrenched in Toronto and the GTA. They're not going to be rooted out easily, "cluster strategy" be damned. The Conservatives are going up against not only a few years worth of Liberal domination, but decades. It'll take a hell of a lot for them to win. And just remember - it took the Conservatives three elections of continuously dropping Liberal votes in order to get as far as they have. If the Liberals start to increase their votes, as Nanos' own polling shows, then those gains are easily erased. How will the Conservatives' cluster strategy start to fare then?

I won't deny that it is entirely possible that the Conservatives can win these seats. It's actually very possible. But it isn't as easy as folks make it out to be; even in Vaughan, they nearly lost to a Liberal candidate with essentially no name power. How Nik Nanos or Jane Taber expect this easy Conservative romp, I don't know. But I do know that there's going to be a fight next election, and it'll be an interesting one. Especially in these ridings.


  1. Good job. But 2 points: one to bolster your case, but also one for you to take account of, if you're willing / can.

    1) The 'tough on crime' shtick probably ain't gonna fly too well in TO., of all places, where crime is DOWN 30%, to the point that they think it'd be a mistake to even hire any more cops.

    2) But that's not the only arrow in their quiver: the other divide & conquer area that Jason Kenney's been chipping away at for years now, is to try to win over the immigrant communities one-by-one, that the Libs may've been taking for granted. (See, e.g., http://www2.macleans.ca/2010/11/29/harper%E2%80%99s-secret-weapon/

  2. WhigWag,

    Too true on #1, though even if that weren't the situation, I question how far it'll fly anyways. Winnipeg North demonstrated that not a heck of a lot of people believe the Conservatives on that point.

    #2, I agree as well, but there's only so far Kenny can actually go before he slows down or hits that wall. There will always be a certain split in a country in terms of political support, best demonstrated by the US where there is only two parties, but also prevalent in Canada. 40% will be either "conservative" or "liberal," or "right wing" or "left wing," if you prefer, while the rest will be an amalgamation of other ideologies, flip-floppers, and etc.

    If this is true for immigrant populations as well, then for the past while, Liberals are the ones who have been reaping most of that left wing/undecided vote. The Conservatives will push that back more, and more, and more, but eventually, they will stop at some point, probably around that 40% mark, maybe more, while the Liberals, NDP, and Greens (as well as the Bloc's little apportioned share) fight over the rest. Beyond that, the odds are against them.

  3. Look back at the by-election results. You will see from Vaughan that the left side of the voting spectrum swung hard to the Liberal candidate. I assume as a strategic vote. In a general election that is extremely unlikely. So who were the people that stayed home? What happens in a general election?

    I think there is smart money on the Liberal's bleeding to the left.

  4. Our strategy in the immigrant communities needs work. The one focus the Cons bring is anti-gay, anti-choice rhetoric. We DO have answers for that (taken from recent discussions with MPs), but need to employ that. Pretty much, we can use the line the old German Protestant priest (Martin Niemoller): "When the Nazis came for the communists,
    I remained silent;
    I was not a communist.

    When they locked up the social democrats,
    I remained silent;
    I was not a social democrat.

    When they came for the trade unionists,
    I did not speak out;
    I was not a trade unionist.

    When they came for the Jews,
    I remained silent;
    I wasn't a Jew.

    When they came for me,
    there was no one left to speak out."

    Immigrant communities like mine NEED to realize that hate is hate, and hating on one community (ex, the gay community) is just steps on the path in Niemoller's poem above. Go ahead... don't speak out for the gay community. Just wait and see who the ultra-right in this country targets next. That's NOT our Canada.


  5. Tomm,

    The Liberals, as a centrist party, are always bleeding to the left. Left-wing voters are the easiest to scare away. When you have a strong left-wing party like the NDP, then you end up with those left-wingers going for them. As we see, they already do go there.

    The question of whether more of them will, I don't know, but I doubt it. At this point, everyone knows the NDP can't win. The Liberals can. Will it be the left leaving the Liberals, or will the moderates, the flip-floppers, and those that simply don't want the Conservatives, leave the NDP? My money is on the latter, more than on the former.


    I cannot agree more with the entire comment. However, I'm very unsure of how effective such a message will be. Do you think it would appeal to those older generation voters?