Sunday, January 30, 2011

Layton is not as successful as Broadbent

You heard me. He isn't, plain and simple. This opinion which I've heard thrown around quite a few times is still false, and it will be unless the NDP have a breakthrough next election.

Let's review the two leaders, shall we?

Ed Broadbent was NDP leader from 1975 to 1989, going through four elections (1979, 1980, 1984, 1988), and was by far the party's most successful leader. His first election he managed to take his party to their second highest vote totals in their history (17.88%), and in the next three elections he managed to get a greater share of the popular vote than Layton has so far managed. Here's his results:

1979 - 26 seats (9.22% of all seats) @ 17.88% of the popular vote
1980 - 32 seats (11.35% of all seats) @ 19.67% of the popular vote
1984 - 30 seats (10.64% of all seats) @ 18.81% of the popular vote
1988 - 43 seats (14.58% of all seats) @ 20.38% of the popular vote

Jack Layton has been NDP leader since 2003, and he's so far gone through three elections (2004, 2006, 2008), and will probably go through a fourth. Here's his results so far:

2004 - 19 seats (6.17% of all seats) @ 15.68% of the popular vote
2006 - 29 seats (9.42% of all seats) @ 17.48% of the popular vote
2008 - 37 seats (12.01% of all seats) @ 18.13% of the popular vote

Now, here's a fun mathematical trick: calculating vote efficiency. Basically like how you'd calculate fuel efficiency - work performed/energy expended, though in this case, it's seat results/popular vote results. For example, in 2008, the Liberal Party's popular vote was 95% efficient - or 25% of seats (77) / 26.26% of the vote. It's a fun way to see in a FPTP system how much of your vote actually works for you. The Conservatives had 123% efficiency (eep).

Anyways, the below line graph shows the two leader's vote efficiency over their elections (fyi, Layton's is scrunched up for comparative purposes).

In other words: Broadbent's NDP was more efficient than Layton's, even in 1988/2008, where Broadbent scored over 71% efficiency, and Layton managed just over 66%.

Indeed, average it out, and Broadbent's NDP managed to have 59% vote efficiency during his tenure, while Layton's NDP has has 53% vote efficiency. Even if you discount 1988 for Broadbent, it's still 55-53. Hm.

Furthermore, and I really, really wish I had data from the era to show you, but everyone knows that Broadbent regularly surpassed both the Tories and the Liberals in the popular vote. Layton, as far as I can see, has yet to surpass the very weak Liberals, and at best managed a tie. Not exactly inspiring.

And I know someone will say that Layton has managed to be nearly as good as Broadbent despite a more conflicted electorate, and is therefore more successful. First, let me point out that is a very subjective opinion. Secondly, let's also note that even if it was true, Layton come near Broadbent's score in many areas despite more parties existing, but his vote share is still more inefficient.

The only areas where Layton can really claim to be superior is in some regional areas, specifically Ontario, where it really counts. But more traditional areas of NDP support, such as BC, MN/SK, and Atlantic Canada, he falls behind Broadbent, or in the latter case, McDonough. Take that as you will.

So, once again: Jack Layton is not more successful than Ed Broadbent. If it changes in the next election, then I'll gladly admit it (though I severely doubt he will). Until then, however, the fact remains.


  1. How many seats did Ed Broadbent win in Quebec?

  2. Zero, unless you count the Chambly by-election. But despite not winning any seats, Broadbent actually had more seats in play than Jack Layton does, and that includes without star candidates (all Jack's good seats in Quebec had/have star candidates).

    Just remember the extenuating circumstances around Outremont, as well, John - a former Liberal MNA wins the seat against two successively weak Liberal opponents, but is still in danger of losing his seat despite. If there was no Mulcair, there would be no NDP seat in Quebec, mark my words.

  3. Did you also consider the field of competition? Broadbent was functioning in a three-party system by and large, while Layton's gains have come during a time of four- to five-party competition.

    There are some political science measures of how competitive a riding or election is, although I don't know a lot about their validity in various situations, but you could try and use something like that to weight your results.

    @John Lennard: one, in a 1989 by-election: Phil Edmonston in Chambly, during a by-election right after the tire fire in Ste-Basile Le Grand, and after the RCMP arrested the Conservative who narrowly defeated him in the previous election.

  4. PG,

    I did, but I still think its a bit subjective. After all, despite the various parties now roaming the scene, the NDP are within their relative historical norms as a party. It doesn't seem to be affecting them too much. Can that be put down to Layton's leadership, or the fact that the two new parties that have taken hold - the Bloc and the Greens - are taking more out of the two traditional parties? Its hard to tell, really.

  5. Your chart is a bit misleading. Layton's line should start at election 1, not election 2. The missing piece of data for Layton should be election 4 not election 1 (Layton has ran in his 1st election, but not his 4th).

    This would show that Layton surpassed Broadbents "vote efficiency" in his 3rd election.

    Not that any of this really matters. They are both close enough, and both of them have been bery successful NDP leaders.

  6. And Layton's line is much steeper, showing greater increases in vote efficiency in his 2nd and third elections.

  7. kinch,

    As I noted, it was done simply for comparative purposes. The fact is as well that 1984 is a bit of a unique situation too, given the Tory tied, to Broadbent's lower % there kinda makes it look odd. However, there's also the point to be made that quite a few people compare 2008 to 1988 as well, saying how Layton's so much better in 2008, etc.

    Also, I would call your latter point misleading. Layton actually had decreased efficiency in the 2004 election versus the 2000 election, dropping from around 50% to 39%. Meanwhile, Broadbent actually improved on Lewis' efficiency from 1974, jumping up from 39% to 51%. So in reality, they kind of followed the same history, except Broadbent caught the upswing on his first run, while Layton did it during his second.

    It's really amazing how repetitive the NDP's vote share becomes when you look at it. For example, they always face continuous bumps up in Quebec, peaking around 12-14%, with stepping stones of 4-5%, 7-8%, etc., then they fall back down. It's happened twice already, with Douglas and Broadbent. I believe it may happen again with Layton, because its the same pattern.

    Which means that, if they do it again next election, it seems the NDP have a fairly stable vote share. That's a blessing and a curse, I suppose, but also makes for easy prediction!