Sunday, May 22, 2011

Unite the What?

The guy who runs the website "The Mace" has an excellent post on why it is exactly that "uniting the left" is not nearly as consistent an idea as some may think:

Here’s a quick trivia question. Which party is more right-wing: The Conservatives, or the NDP?

Because you’re the sort of person who reads political blogs, obviously the answer is extraordinarily easy. So insultingly easy, in fact, you may have suspiciously assumed I’m only asking as a way to segue into some smarmy point about how the CPC has abandoned their philosophical roots, or whatever.

Yet to many Canadians, this question is not easy at all. Polls routinely show that the majority of voters in this country do not understand the meanings of even the most basic ideological terms. A 2004 poll, for example, had 50% of the public unable to answer whether the Canadian Alliance was to the left or right of the NDP.

Stats like these are important to keep in mind when your favorite lefty complains that the re-elected Harper government is in some way illegitimate, since the combined “progressive” vote dwarfed the Conservatives’ 40% share in this last election. No, the combined NDP-Liberal vote did. There’s no real evidence to suggest the two are synonymous, or that any coherent ”progressive” bloc of voters even exists in the first place.

The fact that few Canadians understand what “left” or “right” means is amply reflected by the fact that almost no one in the country self-identifies with those labels. A Harris-Decima survey conducted for the Manning Center last year found that 65% of Canadians consider themselves “centrists” versus 21% who consider themselves right-wingers in some form, and 9% who consider themselves left-wingers. The same study found that most Canadians cling to a fairly ideologically incoherent hodge-podge of beliefs, with views running all over the place, and often in contradictory directions, regarding the appropriate role of the welfare state, private sector, individual freedom, and minority rights in a just society.

This, in large part, helps explain why Canadians have such a marked tendency to vote in seemingly inconsistant ways: if no one party is offering exactly what you want (partially because what you want is impossible), it’s much easier to be a fickle shopper. Consider Ontario. It’s presently ruled by a Liberal majority government, yet still sent a majority of Conservative MPs to the House of Commons. The same is true of Manitoba and Nova Scotia, both of which are ruled by the NDP. For some particular fun, check out the electoral map of British Columbia’s last provincial election compared to how we voted federally. I suppose it could be argued (and some do) that one can be progressive on provincial issues, yet conservative on federal ones, yet a much more likely explanation is that voters simply don’t value ideological consistency as much as the chattering class believes they should. People vote for who they think will do the best job in the context of the moment. Sometimes it’s just as simple as that.
 The rest of the article goes on to explain using the only real example we have - the split-right of the 1990's. Very good article, and another mark against the silly notion of 1:1 vote translation in some weird merger of sworn enemies.

Check out his seat projections as well - they're interesting, to say the least.


  1. The idea that it is only consistent when one votes Liberal provincially AND federally is factually wrong. The suthor acknowledges this but then reverses and sounds ironically makes the same mistake he criticizes others for, inconsistency.

  2. I think it varies highly upon the different situations in each province. Often times people will vote for the same parties provincially and federally in Ontario, but it's not so for a province like Alberta, where the Liberals there get between 25-30% and we can't hit 10%. There is no fluid, consistent motion all across the board, and rarely from election to election. That's an issue and I think the author hits it fairly well.

  3. How can you rate consistency when the subject matter changes? There are different issues provincially and federally, so how can the two be rated as consistent by the most basic of criteria? By our very own constitution tey cannot be consistent.

  4. There's two different ideas here, though - there's the idea of ideological consistency, and there's the idea of voting consistency. The Mace author's point, and mine, is that the two don't match up; but the entire premise of a merger is that one of these two must be consistent to be successful, but neither are.

    He demonstrates the point aptly with the fact that pre-merger right-wing and post-merger right-wing didn't exactly match 1:1 per votes, and post-merger didn't even surpass pre-merger until this election in terms of the popular vote.

    Now what does that do for the case of a merger of the left-wing parties in Canada, when it's easily demonstrated we don't share much consistency between each other, and even if we did attempt it, the likelihood of 1:1 is very, very unlikely, thereby making the entire idea negligible?

  5. There seems to be some talking over each other here. You cannot have ideological consistency when a respective ideology's jurisdiction is different and constitutionally separate from another jurisdiction. With two separate domains, two separate ideologies must exist.