Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Are By-Elections a Sign of Things to Come in a General Election?

A couple days ago, the Conservatives held on to two of their seats in Yellowhead and Whitby-Oshawa by fairly strong margins (42.6% in Yellowhead and 8.5% in Whitby-Oshawa). At least to me, this was not unexpected; Yellowhead did not feature the hullabaloo that Brandon-Souris or Fort McMurray did, so the Liberals were going to do well (they did, winning just under 20%, their best since 1993) but they were never going to come close to winning. In Whitby-Oshawa, the Liberals came closer that I expected, but I didn't think they would win - the combonation of this being Flaherty's old riding, his wife Christine Elliott's influence, and the fact that the Conservative candidate, in addition to being a climate change denier, is also a former two-term mayor of Whitby... yeah, that was just too much to overcome. Still, like in Yellowhead, the Liberal candidate managed to increase the party's share of the vote by quite a bit, going from 14.1% in 2011 to 40.7% Monday night.

The somewhat understated story of these by-elections (well, in priority behind Trudeau anyways) is the impact of the New Democrats in the various ridings... which is to say, there has been no impact. They have not come close to picking up any of these ridings from other parties, while losing one of their own seats and coming perilously close in another (the third was a mixed bag). As the chart below shows, the NDP have lost some level of influence in almost every single by-election in 2011.

Mulcair has been questioned on these results, and his response was pretty pat: "... by-elections are not always a great indicator of the general (election)," and that "... we've got a lot of work to do but we also know that our numbers have never been better heading into a federal (election)."

Well, I will give Mulcair the last one: their polling numbers have never been better when going into a general election, when you put those numbers up against previous election results. The problem, of course, is that the NDP wasn't the official opposition in any of those previous elections, and the current results are far below their 2011 numbers in every region of the country, including (if not especially) Quebec. So, yeah, I guess technically he's right, and there is the caveat of "the campaign matters," but as we've seen so far, any actual campaigns the NDP has been in have not exactly gone well.

His other main point is that yes, by-elections by themselves are not indicators of results in general elections. But it is also pretty hard to argue against trends, and there is an obvious trend that Mulcair is purposely ignoring. For example, here is the same chart above for the by-elections between 2008 and 2011:

With the exception of Winnipeg North, there was no total loss for the NDP - they either maintained their position or ended up higher than in 2008, even if they lost votes and percentage., in all other ridings, which the Liberals (at the time the Official Opposition) failed to do during the same period.

So yes, by-elections are a singular event, and they're more prone to local influence than any normal general elections... but come on. A party that is the Official Opposition, that says momentum is on their side and that the third party are has-beens, should be able to put up better results than this. At best, the NDP should be able to keep the Liberals down in obvious uphill battles like rural Conservative ridings or their own downtown core (or, for that matter, the Greens in Victoria), but that has simply not been the case.

And then there is the whole matter of feeding into the various narratives. What the public sees between the two main opposition parties is a battle over who can defeat Harper, and these by-elections clearly show that the NDP are unable to do that. Do you think that isn't going to affect how people vote outside of the ridings holding by-elections? Momentum, such as it is, is on the side of the Liberals, and at best the NDP can hope to hold to their 20-25% of the vote if the trend holds. That is not what I call a "never been better" proposition.


  1. and some ratio math

    60.80% 59.40% 0.9769736842 tordan
    14.90% 3.90% 0.2617449664 calcent
    21.10% 26.30% 1.2464454976 dur
    50.80% 37.20% 0.7322834646 vic
    19.80% 19.20% 0.9696969697 lab
    32.30% 31.40% 0.9721362229 bour
    17.90% 8.20% 0.4581005587 prov
    30.20% 35.30% 1.1688741722 torcen
    25.20% 7.20% 0.2857142857 bransou
    10.30% 4.20% 0.4077669903 macl
    13.20% 11.50% 0.8712121212 fortmac
    54.50% 34.10% 0.6256880734 trinspa
    18.10% 8.50% 0.4696132597 scaragi
    22.30% 8.10% 0.3632286996 whitosh
    13.10% 9.60% 0.7328244275 yello
    10.1727076657 total
    0.678180511 avg
    30.63% last e res
    20.77% next e proj

    1. Sorry if that's hard to read; the "lesson" in all of this is that the NDP is retaining only 2/3rds of their vote

    2. We know the NDP is only retaining 2/3 of its vote by their poll results, by-elections merely confirm the accuracy of the polls. What the polls also tell us is the Liberals are unable to poll consistently in majority or even minority government territory. They have still not regained 5-8% of the vote lost to the NDP and have lost an additional 3% of the vote to the Greens. Whitby-Oshawa has now demonstrated the Liberals are far behind in suburban Ontario constituencies that are crucial if they hope to form a majority government. In short the probability Trudeau will form a majority government is essentially zero.

      People don't trust Trudeau. Sure, they'll admit they think he is a nice guy, genial even, but, they are not willing to give him the cheque book. In ridings where Liberals should win such as; Calgary Centre or Brandon -Souris or Whitby Oshawa they fall short time and again. Liberal delude themselves because their vote share increases. Instead they write triumphalist diatribes revelling in the the poor showing of the NDP while totally ignoring their own failures and shortcomings. It demonstrates the dearth of Liberal policy and planning that they only have NDP failure to bolster their own spirits.

      Liberals should not be so triumphant-they've won 2/ 15 by-elections in this Parliament but, have effectively lost 2 seats to the NDP by failing to stand up for Massimo Pascetti or Scott Andrews against "allegations of inappropriate behaviour". In Canada those accussed have the right to face their accusers, instead Justin trudeau has allowed Thomas Mulcair to be the prosecutor, judge and executioner and denied his own M.P.s the ability to raise a defence against allegations that thus far have not even been named. Justin has condemmed his own M.P.s without so much of a trial.

      Please keep ignoring the Liberal failures it will only produce a false sense of security among Liberals and guarantee another Conservative majority.

    3. Uh, let's just say I disagree with you on almost every level entirely possible, and some new ones I didn't think existed prior to this comment. I hate having to type out long posts on my phone.

    4. @Kyle H,

      Then stand up for Massimo Pascetti and Scott Andfrews! Or do all Liberals believe accusations alone are enough to be condemmed? Trudeau doesn't have any intestinal fortitude is the problem! Parliament is a court, a M.P. who makes such damaging accusations should have the confidence and decency to make their accusations public by standing in the House of Commons on a point of personal privilege! If a normal person wanted to make a claim of rape they would be expected to do so in open court! It is a fundamental principle of Common Law! Yet Liberals just fall over themselves acquiessing to Mulcair's unproven accusations- it is a perfect demonstration of why the Liberal party is finished-they have no "fight" left in them they have allowed the NDP to capture the high ground without so much as firing a shot.

      Pascetti and Andrews also need to find some intestinal fortitude and stand on a point of personal privilege and have their accusers made public or at least have the NDP leader or house leader state what exactly the "allegations of inappropriate behaviour" entail. There is inuendo this week of rape and sexual assault, how can Trudeau, the Liberal Party and Andrews and Pascetti let such accusations stand without presenting a defence? It is unbelievable.

      If Trudeau is unable to stand up and defend his own M.P.s how will he fend off Mulcair and Harper during an election campaign? No wonder the Liberals are unable to poll in majority government territory-they can't even stand up for their own values anymore, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the rule of Law, the presumption of nnocence. Instead like a Kngaroo Court Trudeau has brought down punishment without so much as a fair trial.

      It's alright Kyle keep ignoring the obvious, this week the Liberals lost St. Leonard-St.Michel and Avalon to the NDP or Conservatives. The Liberal party is well on its way its second consecutive third place finish in 2015.

    5. Right, lets look into this.

      First off, I'm not going to "stand up" for Pacetti or Andrews. Not only am I unaware of the allegations against them and therefore do not enter into any support OR condemnation of whats going on, I am in 100% agreement with Trudeau's actions - given the possible severity of the claims, any leader, whether in business or otherwise, would be held responsible for possible inaction if they decided to sit on their hands or wait for information. This is the reality we live in, and you may not agree with it, or like it, or understand it, but that's how it is. If you want to avoid the worse of two outcomes - that the allegations are proven, and that you seemingly failed to act even when you knew - then you have to make a decision. Trudeau made the right one, end of.

      This is also not about "defending his own MPs" in a sense that is actually defensible. These MPs were accused of sexual harassment and who knows what else. Its a much different case than Pacetti or Andrews misspeaking about an issue or sending out a rude Tweet - its a serious legal claim with major ramifications beyond having your image tarnished a wee bit. If Trudeau failed to take the action he did, he would have subjected not only his own leadership, but the entire legitimacy of the Liberal Party on the line, especially if the allegations were proven in court or elsewhere. If you don't understand that, I can't help you.

      And let's just talk about "losing" Saint-Leonard--Saint-Michel and Avalon... actually, lets not, because I don't even understand what you're talking about here. Because Pacetti or Andrews may/will run as Indies? You cannot claim to know how much support they will get, whether that vote will be enough to cause the Liberals to lose those ridings when there is a clear positive trend in their direction, or any other number of scenarios you care to propose. I'm open to scenarios where it happens, sure, but your confidence in such a result belies poor rational and logic. The logical conclusion is "this may cost the Liberals these ridings," and back it up with the fact that you or I could point to a large number of similar situations where the incumbent candidate ran as an Indie and won or split the vote and allowed an opposition candidate to win... or where that didn't happen, because there are as many examples of that as well.

      Finally, if you're questioning the Liberals inability to poll in majority territory, what does that imply about the other parties who seem to be polling even worse?

  2. If Bielections meant anything, we'd have Premiers Andrea Horwath and Dix.

    1. Exactly right. In fact the NDP would have continuously been in Government in BC since, 1991.

    2. I'm sorry Gyor, I thought I actually responded to this a few days ago but apparently it didn't show up.

      You're absolutely right that by-election results are not, by themselves, a sure sign of things to come. I never claimed they were, nor ever would. But they can certainly portend a result, especially if its in line with general trends and movements that we see in other measurements, like polling data, fundraising, etc.

      You're right about Horwath and Dix, but I take a more complex view. Horwath's by-election wins were especially interesting, because as you know, the ONDP retained all of those ridings they won in the 2014 election, and their results in Southwestern Ontario by-elections were especially reflective of the general election results. Their results in GTA ridings or Ottawa, meanwhile, were less than spectacular... and so it was in the general election. So you could say that Horwath's by-election wins were, in fact, quite prescient.

      The BC NDP by-election wins are probably a bit more muddled. I think its fair to say that Clark had no reason to win in 2013, but she did; and that's because Dix ended up being a terrible leader. It could be that the NDP are just good at winning by-elections because people seem to be perpetually angry at the BC Liberals inbetween writs. This all being said, the Liberals won all by-elections in the run up to the 2001 general election, unlike what Simon just said; so maybe I'm not so wrong after all.