Monday, May 24, 2010

Fun With Numbers: Liberal Vote

Last summer, I spent a good deal of time playing around on my election spreadsheet - if you scroll way down on the sidebar, you can see some of the posts under the "Fun With Numbers" heading.

But the one thing I never got around to looking at was the link between riding demographics and the vote. Let's face it - certain types of ridings certainly seem like they "should" be Liberal, while others feel like they "should" be Conservative.

To explore this, I took the mean vote for the Liberals over the past three elections as the response and looked at 25 Census variables as possible predictors. Everything from single parent families, to resident mobility, to immigrants. I did some transformations where necessary, tossed in some region variables and population density, and threw it all at the regression wall to see what stuck.

The point of this wasn't necessarily to find what types of people vote Liberal. After all, states with a large percentage of African Americans tend to vote Republican (not because black voters flock to the Republicans). The purpose was to find the types of ridings that tend to vote Liberal.

The final model I came up with used 8 variables and some of the results aren't too surprising - the Liberals perform better in well educated ridings with more first generation immigrants, and worse in the west.

What's interesting (well, to me) are some of the variables that don't make the model - namely, the "Atlantic Canada" and "Quebec" dummy variables. In other words, once you control for demographic variables, Liberal support is largely consistent east of Manitoba. Population density also didn't make it into the model, but only because there are better demographics out there to identify the urban/rural split.

All in all, the model accounts for 72% of the variance in the vote- not bad when you consider all the unknowns that impact voting behaviour.

So, technical jargon aside, what use is this to us? Well, for starters, we can see where the Liberals have "overperformed" in recent years:

1. Wascana (+32%) - King Ralph's seat
2. Yukon (+22%) - I don't really expect northern seats to fit nicely into a model like this.
3. Winnipeg South Centre (+21%) - This riding has a strong Liberal history, since Lloyd Axworthy took it in '88.
4. Edmonton Centre (+17%) - We saw what happened when landslide Annie left last election.
5. Sainte Boniface (+17%)
6. Brome Missisquoi (+16%)
7. Cardigan (+15%) - The Liberals do better than expected across all PEI ridings
8. Esquimalt Juan De Fuca (+15%) - Clearly, Keith Martin brought some Conservative voters with him when he crossed the floor.
9. Shefford (+14%)
10. Vancouver Quadra (+14%) - The bad by election isn't included in this sample...

Wascana stands out like a grain elevator on the Saskatchewan skyline. Over the last three elections, the Liberals have over performed their expected vote by 32 percentage points in this riding - this is really a testament to Goodale and speaks to just how difficult it will be to hold the riding when he retires.

A quick scan of the rest of the list shows that ridings with long time and popular Liberal MPs usually do over perform their expected results - the ridings of Scott Brison, Maurizio Bevilacqua, and Dominic LeBlanc, for example, are all in the +7% to +12% range. Now, this doesn't mean the grits are necessarily doing better there because of those MPs...but that's certainly a possibility.

On the other side of things, where can the Liberals grow?

Well, they under perform the most in Central Nova...although that may have something to do with them not running a candidate there last election. After that, it looks like there's the most potential for long term growth in Windsor West, Outremont, Laurier-Sainte-Marie, Jonquière-Alma, Carleton-Mississippi Mills, Rosemont-La Petite-Patrie, St. John's East, Roberval-Lac Saint Jean, Sackville-Eastern Shore, and Hamilton Centre.

And since this blog is still called Calgary Grit, I'd be remiss if I didn't look at Alberta. There, the news isn't great - there isn't a single riding the Liberals are projected to be within 20 points of winning. So it's not just the myth of the NEP that's killing the Liberals in Alberta; once you correct for the Liberals' poor performance across western Canada, the demographics really aren't there for them.

There is, however, a bright spot. The regression models gives the NDP and Greens a lot of votes in some of Alberta's downtown city ridings - as a result, the projected CPC vote in Edmonton Centre, Edmonton East, Edmonton Strathcona, Calgary Centre, and Calgary North Centre hovers in the 40% range. We've seen what a strong NDP campaign in Edmonton Strathcona can do and we've seen what a strong Liberal campaign in Edmonton Centre can do.

A concerted, long-term focus on these ridings, capped with a good candidate and a great campaign, and any of these seats could eventually fall - the votes are there, the voters just need to be given a reason to vote the way they "should".


  • Edmonton Centre is becoming more and more in play - for the NDP - since Lewis Cardinal got the nomination there.

    It will be tough to defeat Laurie Hawn, but Cardinal has a fair amount of game, $40,000 in the bank, great profile and a small army that can no longer be called small.

    By Anonymous Art, at 8:26 PM  

  • One important variable that you didn't really account for was how well the Liberals will do when the riding doesn't have a Liberal candidate.

    If I were a Liberal powerbroker, this would be my big concern.

    How many ridings are there across Canada that do NOT have Liberal Candidates???

    Someone needs to answer this question (and maybe even start to address the problem).

    By Blogger Mala Fides, at 9:04 PM  

  • Art - Edmonton Centre is actually projected to be a strong NDP riding on my model. But the Liberals obviously have the roots there. Which means, the "stop the Tories" vote goes Liberal there now.

    For the NDP to take it, they'd need to work there over 2-3 elections, like Linda Duncan did in Strathcona.

    Which flows right into Mala's comment. In these ridings you want to eventually gain, you need to find a candidate who's willing to door knock day in and day out over several years.

    By Blogger calgarygrit, at 9:11 PM  

  • Here's a website that shows Canadian polling divisions on maps and the leading parties. You will have to search page by page to get to your favourite part of the country. I do notice a strong urban/rural split in Canada. The Liberals get big urban polling divisions. The Conservatives get agricultural rural and small town/city urban. The NDP gets industrial city and non-agricultural rural such as Northern Ontario. Ethnicity is not that much of a factor compared to economics. There are always exceptions.

    By Blogger Skinny Dipper, at 9:14 PM  

  • I should have given the link:

    Yes, it has Canadian content.

    By Blogger Skinny Dipper, at 9:15 PM  

  • I'll be voting for the Liberals in St. John's East, as long as they get a better candidate then in 2008.

    By Blogger PoscStudent, at 10:03 PM  

  • I think the real challenge is that so many folks that should be Liberals vote Green or NDP. If uniting the left by dealmaking is impossible, you guys need to cut a deal with Harper to reform campaign finances and kill the small parties. End the ban on corporate donations, the cap on election spending, and the per person limit. There are a lot of ridings that would be Liberal in a two-party system and largely aren't because of the dumb as a bag of hammer reforms.

    By Blogger hosertohoosier, at 12:12 AM  

  • One major mindset you simply need to mention is the fact that due to low voter turnout, there is also a group of voters that simply vote based on the name of the candidate they recognize and whether their impression of him or her is positive--even for soft-partisan supporters, coupled with strategic voting. That is perhaps your missing 27%... a huge factor to consider.

    By Blogger hatrock, at 2:22 AM  

  • Could you post the fitted regression model?

    By Blogger mranonymous, at 7:10 AM  

  • the "stop the tory" vote in Edmonton Centre has gone Liberal in the past, but my point is that is changing.

    The NDP is pouring resources into the riding. I suspect that when the election is called (and certainly by voting day) it will be Lewis Cardinal who will own the 'stop the tory' vote. As it will be his campaign with the energy, the signs, and the presence on the streets of Ed Centre.

    By Anonymous Art, at 8:02 AM  

  • hatrock - absolutely. The stuff I worked on last summer had incumbency pegged at about a 5% bump on average.

    By Blogger calgarygrit, at 10:09 AM  

  • @hosertohoosier: That's the vilest, most unethical thing I've heard in a long time.

    By Blogger leonsp, at 10:15 AM  

  • "you guys need to cut a deal with Harper to reform campaign finances and kill the small parties."

    Isn't it horrible when free citizens living in a free country don't behave as their betters in the Liberal Party have decided they should behave?

    By Blogger nuna d. above, at 12:01 PM  

  • "Isn't it horrible when free citizens living in a free country don't behave as their betters in the Liberal Party have decided they should behave?"

    Except that the small parties aren't strong as a result of a free system, they are strong as a result of government subsidies, caps on election spending and a ban on corporate union. In other words, the perpetual minority is partly the product of subsidization and regulation by government.

    In a truly free system, the NDP, Greens, Bloc, Liberals and Conservatives would compete without reliance on public money and without restrictions on spending.

    Stability and free speech are not in conflict on this one.

    By Blogger hosertohoosier, at 12:23 PM  

  • Hmmmmmmmmmm...

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:07 PM  

  • CG... the NEP wasn't a myth for me and mine, nor for the majority of my friends.

    It wasn't a myth for Trudeau or Lalonde either.

    Regardless of what you see as history as opposed to what I see as history... there are still 1.3 million Albertans who remember it like it was yesterday, and their memory is still as painful as mine.

    Until they are dead the NEP and the betrayal of Alberta by its own nation lives on in our memory.

    You can place all the arguments you want on the table to try and counter the impact of the NEP, but the simple truth will always remain:

    The Federal Government engaged in a concerted effort to pander to the majority of the nation on the backs of Albertans with the sole purpose of holding us back from ever increasing power and sway.

    They screwed Alberta for virtually no other reason than thier own fear of erosion of power, and the Liberal Government of the time had zero remorse in the betrayel of it's responsiblities to it's citizens in Alberta.

    The Liberal brand will be forever tarred by it in this province.

    What no one ever notes, and perhaps should, is that somewhere in the neighborhood of 400,000 relative newbies to the province, ostensibly from Liberal lands, now vote Tory as well.

    Wonder why that is?

    By Anonymous Joe Calgary, at 2:56 PM  

  • I agree. It's awful how Lougheed screwed over Alberta when he signed the NEP.

    By Blogger calgarygrit, at 3:29 PM  

  • As for the debate on "killing" the small parties, I think Liberal fundraising is almost at the point where it could withstand an end of the subsidy.

    I blogged about this before, but it would make sense for the Liberals to agree to killing the subsidy in exchange for the cap being raised back to 5k (and maybe a 5 year phase out).

    Yeah, I don't like the idea of manipulating the rules for partisan gain, but I think this change would actually be fairer. The 1,000$ cap is too low and there's certainly a lot of controversy around the subsidy (not that I personally have a problem with it).

    By Blogger calgarygrit, at 3:32 PM  

  • Oh come on Joe. It's not like the NEP caused the WORLDWIDE price of oil to drop. Is there even a single Liberal MP left around from the NEP days? Should people still hold the Pacfic Scandal against the CPC?

    By Anonymous Red Deer Joe, at 3:57 PM  

  • Admittedly, I'm not a big fan of ecological analysis, but you are able to find out the odd-ball ridings where Liberals did better than they should have. As someone who approaches elections from a different persepective, your caveat that this analysis is about the character of ridings rather than the behaviour of individual voters is much appreciated.

    Since you also mentioned Alberta specifically, Lisa Young (U of C) and Harold Jansen (U of L) did a similar analysis on AB provincial ridings that can be found on the CPSA's website:

    By Blogger John, at 5:19 PM  

  • What no one ever notes, and perhaps should, is that somewhere in the neighborhood of 400,000 relative newbies to the province, ostensibly from Liberal lands, now vote Tory as well.

    They do? In the province with consistently the lowest voter turnout in the country?

    By Blogger Josh, at 6:15 PM  

  • Cool - thanks for the link John.

    By Blogger calgarygrit, at 11:14 PM  

  • Joe calgary;
    It is because of voting attitudes like yours that alberta gets screwed. Voting for one party all the time gets you nothing. What have conservatives done for alberta? If you said nothing other than sign nafta which alberta opposed, and now create a single securities regulator which alberta opposes. You are correct.alberta has gained nothing since 2006, nor did they with the last con gov. The cons have not helped alberta farmers one bit. Harper will never do anything for alberta cause the vote is in the bag, unlike quebec. The libs won't either cause of people like you with their head in the sand making alberta elections pointless.
    Keep ranting and watch you money flow to quebec and the rest of the country.

    By Blogger ktr, at 5:55 PM  

  • Oh come on Joe. It's not like the NEP caused the WORLDWIDE price of oil to drop.

    No, but it did cause the Alberta economy to crash... an event which preceded the worldwide oil price crash by years.

    By Anonymous The Invisible Hand, at 11:15 PM  

  • Josh: They do? In the province with consistently the lowest voter turnout in the country?


    2008: 10th out of 13
    2006: 10th out of 13
    2004: 9th out of 13
    2000: 9th out of 13

    Nothing to brag about, certainly, but definitely not the lowest.

    Anyway, how is this relevant to Joe Calgary's statement that 400,000 new Albertans vote Conservative?

    By Anonymous The Invisible Hand, at 11:52 PM  

  • This comment has been removed by the author.

    By Blogger kevinsutton, at 1:06 AM  

  • I'm not aware of any evidence that links new arrivals in Alberta with who they voted for.

    In 2008, The Tories got about 800K votes total in Alberta. So... I really doubt half of the Tories' entire Albertan vote is former Liberals or whoever from other provinces; especially when the total is down from other elections.

    The number seems pretty much made up.

    By Blogger kevinsutton, at 1:08 AM  

  • Well, it's not like he's claiming that those 400,000 new Conservative voter all arrived between 2006 and 2008.

    I think there are two reasons why Alberta stays so conservative (big- and small-C) despite so much migration from the rest of Canada:

    1) The immigrants are self-selecting, and tend to be more conservative that the general population of their former provinces. They move here because they're attracted to the low taxes and entrepreneurial spirit.

    2) Even the liberals who move here tend to assimilate into our political beliefs.

    I have anecdotal evidence of the second point. A former co-worker of mine was pretty much a die-hard liberal when she moved to Alberta from Ontario; she would've been a "Zoe" on the Patrick Muttart scale. By the time she moved back five years later, she was voting Conservative and had a membership in the Wildrose Alliance.

    By Anonymous The Invisible Hand, at 2:26 AM  

  • Lower taxes perhaps, but entrepreneurial spirit? To work for Suncor or Syncrude in Fort McMurray? People certainly do assimilate into local (political) cultures somewhat, but those who migrate for economic reasons - especially on a semi-permanent basis - aren't all that well integrated into what has historically been a political monoculture (Redmonton aside).

    By Blogger Josh, at 9:55 PM  

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