Wednesday, December 01, 2010

By Election Numbers II

Even though everyone (myself included) loves to compare by election results to the last election, by elections are not general elections. As such, the more useful comparison is to other by elections.

With that in mind, let's dive in to the numbers from this last round of by elections.


Turnout was 32.4% in Vaughan, 30.8% in Winnipeg North, and 26.9% in Dauphin, for an overall average of 30%. This is comparable to the 31.1% we saw in the last round of by elections and slughtly below the average of 34.2% we've seen since 1998 - 34.2% is also the average by election turnout in the Harper era so, despite lackluster excitement in the last two rounds of by elections, there's not strong evidence of a long term decline in by election turnout.

Party Performances

Looking specifically at the 17 by elections during the Harper era, here's how the parties have performed, on average, relative to the previous election:

CPC: +5.5% (+3.6% if you exlude the Bill Casey by election)
NDP: +0.6%
Lib: -0.1%
Bloc: -2.9%
Green: +1.1% (due almost exclusively to London North Centre)

So, the Bloc have had a rough ride, and the Tories have tended to over perform their previous election results. Feel free to toss out your own theory why that is.

I think a lot of it comes down to the Tories' superior ground game but, above all else, it's likely due to the fact that every by election, except Dauphin, has been in an opposition-held riding. Since 2004, the "incumbent" party has dropped an average of 5.3% in by elections. Which makes sense, given they're the ones losing the incumbent...and quite often, a long serving or popular incumbent.

A good test to this theory will be in the next round of by elections, when Jim Prentice's and Jay Hill's seats open up. I'd expect the Tory vote to drop noticeably in both these ridings should they go to by election.

Vaughan & Winnipeg North

The Conservatives picked up 15 points in Vaughan - no small feat, but far from extra ordinary. It's the 7th biggest jump in a Harper era by election...and we're only talking about 17 in total.

Winnipeg North has been overshadowed by Vaughan in the post-election media reaction, despite it being a far more remarkable story. Kevin Lamoureux saw a 5-fold increase in his share of the popular vote, for an increase of over 37 percentage points. That breaks (by a fraction of a percentage) the Harper era record - but that was in Cumberland Colchester after Bill Casey resigned, hardly a fair comparison. The next highest gain had been 30 points, by Thomas Mulcair in Outremont.

So what does the future holds for Misters Fantino and Lamoureux? Well, as fun as last night was, they might want to hold off on calling an Ottawa-area real estate agent. In by elections held between the 2006 and 2008 elections, five candidate saw a double digit gain in their vote. In these 5 instances, the average by election gain was 20 points - but they lost an average of 10 points in the next election. Even Mulcair saw his vote share fall 8 points in the general election.

Lamoureux and Fantino both squeaked in by slim margins - if they wind up giving back half their gains the next time we go to the polls, they'll both be out of work.

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  • This round:

    Conservatives > +1
    Liberals > NC
    NDP > -1

    And that adds up to bad news for progressives in Canada. Let's just get the next election over with and move on with a new leader already!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:21 AM  

  • The Tories and editorialists keep writing that governments tend to lose by-elections. I know that in my home province of BC provincially this is the case. I'm way to lazy to do the research but is this in fact the case federally. I seem to remember Lou Sekora, Denis Paradis and even Christian Jobinne (sp?) winning in by-elections vacated by the opposition during the Liberal 90s

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:40 AM  

  • I too am to lazy to check myself, fortunately others are not. From what Wherry looked up: Prior to the last round of bye-elections 31 seats last held by the incumbent government have been contested in by-elections over the last 30 years, 22 of those—71%—remaining with the government.

    That governments tend to lose by-elections is just a myth.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:16 AM  

  • So in roughly 30% of the time governments lose seats they had already held? Seems to support the notion.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:49 PM  

  • That's one way to spin it I suppose. Another way would be that they usually win back the seats that they had. Keep in mind that this is seats held by the incumbant government and doesn't account for opposition held seats.

    Regardless, they win more then they lose which is the opposite of what the erronous media myth says.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:35 PM  

  • The point you're missing is you need to compare that number to seats held by the opposition. If those seats are held 80% of the time in by-elections then there is an anti-government slant during by-elections. You can't just look at the 70% figure without putting it into a proper context. At first glance it seems like they do not win as high a percentage as you would expect.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:42 AM  

  • a very quick look at the by elections since 1993 shows that there have only been 15 that have changed hand (ie from the incumbency to the by election result) (including bill casey as a change)

    Since 1993
    3 of those changes have been one opposition party to another
    3 have been government to opposition
    9 have been an opposition party to government

    I think that one would have to go even further back to see if this is the trend.

    The tories under harper have not lost a by-election in a riding that they held prior to the by-election.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:33 PM  

  • The main difference between by-elections and general elections is that there is a smaller and usually more intense electorate. Which party gains/loses the most out of this? Well lets look at how the most interested 45.4% of voters (those with an interest of 8, 9 or 10) cast their ballots in 2008:

    Liberal: 29.1%
    CPC: 39.5%
    NDP: 17.2%
    BQ: 7.7%
    Green: 5.5%

    So if high interest voters are more likely to be Liberals or Conservatives than the general public, we should expect them to perform better in by-elections and worse in the general, where a broader (and more NDP/Bloc/Green) electorate votes.

    Does this hold true, empirically?

    Tory loss from by-elections:
    Rob Clarke: -1.1*
    David Gentili: +5.8
    Deborah Meredith: +1.4
    Jake Karns: +5.4
    Lulzim Laloshi: +1.96
    Denis Lebel: -15.83*
    Rene Vincelette: -16.2
    Paul Van Meerbergen: +8.49
    Bruno Royer: -4.72
    Average: -1.64%

    Average Liberal loss from by-elections:
    David Orchard: -1.1
    Bob Rae: -5.6*
    Joyce Murray: +9.5*
    Martha Hall Findlay: -10.6*
    Sebastien Dhavernas: +4.12
    Bernard Garneau: +0.56
    Denise Tremblay: +6.4
    Glen Pearson: +4.27*
    Robert Semegen: +8.74
    Average: +1.81

    The data does not really support my hypothesis. The Liberals gained in the general, even though nationally they performed far worse than pre-election polls would have suggested.

    While the Tories did lose support as I predicted, the losses were small. Moreover, the two Quebec cases largely account for the decline, and it is pretty clear that Tory support dropped during the 2008 campaign for other reasons.

    By Blogger hosertohoosier, at 11:09 PM  

  • Sorry I didn't tune in to this thread earlier: I analyzed the fed by-election results going back to 1945 & posted on them here:

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