Monday, August 31, 2009

Fun with Numbers: Wasted Votes

During all the hullabaloo over Stephen Harper's 20 hours in paradise last week, I read one comment somewhere about how Harper needs to win the popular vote by at least 3 or 4% to actually get the most seats, due to the wasted votes coming out of those uber-majorities in Alberta. So, as a follow up to my earlier post on competitiveness, here are some numbers to munch on:

1. At first glance, it does appear the Conservatives have been a lot less efficient with their vote. If we say every vote over a 1-vote margin of victory is wasted, and every vote in a losing riding is wasted, the Tories "wasted" 3.5 million votes last election, compared to 2.6 million for the Liberals and 2.1 million for the NDP.

Of course, they also had a lot more votes to waste. As a percentage of their total vote, the picture looks a lot different - 68% of the Conservative vote, 73% of the Liberal vote, and 82% of the NDP vote was wasted (although some smart asses would argue 100% of the NDP vote is wasted...).

2. That said, the Liberal vote was more efficient than the Tory vote in both 2006 and 2004 - 69% of the CPC vote was wasted in both elections, compared to 67% and 64% of the Liberal vote.

3. There is some truth to the "Alberta super majority" argument. The Conservatives are wasting 23,000 votes a riding there, on average. Comparatively, the worst Liberal province is Ontario, with about 11,000 votes per riding being wasted. But the Tories are actually winning seats in Alberta which is, ya know, kind of the point of elections. So even if 77% of their vote in Alberta is wasted, that's still better for them than in Quebec (83%) and, as much as I hate to say it, 100% of the Liberal vote is being wasted in Alberta.

Add it all up, and Alberta drags down the Conservative efficiency percentage by 1.7%, and it drags down the Liberal efficiency percentage 1.2% - hardly a stunning difference.

4. Now, those are quite a few numbers...full marks if you're still reading at this point. So here's the money shot in all this. If we close the gap between the two parties, and set up a 32-32 tie, the seat total winds up tied. Well, actually, the Tories are up 111 to 109 seats but the Liberals are within striking distance in a lot more seats so, in the end, it would all depend on where the votes shift, how the Bloc and NDP do, yada yada yada. But the take home message is that a tie probably is a tie because, all things considered, both parties are getting a similar bang for their vote.



  • Well said. I've found the same thing.

    By Blogger Éric, at 9:08 p.m.  

  • It bugs me that rural ridings are so over-represented...

    If someone had any ideas for a sustainable Alberta economy, growth and prosperity over decades (despite most cash AB looks like a goldrush model), would it be more worthwhile to suggest it to opposition AB Parties or to progressive elements within AB Conservative Parties.
    I was basing most of my cursory analysis here on nitrogen as a fertilizer, just because I expect crops and farmland to be solid gold in the future.
    Than nitrogen-fixing plant R+D threw a monkeywrench. Probably not available unfortunately for decades, and AB could easily buy up all the world's R+D here (I understand for now would rather give windfalls to USA oil execs who don't recycle money into AB economy)....but GMO plants make me realize I need to study this further...
    Another idea, tax out of Province oil corporations and incomes at a higher rate so at least a future government that wants to fund palliative healthcare (markets won't) could retrieve the revenue...
    Chretein majorities had 40% electorate vote, Stelmach is getting 62%. So one Party state is it better to suggest quality-of-living (for all but millionaires) gains to minor Parties in hopes they will spillover or to progressive members of provincial PCs/Cons?
    The Oxbow and the Bow won't dry up until a decade or three after there is a healthcare deficit and it looks like AB's, despite most $$ (can hire more nurses than all and buy more staph-fighting products than all), will be largest in the land.
    Can't even begin to look at water supply issues until oil and gov stop blocking charting AB's aquifers...

    By Anonymous Phillip Huggan, at 11:07 p.m.  

  • Using your definition of "wasted", what is the percentage of wasted votes across the board, and how and why does it change between elections?

    By Blogger Gauntlet, at 12:00 a.m.  

  • I really detest the term "wasted votes". I know it's become popular with the electoral reform crowd, but I really think it harms their case. As though you're going to increase people's motivation to participate in civic life by telling them their vote is wasted! Even a vote for a candidate who is not the winner sends a message to the winner.

    I suppose the idea is to make people angry that their vote has been "wasted" on the assumption that this will stir them to action and vote for MMPR or STV or something. Good luck with that one, I say to them. Making people mad makes them vote against things, not for them.

    That having been said, while rural ridings may be overrepresented, the only solutions are to either (a) make them so large they're unserviceable by a mere mortal on the current parliamentary budget with only 365 days in the year; or else to (b) substantially increase the number of urban MPs in the house ... a solution that's typically been ruled out of hand as likely unacceptable to the public at large.

    Your other point about a tie in the headline numbers meaning it will come down to the margins and shifts in the ridings to watch is right, though, I think.

    Thanks for the link earlier today, by the way.

    By Blogger The Pundits' Guide, at 12:48 a.m.  

  • ...I guess my real question is will progressive elements of AB politics come from within ruling Party or from opposition?

    The end of Neocon thought is inevitable either via 2030-2050 climate effects or earlier healthcare shortages (or plenty of other forcings, firing the pandemic head and cutting hospitals might've done it if Swine Flu was more lethal). I can blog suggestions or write newspaper comments....but will it be the opposition parties that educate Albertans or will it be ruling Party members that educate Neocons? Grassroots or a coupe? I just want to know what signal to look for when AB is serious about fresh water security and pandemics and stuff (all the other provinces have no lobby fighting this, no vacuum, nothing for me to add for the most part).

    By Anonymous Phillip Huggan, at 3:33 a.m.  

  • The problem for the Liberals has to do with where this tie came from. It came in a large part from a Liberal resurgence in Quebec. Those gains are not very electorally efficient, because the seat boundaries heavily favour the Bloc. In 2004, Martin won 34% of the vote in Quebec but only 7 more seats than the Libs presently have.

    Similarly, while polls show a tie, major Tory losses outside Quebec and BC are unlikely. In Ontario Ekos has a tie, while Angus-Reid has them 2 points behind. That is a good sight better than the Tories did in 2006 when they lost Ontario by 5 points (and still won 40 seats there).

    That said, were I Ignatieff, I would move for an election soon. The question is not whether the Liberals will immediately be able to form a government. The question is whether an election will improve their position from its present state, while weakening Harper.

    Gaining 20-30 seats or so will quiet any discontent against Ignatieff, as it did for Harper in 2004. It will also position the Liberals well to follow the business cycle.

    In the short term, the Harper Tories are damaged by the recession. In the medium term, they will be strengthened by a recession (even a mild one). However, in the long-term they will need to make cuts to balance the budget (or raise taxes).

    The ideal strategy is an election in Fall 2009, where the Liberals will probably gain and the Tories will probably lose. With a weakened minority, the Tories will have difficulty forcing an election, but also difficulties in getting things done despite the recovery (which is projected to be a hockey stick recession).

    Moreover, if the combined CPC+NDP seat total is less than 155, the Liberals can marginalize the NDP, while forcing Harper to work with the Bloc.

    As soon as the Conservatives are forced to deal with their overly rosy revenue projections with tax hikes or spending cuts, the Liberals will have their opening.

    By Blogger french wedding cat, at 6:41 a.m.  

  • Pundits - I agree, I'm not big on the term "wasted" vote either, but couldn't think of anything better to use. And with the voter subsidy, there really is no such thing as a wasted vote anyways.

    By Blogger calgarygrit, at 9:18 a.m.  

  • H2H - Good point re: Quebec. That province has been incredibly inneficient for both the Libs and CPC the past few elections, because of the way the Bloc vote is distributed there. The Liberals will need gains in the urban/suburban areas across Ontario (and Winnipeg/Van too), to win a tie.

    By Blogger calgarygrit, at 9:19 a.m.  

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    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:41 a.m.  

  • Funny about Quebec, it's become really efficient for the NDP!

    This sort of gets at what they've been doing.

    And of course, the BQ probably has one of the best deals in western democracy!

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