The political Parties have been busy spinning Monday’s by-election outcomes. The one that is most interesting to yours truly are the stories out of Vancouver-Quadra.
The Conservatives have been successfully spinning their narrow loss as a victory in the long standing Liberal riding:
“Whether we win or lose, it’s a huge victory for the Conservatives in Vancouver Quadra,” said Meredith. “We’ve closed the gap. The fact that it’s so tight right now and we can’t say who the winner will be is a huge change from the last few elections.”
According to Elections Canada the finally tally had the Liberals at 36.1% (down 13% from last year), the Conservatives at 35.5 (up 6%), the Greens at 13.5 (up 8.5%) and the NDP at 14.4 (down 2%).
Interestingly, few people are talking about the low voter turn out. Only 27.9% of eligible voter (and 33.9% of registered voters) actually voted. This is less than half the average of the last general election.
Given that Quadra is a fairly Liberal riding a lower voter turn out rate will broadly favour challengers. Why? If the “average” voter is Liberal and opts not to turn out then the outcome will favour those who are more motivated. This tends to be voters who are challenging the incumbent or who have are issue focused. This riding has been Liberal for a while now, so they are most at risk in this situation.
Once this is factored this race takes on less meaning. Take the the Greens for example. Their voters are probably more dedicated than the average voter (to go the poll year after year knowing your candidate isn’t going to get elected takes dedication). Because of the low turn out rate their % of the vote increased dramatically (doubling from 6% to 13.5%) even though the absolute number of people who voted for them rose only marginally.
Most interesting though was that the Conservatives almost got their perfect storm. To win they needed a very low voter turn out rate with strong low-key campaigning from themselves and a good performance out of the Greens and NDP. Indeed, the Conservatives were so intent on this strategy that Harper didn’t even campaign on behalf of the Conservative Candidate – Deborah Meredith – when he was in Vancouver last week. Having the Prime Minister campaigning would have raised the profile of the race thereby increasing voter turn out and hurting the party’s odds. It was one of those moments when having a sitting PM stump on your behalf would actually have done more harm than good.
As a result I’m not sure that anyone can claim any larger meaning out of the race. The Greens impressive % increase is an interesting story, but again, it is likely that many of the same hardcore supporters came out as opposed to many new ones. Interestingly the NDP never really ran in Quadra, but instead had almost a city wide campaign trying to increase their profile in preparation for the general election (my understanding is that they didn’t even do door-to-door canvassing and focused their attention on city-wide media). I hope it worked because the NDP’s numbers are the real disaster story. Its % of the vote shrunk when the low voter turn out should have inflated it. Either their die hard supporters opted not to come out, or they voted Green or Liberal. Either way, that’s not a good sign for a party stuck in the polls.