Friday, February 09, 2007

Ontario Byelections

The results of yesterday's byelections are better news for the Ontario Liberals than might appear to be the case at first glance. Yes, they did lose York South Weston to the NDP, but they held Markham despite efforts by the Conservatives to break into the Chinese community and held their own in Burlington. When I convert the results to province-wide numbers, the outcome would easily produce another Liberal majority.

Looking back over this government's byelection record there are two distinct patterns. One is in low income ridings (Hamilton East, Parkdale High Park, York South Weston, Scarborough Rouge River) where the NDP won the first three and made significant gains in the fourth. This strongly suggests that enough time has passed since the defeat of the discredited Rae government so that the NDP is in a position to recover lost ground in ridings which reflect the long-term pattern of their support. It is clear they can make inroads against the Liberals in poorer urban ridings. This suggests that a strategy similar to the one employed in York South Weston focused on class issues such as the minimum wage could bear electoral fruit.

The other pattern is in the more affluent 905 ridings such as Markham, Burlington and Whitby-Ajax where their vote percentages have been impressive even though they actually did not win two of the three. This bodes well for the Liberals for the October 10 election because the Conservatives simply have to do very well in 905 to win.

The NDP can't win the next election and form a government although they could affect the outcome. They boosted their vote a little in Markham and fell a little in Burlington, even while massively increasing their percentage of the vote in York South Weston. I think this implies that we are seeing continuing strategic voting. Voters who might have the NDP as a first choice but find themselves living in a Burlington appear to be giving up on their party's prospects and voting Liberal.

Addendum: The Greens did not do all that well. The Green vote comes disproportionately from younger, more alienated voters who also tend to have a low turnout. While a recent SES poll suggests 10% support for the Greens in Ontario, the byelections suggest a Green vote of about 5%, similar to the last federal election but much less than the recent media zeitgeist might suggest.

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