Saturday, May 16, 2009

BC Election - TC's Explanation

There has been an abundance of commentary, much of it off-base, to explain the B.C. results. As it turned out there was almost no change from four years ago. In any event what determined the outcome in TC's view was largely the context, not the parties' campaigns: we are still mired into the deepest economic downturn since the thirties and we aren't getting out of it any time soon.

Indeed the polls confirmed that the economy (meaning the downturn) was far and away the number one issue. The polls also made it clear, for example this Mustel survey on page 2 and this Angus Reid poll on page 10, that the Campbell Liberals were seen as those best able to deal with the economy.

The local analyst who seemed best able to state the obvious was Vancouver Sun political columnist Vaughn Palmer, who wrote on the day after:
From start to finish in the 2009 election campaign, B.C. Liberal leader Gordon Campbell never wavered in his definition of the ballot box question.

“Ask yourself: Who is best able to lead us through troubled economic times?”

He pitched 100 variations on those words, but the message was always the same: Don’t risk a change of government in an economic downturn.

The polls, even those that put the New Democratic Party in a competitive position, suggested that voters agreed with the way the Liberals framed the campaign.

The economy was top of mind and the Liberals were the best choice to manage it.

In general small 'c' conservative parties have an advantage in perceptions of economic competence but it is not absolute. In BC's case the Liberal advantage was likely strengthened by lingering suspicions of the NDP dating from the Glen Clark era. What destroyed Clark was the fact that the fiscal situation of his government turned out to be much worse than he would acknowledge on the eve of the 1996 election.

It seems to TC that the shoe may now be on the other foot. The deteriorating economy could cause permanent political damage to his government. This downturn remains in its relatively early stages. Its full political consequences have yet to reveal themselves. When they do, don't count on Campbell being able to maintain a public image of economic competence, even if there is a strong economic recovery by 2013.

The Green Vote

A key error made by the NDP, although it probably did not have a material impact on the outcome, was their decision to oppose the carbon tax. TC discussed this earlier. The NDP faces potential negative consequences in the longer term because there is a large small 'g' green vote in BC that will continue to matter one way or another. TC did some analysis of the Green Party vote and discovered that, like NDP voters have done in federal elections, many Greens cast a strategic ballot this time, voting for their second choice in close races. The evidence for this can be seen by comparing the average Green vote to the margin between the top two parties, (in almost all cases the top two finishers were either Liberal or NDP).

This table tells the tale:

Margin Average Green Vote
0 to 10% 6.9%
10 to 20% 7.25%
20 to 30% 8.6%
30% + 9.1%

The closer the race, the smaller the Green vote. While there was considerable variation, the correlation evident in the table can mean only one thing. The second choices of Green voters matter a great deal - something for the NDP to ponder in the future in BC and elsewhere.

No comments: