Monday, May 08, 2017

Is British Columbia Headed in the Direction of Washington, Oregon and California?

The closing polls in the BC election suggest a close race perhaps trending in the direction of the incumbent BC Liberals, despite the name really small 'c' conservatives. However, it is clearly too close to call.

My seat estimate, which is based on riding boundaries that are out of date, suggests the NDP could finish a couple of seats ahead but one absolutely cannot tell. In the past many Green voters have switched to the NDP at the end of the campaign although so far there is no indication of that this time. If anything the strength of the Greens in this election (they are up from 8% last time to around 20%) may reflect in part that it has become a 'safe' alternative for some disaffected Liberals who are unhappy but want nothing to do with the 'dreaded socialists' (although the Green platform is clearly closer to the NDP than the Liberals).

In the 2013 election the BC Liberals won a comfortable majority of seats while winning the popular vote by just over four percentage points. I have done some poll averaging that suggests how tight it is this time:

British Columbia is a difficult place to poll because it is so diverse, ethnically and geographically. You can see from a map of the 2013 election that overall the NDP is stronger on the coast (as are the Greens) while the Liberals hold sway inland.

But what of the longer run? The small 'c' conservative coalition (originally as a Conservative-Liberal coalition, then Social Credit, and more recently BC Liberal) has dominated BC politics on all save three occasions since World War II. But can it sustain itself over time?

If we look south we a similar geographic pattern overall where the Democrats in blue generally dominate along the U.S. Pacific coast in elections to the U.S. House of Representatives (and Presidential, Senate and Governors races) while Republican strength in red is concentrated inland.

The west coast jurisdictions in the two countries have several key differences. However, one that is important is simply that B.C. extends further inland (its easternmost tip borders on Montana). The Pacific coast in both countries is where the large urban areas of Vancouver, Victoria, Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego are located and all lean left of centre.  Support for conservative parties in both places is stronger in rural (whether agricultural or resource-based) communities.

The blue state-red state trend in the U.S. is of relatively recent vintage (until the mid-nineties Republicans were strong in California), but the trend to more left of centre views (and growing green consciousness) is clearly characteristic of the coasts in both places. Can it be too many more years before the trends evident south of the border become typical of B.C.?