Pundits' Guide to Canadian Elections

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By-Election Shocker! Conservatives retain Whitby-Oshawa

November 18th, 2014 | 17 Comments »

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[Welcome, National Newswatch readers!]

By the time all the ballots were counted Monday night, former Whitby mayor Pat Perkins held Whitby-Oshawa for the Conservative Party with nearly 50% of the vote.

You could be forgiven for thinking this result was unlikely, given the extent to which Liberal talking points penetrated the media's pre-game analysis, egged on by some torqued analysis from the only pollster willing to give away his work for free anymore.

Forum Research polls vs Outcome, Nov 2014 by-elections

Party Whitby-Oshawa, ON Yellowhead, AB
Field Date Mon Oct 27 Tue Nov 11 Sun Nov 16 Mon NOV 17 Tue Nov 11 Sun Nov 16 Mon NOV 17
Sample Size n=894 n=811 n=919 E-Day n=406 n=311 E-Day
Cons 41 44 42 49.2% 62 51 62.6%
Lib 32 40 45 40.7% 16 24 20.0%
NDP 15 12 10 8.1% 12 13 9.5%
Grn 8 3 3 1.4%      
Oth 4 0 0 0.6% 10 13 7.9%

Conservative standard-bearer Perkins in fact exceeded the vote-share with which Jim Flaherty first wrested the riding away from Liberal MP Judi Longfield in 2006. Perkins finished the evening last night with 49.2% of the vote, as against the 43.9% earned by the beloved former Finance Minister in 2006. Her performance even exceeded Flaherty's 2008 vote-share – in the peak of the economic collapse whose handling won Flaherty international acclaim – though if you look at the raw votes, that was only because so many Liberals stayed home that year.

Whitby-Oshawa, ON - Party Vote Share, 2000 - 2014

Whitby-Oshawa, ON - Raw Party Vote, 2000 - 2014

The Conservatives' victory Monday was also notable given the effort made in particular by the Liberals to turn the by-election into a referndum on the Prime Minister's commitment to income-splitting, a policy whose redistributive impacts were criticized by Flahery in his final interviews as Finance Minister.

The Liberals certainly put in a herculean effort on the campaign, which paid off in a restored vote share and second-place standing as against their nemeses in the NDP (which presciently downplayed both its campaign efforts and expectations ahead of time).

Yet even draining the NDP of all but its most core base vote in this typical red-blue race in the 905 East, the Liberals were unable to pass the Conservatives, who again confounded Forum Research as they had done so many other pollsters in Ontario during the last federal election campaign with a substantial ballot-box bonus.

In other words, even though the Liberals have been successful in completely rebooting their field operations and adopting more modern campaign techniques for voter targeting, identification and GOTV, the Conservative ground game is still superior in Ontario and well capable of getting the job done, in spite of the Liberals' superior penetration of the media spin game.

A couple of other notes:

  • At 31.8%, the turnout in Whitby-Oshawa was as bad as that of Trinity-Spadina last June, and Yellowhead's 16.1% was nothing to crow about either after last summer's 15.4% in Fort McMurray-Athabasca. This means we have now had 3 by-elections with under 20% turnout in all of Canadian federal electoral history, all in the last six months.
  • The riding of Whitby-Oshawa, ON is not really comparable to the riding of Oshawa, ON demographically or electorally. The number of people who asserted otherwise in a paid capacity on TV in the last three days really makes me shake my head, when it's so easy to look it up. (Under the new boundaries, Whitby and Oshawa will each be their own seats, by the way.) Here are some of the major demographic differences which are significant for the relative electoral prospects of the parties:
2006 Census Measure / Other Measure Oshawa Whitby-Oshawa
Total visible minority population 8.52% 15.0%
University certificate, diploma or degree 9.04% 17.99%
Less than high school graduation certificate 27.31% 18.71%
Worked in a different census division (county) 19.57% 34.53%
Worked in census subdivision (municipality) of residence 38.79% 24.64%
Trades, transport and equipment operators and related occupations 18.40% 13.21%
Occupations unique to processing, manufacturing and utilities 10.46% 8.92%
Management occupations 8.08% 12.21%
Median income in 2005 – All private households $ 59,384 81,558
Median earnings – Persons 15 years and over $ 30,212 36,782
Single-detached houses – as a % of total occupied private dwellings 49.40% 71.80%
Dwellings – Built within last 20 years 22.39% 54.28%
Dwellings – Owned (vs Rented) 67.79% 83.29%
Average value of dwelling $ 223,308 304,668
Typical pre-2011 federal contest Cons-NDP Cons-Lib
Provincial 2014 contest NDP-Cons PC-Lib
  • Finally, some folks on Twitter were especially interested in the various parties' performance in the by-elections of the 41st Parliament. I've summarized the deltas in vote-share below, but let's also notice that any party not viewed as being "in the hunt" after Forum Research drops its typical baseline poll soon falls to the single digits or thereabouts. I'm not sure such also-ran vote-shares are predictive of what the party could expect in a general election, and I think it's a bit of sophistry to argue/spin otherwise.
Riding Contest Cons NDP Lib Grn BQ
Toronto-Danforth, ON NDP-Lib -9.0% -1.4% +10.9% -1.8%  
Durham, ON Cons-NDP -3.8% +5.2% -0.6% -1.3%  
Calgary Centre, AB Cons-Lib -20.8% -11.0% +15.2% +15.7%  
Victoria, BC NDP-Grn -9.1% -13.6% -0.9% +22.7%  
Labrador, NL Lib-Cons -7.3% -1.0% +9.1%    
Bourassa, QC Lib-NDP -4.2% -0.9% +7.2% +0.4% -3.0%
Toronto Centre, ON Lib-NDP -13.9% +6.2% +8.1% -2.1%  
Brandon-Souris, MB Cons-Lib -19.6% -17.8% +37.3% -0.8%  
Provencher, MB Cons-Lib -12.5% -9.7% +23.2% +0.8%  
Scarborough-Agincourt, ON Lib-Cons -4.9% -9.6% +14.0% -0.9%  
Trinity-Spadina, ON Lib-NDP -11.0% -20.4% +30.3% +1.1%  
Fort McMurray-Athabasca, AB Cons-Lib -25.1% -1.8% +24.9% -1.0%  
Macleod, AB Cons-Lib -8.3% -6.1% +13.3% +0.8%  
Whitby-Oshawa, ON Cons-Lib -9.2% -14.2% +26.6% -3.5%  
Yellowhead, AB Cons-Lib -14.5% -3.5% +17.1%    


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