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Explaining the 2011 Federal Election I: Who Switched to Whom, and When

[Welcome, National Newswatch readers!]

The final data is in from the 2011 Canadian Election Study, and it shows the Liberals, Bloc Québécois and Green Party held even less of their 2008 vote in 2011 than earlier thought.

The provisional "voter migration matrix", published at last year's Canadian Political Science Association, used CES survey data about vote intention from the post-debate 2011 campaign period and compared it against the respondents' reported 2008 vote.

The final matrix, reported Thursday to a workshop at this year's CPSA annual conference at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, was able to plot respondents' actual reported 2011 vote, as collected after the election, against their reported 2008 ballot.

Comparing the two versions of the matrix, it's clear that support for the three waning parties had continued to slide between vote intention and final voting behaviour — in some cases quite significantly.

The final version of the matrix also includes values for two categories of previous non-voters: (i) Abstained – those who were eligible but did not vote in 2008, and (ii) Entering – those who were not eligible to vote in 2008, whether by age, citizenship, etc., but were eligible in 2011.

The data is reported separately for Québec and the Rest of Canada (ROC). Here is the final 2011 matrix in full (the earlier version can be found in my blogpost from last year's conference).

Sources of the 2011 GE Vote, Rest of Canada vs. Québec (Canadian Election Study, Fournier et al., 2012 CPSA conference)

  Reported 2008 Vote (%)  
2011 (%)  Cons NDP Lib BQ Grn Abstain Entering
Rest of Canada
Cons 86.9 8.9 9.6 11.1 18.3 20.0
NDP 5.3 79.7 24.2 33.3 22.9 36.0
Lib 3.1 6.0 55.9 20.4 13.8 12.0
BQ
Grn 0.9 2.1 3.2 29.6 3.7 8.0
Abstain 3.8 3.2 7.1 5.6 41.3 24.0
TOTAL 100 100 100 100 100 100
 
Québec
Cons 59.4 4.4 11.3 4.6   15.1 5.9
NDP 25.8 86.8 33.3 31.1 65.2 20.8 64.7
Lib 1.9 4.4 43.4 3.9 8.7 7.5  
BQ 3.2 2.9 1.9 55.0 8.7 7.5 5.9
Grn     1.3 0.7 13.0    
Abstain 9.7 1.5 8.8 4.6 4.3 49.1 23.5
TOTAL 100 100 100 100 100 100 100

Starting with the ROC, we see the following:

  • The NDP was able to win over a greater percentage of vote switchers in 2011 than any other party did, claiming 33% of 2008 Green support, 24% of 2008 Liberal voters, and 5.3% of the 2008 Conservatives. In addition, they held some 80% of their own vote from the previous election.
  • The Conservatives held an impressive 87% of their 2008 vote outside Québec in 2011, and added around 10% from each of the Green, Liberal and NDP 2008 electorates.
  • The Liberals actually held just 56% of their already-depleted 2008 vote outside Québec in 2011 (not 76% as earlier estimated based on the late-campaign vote intention surveys), and they bled 24% of their 2008 vote to the NDP in 2011 (not 13% as earlier estimated). As mentioned, another 10% or so switched to the Conservatives and 3% to the Greens, while 7% just stayed home ("abstained").
  • The Green Party held less of its own 2008 vote in 2011 (30%) than defected from them to the NDP (33%). The earlier estimates had placed their retention rate at 42% outside Québec, rather than 30%; and showed a 25% bleed rate to the NDP, rather than 33%.

Amongst the categories of non-voters in the ROC, there are some other interesting findings, that obviously could not be shown using the available data at this time last year, before all the post-election surveys were compiled.

  • The NDP and Conservatives posted the best performances in attracting 2008 abstainers to their fold in 2011: 23% of 2008 non-voters showed up in 2011 to vote for the NDP, while 18% showed up for the Conservatives. Another 14% of 2008 abstainers returned to the polls to vote Liberal, 3.7% voted Green, and just over 40% stayed home again in 2011.
  • The NDP won nearly half of all the first-time 2011 voters ("Entering") outside Québec who showed up to vote (36%), followed by the Conservatives (20%), Liberals (12%) and Greens (8%). A further 24% of this sample of folks newly-eligible to vote in 2011 reported they did not cast a ballot (i.e., they abstained).

The findings on 2008 non-voters (the abstainers) are not a surprise to me, but should be paid close attention, given the results in many North Toronto and 905 West seats where the Liberal incumbents either held their raw vote or lost less of it than the Conservatives themselves gained. I argued at the time that in cases such as Ajax-Pickering, where Liberal incumbent Mark Holland obtained a virtual identical number of votes in 2008 and 2011, and the NDP did not run a campaign but gained a bit from out of the ranks of the Greens and previous non-voters, the only way to explain the very large gains in raw vote by Conservative challenger Chris Alexander, was to realize that his campaign succeeded in finding a lot of new supporters from out of the ranks of 2008 non-voters.

My thesis is that the Conservatives converted 2008 non-voters (aka "Abstainers") in many of the suburban ridings where the "Liberals stayed home" in the Dion-Green Shift election; while the NDP found new votes from 2008 abstainers in different kinds of ridings where either they had not been seen as a viable choice before, or where their improved on-the-ground organization was better able to motivate the kind of low-voter-efficacy, low-attachment, lower-income voters who often form their base.

Of course, the lion's share of the "Entering" category would be first-time youth voters, and new immigrants. That the NDP could win 36% of them is certainly consistent with data we've seen on both youth and recent immigrant voting from the 2011 exit polls, as would the Conservatives' share of that category.

[Meanwhile, the fact that 60% of 2008 ROC abstainers showed up to vote in 2011 makes it a teensy bit harder to argue in favour of massive widespread vote suppression. No doubt some voters felt discouraged and some felt very discouraged, and others were being actively discouraged by competing campaigns. But overall, turnout was up. The highest reported abstention rates were for the Conservatives in Québec (9.7%), the Liberals in Québec (8.8%) and the Liberals in the ROC (7.1%). I understand some other research has found some very small effects in ridings said to have been affected by misleading calls, but the study using poll-by-poll data may not have taken changing polling division boundaries into account from my initial reading of it. Obviously I need to take a closer look, though.]

Moving on to the Québec results:

  • Here the NDP not only kept 87% of its much smaller 2008 raw vote, but gained 31% of the much more sizeable 2008 Bloc vote, 33% of the 2008 Liberal vote, 26% of the 2008 Conservative vote and fully 65% of the 2008 Québec Green support.
  • The Conservatives held 59% of their 2008 support, and apart from the 26% bleed to the NDP, saw 5% switch to the Liberals or Bloc, and 10% just stay home; while at the same time they picked up 12% of the 2008 Liberal vote, and 9% combined from the NDP and Bloc.
  • The Bloc Québécois retained just 55% of its 2008 vote in 2011 (not 65% as earlier estimated), with virtually all the rest bleeding to the NDP (31%, up from the 24% estimated last year).
  • The Liberals held even less of their 2008 vote in Québec, at 43% (not 55% as earlier estimated), with as we've seen another 33% switching to the NDP, 11% switching to the Conservatives, and 9% staying home.
  • And the Greens retained just a lowly 13% of their 2008 Québec vote in 2011 (not 29% as first thought), with fully 65% switching instead to the NDP (a stronger result than the earlier 57% estimate).
  • Only 51% of 2008 Abstainers from Québec voted in 2011, but the NDP won about 40% of them (21% overall), while the Conservatives claimed another 15% overall, and the Bloc and Liberals split the other 15% evenly.
  • Meanwhile, the NDP also won 65% of the sample of all first-time voters in Québec, while the Liberals and Bloc were not identified even once in this category. 6% each of the remaining new voters picked the Conservatives and Bloc, while 23.5% reported that did not vote in 2011.

Obviously there's a lot to be gleaned from these results, and from the other data that has been reported in the election sessions so far. But, given that those sessions all start up again in a few hours, perhaps we'll end here for now and pick up again in the next blogpost.

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14 Responses to “Explaining the 2011 Federal Election I: Who Switched to Whom, and When”

  1. Teddy Boragina says:

    Interesting to plug in the numbers from the table into the UBC-ESM Election Forecaster

  2. Shadow says:

    This data is an essential antidote to counter the stories party members tell each other after a loss.

    Notions like Liberals just stayed home or only lost because of a vast voter suppression conspiracy might be comforting and offer easy solutions like just doing some voter contact work to get out lapsed Liberals.

    However, the truth is Liberals have lost their place in Canadian political life because other parties have been eating their lunch.

    Countering that is a much tougher prospect and requires a more thoughtful plan than just emphasizing the party’s history and brand identity.

  3. Well, the trend lines are clear and we are on our way to a two party state, the surprise is not the Lib’s decline but the march of the Greens into non-competitiveness.

    On top of this we will have almost three more years of the public hearing nothing but Harper as PM and Mulclair as the anti-Harper. Probably 7 more years.

  4. Terje says:

    George Pringle writes that these results indicate “…the march of the Greens into non-competitiveness.”

    I don’t think you can draw that conclusion based on the 2011 election results.

    The Greens made a deliberate decision to focus nearly their entire effort in 2011 on electing their leader, Elizabeth May, to Parliament. Very little of their attention or resources went into either a national campaign or even targeting the handful of ridings where they had posted competitive results in the past. Given the single riding campaign they ran, it is hardly surprising that their national vote fell so dramatically.

    While one can debate whether this was a wise strategy for a party with national aspirations, it definitely worked in winning their first elected MP. Whether the presence of their leader as single MP will allow them to regain or expand on their previous higher votes is impossible to anticipate at this time – but extrapolating a long term trend for the Greens based on the 2011 election when they pursued a dramatically different electoral strategy would be a mistake.

    I’m not a Green supporter, but I’d argue that Ms. May’s relatively strong performance in Parliament so far may allow the Greens to regain ground during the next election – at least as likely as the prospect that they will get squeezed out by a Conservative/NDP polarization.

  5. Thanks says:

    Thank you for this; puts the lie to the claim that lotsa Lib voters defected to the CPC for fear of an NDP-led coalition (quite the opposite: more jumped ship TO the NDP),

    but shouldn’t this say “about a third” (if it referes to the 36%) rather than “nearly half,” re: Enterings’ vote (which I don’t see a column for, at least not within Firefox):

    The NDP won nearly half of all the first-time 2011 voters (“Entering”) outside Québec who showed up to vote (36%)

  6. Ken Summers says:

    The Greens may be able to rebuild the party and cash in on May’s prominence.

    But it was not just a matter of concentrating resources in her campaign. There was a steady four year decline in attention as well as resources put to anything but the endless and wandering elect Elizabeth May campaigns. And May herself has no talent or patience for organizing.

    So it is difficult to see where are the seeds of this possible turnaround. Organization does not spring forth from potential. Not to mention that the organization they used to have depended on the now departed public subsidy.

  7. Robert Hajaly says:

    Two things strike me from the data: 1. The difference between post-debate and actual vote results indicates a strategic voting effect at the expense of the Liberals and Greens to chiefly the NDP and somewhat the Conservatives. 2. The fact that the Liberals got only 12% of new voters in English Canada and none in Quebec bodes ill for their future and indicates they really have to work hard to improve their position. On the other hand, the NDP, looking at their share of new voters, are clearly on an upward trend; the question is whether they can keep it up and grow further under Mulcair.

  8. Thank you, “Thanks”. Of course you’re right; this was just an artefact of me writing it late into the night. I’ll correct the entry at my first opportunity, but your taking the time to point out this error is much appreciated.

  9. George Pringle says:

    May took most of the Green govt money which ends soon to do a CIMS level voter ID in SGI and this ends soon. With the redistribution, she will not be able to repeat this as a large part of her decaying data will not even apply.

    But May’s presence in the Leader’s debates had more effect that just SGI and that effect was negative. How many candidates received the necessary 10% to get a rebate for the EDA?

    The Red Tory May cabal is poison and they are destroying the honest but deluded finger waggling Greens.

    The media may write May a script that makes her look like the brave counter insurgent but her target is not the Tories but the NDP, like the Libs.

    May has marched into the flaw of being overly concerned with “inside the Queensway”, thinking that the media’s manufactured outrage influences how Canadians vote.

  10. Skinny Dipper says:

    By looking at these numbers, I do predict the following strategies for each party:

    The Conservatives will try to maintain their base through divide-and-conquer. Through Harper, their party is unlikely to gain the support of other voters. Harper just doesn’t want his voters to go to the other parties.

    The NDP will preach to current Conservative supporters. That means campaigning on economic issues rather than the usual health care and environmental stuff unless they are framed in an economic setting. One rule of politics: campaign on your weaknesses rather than your strengths. Make your weaknesses into strengths. That is what the NDP may do with Tom Mulcair campaigning on economic issues.

    Liberals: support some sort of progressive cooperation under the Liberal tent. This strategy is not meant so much to stop the Conservatives but to weaken the NDP.

    The Greens will maintain focus on Elizabeth May’s riding. The Green Party may decline elsewhere.

    The Bloc may focus on key francophone ridings in Quebec where the NDP won by a slim margin. Not much may happen.

  11. Jason Manchester says:

    Thanks for posting this, I had been wondering when we’d see the CES data.

    I surprises me how stable the ROC conservative vote was. Much has been made about the polarization of Canadian politics after this election, but these numbers really tell the story. The NDP had an amazing campaign, and yet the conservative voters weren’t swayed at all, at least in english Canada. The NDP effectively lost more (proportionately) to the Cons than it gained from them. Even in Quebec, the gains against Conservative voters were not as significant as those of all other parties.

    This will be a significant challenge to the NDP in the next election. Will then go after those hard Conservative voters or the soft remainders of the other parties?

  12. MGK says:

    Interesting to see how much the NDP gained from first-time-eligible voters. Of course, that statistic is made up of two very different groups, 18-21 year olds and newly naturalized citizens. It would be really interesting to see data that separated those two groups. Is that 36.0% and 64.7% mostly young people, a group whose excitement about Layton is already part of the narrative? Or is the party also making less-reported gains among recent immigrants, a demographic that has been credited for the rise of the the Conservatives and decay of the Liberals in suburbia?

  13. In fact, MGK, the Conservatives did well with immigrants of longer standing, not new immigrants, and they trailed other parties in immigrants who were visible minorities, though less than they used to. These data are from the Ipsos-Reid exit poll.

    Ipsos-Reid, the CES and many others confirm that the NDP did well with young people. Newer immigrants have historically voted less frequently than immigrants of longer standing, so my initial guess would be that the group of new entrants was likely more young people than new immigrants.

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