Explaining the 2011 Federal Election II: The Recipe for Orange Crush
[Welcome, National Newswatch readers!]
The weekend of Jack Layton's funeral last August, Toronto bartenders created a cocktail in his name: Jack Daniels and Orange Crush on ice. But now, political scientists think they've found the recipe for Orange Crush itself. In Québec at least, it was 2 parts values, 5 parts policy, and 3 parts the smiling late leader.
At the annual Canadian Political Science Association conference in Edmonton the other week, lead investigator for the 2011 Canadian Election Study (CES), Patrick Fournier of the Université de Montréal, attempted to account for the fortunes of the various parties, and particularly to explain the orange wave in Québec.
He listed seven potential explanations for the rise that emerged in the days and weeks following the election, and then sought to either rule them in or out as feasible hypotheses for further study based on the CES data. The seven takes that Fournier and his co-authors considered were:
- "Fluke polls" – This was the explanation offered by then-Bloc Québécois leader Gilles Duceppe in his first interview after the election. According to Duceppe, a fluke poll that circulated near the beginning of the campaign startled the voters and drove them into the arms of the NDP. CES investigators couldn't figure out which polls Mr. Duceppe might have meant, however, since there were not really any rogue polls of the Québec electorate. All the poll results in the public domain were matched by the CES' daily rolling cross-sectional survey results during the campaign.
- Campaign Events – The leaders' debates did not seem to be associated with movements in party support in Québec either, the CES team reported. Typically, academic studies have found that if a debate has an impact on vote intention, it is both immediate, and shows up differently in those who watched the debate from those who didn't. Some public domain pollsters reported finding a debate effect in 2011 based on weekly polling both before and after. But Greg Lyle from Innovative Research told the Market Research Industry Association post-election panel last fall that because of the different deadlines he was working to based on the publication schedule of his client, Macleans Magazine, he was able to be in the field *between* the french debate and the PQ convention where Duceppe gave his three-steps-to-sovereignty speech.
Lyle claims it was the PQ convention which was more closely associated with the second big jump in NDP support in Québec, and not the french debate, a finding with which the CES data also agree. Other campaign events that CES investigators found were proximate to jumps in NDP Québec vote intention were Jack Layton's appearance on Tout le monde en parle (TLMEP) near the beginning of the campaign, and two speeches on sovereignty given by Jacques Parizeau and Gérald LaRose towards the very end. [Though Lyle does speculate that Layton's debate performance may have scored points with Liberals and Greens that wound up paying off later, as well.]
Rejection of Sovereignty – This explanation also seemed unlikely for two reasons. In the first place, support for sovereignty had only declined by two points (from 42% to 40%) in the period between the 2008 and 2011 elections. Second, and moreover, Québec NDP voters weren't only federalists: 38% of 2011 NDP support in Québec would have liked to see Québec become a country (compared to 29% in 2008).
[And as Bélanger and Nadeau noted in their contribution to the Carleton University book on the 2011 election, the Bloc's support in elections has always trailed support for sovereignty, meaning that sovereignists have supported other federalist parties in Québec before.]
Campaign week 1 and week 4 surveys by Innovative Research showed that the Bloc still retained 77% of the hard sovereigntist vote towards the end of the campaign (though down from 81% earlier on), while the highest the NDP scored amongst that group was 13%. Their overall findings were consistent with the CES data, namely that NDP support came mainly from the ranks of the soft sovereignists and the soft federalists.
Fournier and his co-authors believe that sovereignty was no more or less dead during the 2011 election than it had been in 2008, but that the orange wave in Québec signalled "the weakening of [sovereignty's] power as the structuring dimension in federal electoral politics in Québec. The fact that so many sovereignists were willing to vote for the federalist NDP indicates that the national question was no longer their overriding motivation".
Increased Left-Right Polarization – This explanation was refuted by the finding that there were overlapping distributions of answers by different parties' supporters on the survey questions about a general orientation towards market liberalism, and little change in the opinions of Quebeckers as a whole on those questions between 2008 and 2011. What Fournier and his colleagues found is that the NDP simply took the left away from the Bloc, not that there were more left-wingers in Québec, per se.
Increase in Political Cynicism – The CES includes a set of six questions designed to assess political disaffection or cynicism ("are you very/fairly/not very/not at all satisfied with the way democracy works in Cda", "I don't think the govt cares much what people like me think", "how do you feel about politicians on a scale of 0 to 100", etc.). Respondents scoring high in political disaffection spiked the Green vote in 2008 outside Québec, for example, and underwrote support for the Canadian Alliance in 2000, and both the Conservatives and NDP in 2004, though not to a significant level in any of those cases. But in 2008 in Québec, high scores on both cynicism and regional alienation were associated with support for the Bloc Québcois; and by 2011 those two groups had switched to the NDP. And while the levels of cynicism outside Québec did not increase measurably between 2008 and 2011, they did grow in Québec over the same timeframe (and arguably have continued to do so since last year's election).
To reinforce the significance of this factor, the authors found that while cynicism was up amongst all parties' supporters, it was up the most amongst the NDP's. People who switched from another party to vote NDP in 2011 in Québec had higher disaffection/cynicism scores that those who stuck with their 2008 choice. And newer NDP voters scored higher on cynicism that previous NDP voters. Still, voters who switched to the NDP did not hold more negative assessments of other parties than non-switchers. The authors concluded that the environment of distrust in politicians was shaking loose the partisan affiliations of voters, but not by itself driving voters towards the NDP.
That said, the values profile of 2011 NDP voters in Québec was higher political disaffection, lower support for market liberalism, higher support for racial minorities, higher regional alienation, lower personal religiosity, lower moral traditionalism, and lower support for Québec sovereignty — many of which categories they were winning for the first time (and winning away from the Bloc). The combination of those values was worth 6 points out of the total 30.7 percentage points by which the NDP vote share increased in Québec between 2008 and 2011, and thus they represent the first part of the recipe for Orange Crush.
"Layton mania" – While partisanship (aka "party ID"; the "which party do you feel closest to" question) did not strongly predict a 2011 NDP vote in Québec (it was more likely to win the votes of Liberal and Bloc partisans, for example), no-one could deny the impact of Jack Layton on the party's success in producing that outcome. It's said by insta-pundits that the orange wave was all his doing — that "they voted for Jack Layton; Jack Layton is dead".
But consider this: there is no doubt that Jack Layton was very popular in Québec in 2011, but he was not all that much more popular there than he had been in 2008. His ratings did go up during the 2011 campaign, but not all that much. Outside Québec, the party's vote rose consistent with his improving leadership scores, but in la belle province there were no gains sufficient to explain the NDP surge.
What did change though was voters' evaluations of Gilles Duceppe. Duceppe and Layton were equally popular in 2008, but the NDP's gains in Québec in 2011 tracked the growing gap between Layton and Duceppe. Moreover, NDP voters in Québec, to a rarely seen level, cited Jack Layton as their main reason for voting NDP. Favourable impressions of Jack Layton drove other-party-switchers and non-voters to vote NDP, particularly where the other-party-switchers had a negative impression of the leader of the party they voted for in 2008.
Thus, it was the relative, rather than absolute ratings of Jack Layton which made a difference for the NDP, explaining a further 9 points of the 30.7, and forming the second ingredient in the recipe. Note that no other party leader contributed as much as a single percentage point to his or her party in Québec in the same study (the Prime Minister included).
- Issues and Policy – Worth as much as the values and leadership questions combined, however, were Quebeckers' positions on three key policy issues that matched up well with the NDP. According to CES researchers, issue positions rarely turn out to be the explanations of vote choice – usually it's values, partisanship and leadership. But this time was different, and three key issues drove support to the NDP in Québec in 2011 (in order of influence)
- support for increased healthcare spending
- support for increased spending on the environment
- support for higher corporate taxes
Because these were all popular positions with Quebeckers, it was a big pond for the NDP to be able to fish in, and most of the gains again came at the expense of the Bloc Québécois, especially in the first two cases.
The combination of the three issue positions accounted for 15 of the 30.7 percentage point hike in NDP support in Québec, and comprise the third and final ingredient in last year's Orange Crush in the province.
The overall impression is of a federalist social democratic party whose charming leader finally persuaded Quebeckers to notice how much they shared its values and policy agenda, at the very peak of their disillusionment with the government of the day, the other political parties, the emphasis on the sovereignty project, and a growing dislike for the leader who championed it.
Now NDP partisanship did not follow a 2011 NDP vote in most cases, according to the CES data – they're still just dating. But dauntingly for their only real competitor in this values and issue space, Bloc partisanship dropped substantially amongst those 2008 BQ voters who voted for another party in 2011. In fact the Bloc retained only 30% of its identified partisans who switched their vote in 2011, as compared with 60% for the other three major parties.
The other political parties will have to carefully consider what unique values and issues space is open to them in Québec, and/or whether they want to compete with the NDP on what looks increasingly like its own ground on the left in that province.
But with the Bloc holding the 24% of hard sovereignists, and the NDP occupying the centre-left of the soft sovereignist-soft federalist ranks in Québec, the opportunities for the Liberals will probably have to come out of right-field for now. And I for one would love to have heard the advice former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney had for the current Prime Minister on a Québec strategy this past week.