unfairFrom the newly elected Canadian Liberal election platform:

We will make every vote count.

We are committed to ensuring that 2015 will be the last federal election conducted under the first-past-the-post voting system.

We will convene an all-party Parliamentary committee to review a wide variety of reforms, such as ranked ballots, proportional representation, mandatory voting, and online voting.

This committee will deliver its recommendations to Parliament. Within 18 months of forming government, we will introduce legislation to enact electoral reform.

Let the wrangling over the ideal replacement system begin!

Obviously, it’ll be sad to lose a good example of strategic and tactical voting in operation, but that’ll be more than outweighed by the benefits of having an electoral system that actually represents the diversity and multi-party nature of Canadian politics.


canadaresultWell, I got the number of Conservative seats almost right – right on close to 100, just wrong on which side of it they’d fall. For the other two, though, I seem to have got it quite wrong: underestimating the size of the Liberal surge and underestimating how far the NDP would fall. But anyway here’s some early thoughts:

There does appear to have been a decent amount of strategic voting (see here for a view from inside Canada) against the Conservatives. They actually outperformed the final polling projections in terms of the percentage of the vote they got, but underperformed in terms of the seats they won.

Liberals and NDP appear to have benefited from this in different ways. The Liberals have swept up a huge number of seats, gaining from both Conservatives and NDP, with NDP switchers giving them more of the former than they’d expect. The NDP appear to have limited their losses thanks to Liberals switching in seats they weren’t going to win. In some seats, the Liberals have steamrollered the NDP from second place, or jumped them to go from third to first to take a seat from the Conservatives, but when the Liberals were out of the running in an NDP-held seat, their voters seem to have kept a few NDP MPs in place where the Conservatives were the leading opposition.

The size of the Liberal victory is worth pointing out too, giving from how far down they’ve come in a single election. They’ve increased their number of seats fivefold (they’d have won 36 in 2011 on the new boundaries, and won 184 this time) and moved straight from third place into majority government. Yes, they’re an historic major party in Canada and 2011 was a frakishly bad result for them, so it’s not quite a shock insurgency, but I’m still struggling to think of another party that has made such gains in a single election. Then again, the volatility of Canadian electors and their willingness to shift dramatically during election campaigns is already a bit of an outlier, so perhaps this is to be expected given their political culture?

One interesting area of comparison between Canada and the UK could be the contrasting election experience of Justin Trudeau and Ed Miliband. Both were subjected to sustained criticism of their credibility before the election (Conservatives portrayed Trudeau as ‘just not ready’) but Trudeau appears to have turned that completely around, while Miliband was never able to. Was it just a case of Conservatives making expectations so low that Trudeau was able to easily surpass them, or was there something else there?

Finally, I’m sure the Trudeau name helped Justin, but I want to see polling to see just how important it was compared to the ‘not Michael Ignatieff’ factor. That, I think, could be a crucial distinction.

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poll-tracker-seat-projectionsI’ve written here a couple of times about the upcoming Canadian general election, and now it’s finally here. Canadians are voting today for the 338 members of their new Parliament after a rather long election campaign, though unlike ours there’s been plenty of variation in the polls during the campaign (with the same level of doubt as to whether that will reflect the result). The Liberals have kept, and possibly extended, their lead over the last week of the campaign, while the Conservatives have wavered up and down and the NDP continued to slip.

(My finger in the air prediction? Liberals just over 150 seats, Conservatives just above 100 and NDP about 75. I reserve the right to proclaim my genius tomorrow if this is right, or completely ignore it if not.)

Beyond the result itself, what I’ll be most interested to see is if strategic voting (what we in the UK call tactical voting) has played much of a part in the results. From looking at the projected results for each riding from ThreeHundredEight, it’s clear that there are a lot of seats that are currently projected to be won by the Conservatives that could switch if enough voters switch to whichever of the Liberals and the NDP are best placed to defeat them, though the question is whether voters mutual antipathy to continued Conservative government is enough to make them switch, especially when the NDP and Liberals have been attacking each other quite heavily during the campaign. It’ll be an interesting test of what effect party signalling can have on the potential for voters switching, especially when there has been an organised movement to try and encourage it.

Having just written a dissertation in which it factors quite heavily, I’m obviously quite interested in the theory and practice of strategic/tactical voting, but I’m also interested in the names we use to describe it. On this side of the Atlantic, we use tactical voting, but in Canada (and the American literature on the subject), strategic voting is the term of choice. While the two terms are used interchangeably, I’m wondering two things: first, if there are potentially different phenomena at work that can be described using the two different terms, and secondly, if people react differently if asked to vote ‘strategically’ rather than ‘tactically’.

To take the second point first, as it could be just a personal foible, do people see the contrast between ‘strategic’ and ‘tactical’ as noteworthy? If you’re the sort of person who might use your vote for different parties in order to achieve an end would you react better to exhortations to vote strategically, or vote tactically? It doesn’t necessarily affect the votes themselves, but I think it’s interesting to consider the way in which the arguments are framed.

On the first point, however, I think there is possibly a case for seeing two different processes at work. These are still rough definitions, but perhaps we can best see tactical voting as the voting patterns in a single contest, while strategic voting (or perhaps strategic coordination) is the process that provides the framework for tactical voting. For instance, if a large number of voters in a particular constituency decide that they don’t like their MP and vote for whoever can defeat him, without the competing opposition parties or any formal structures encouraging it, there’s a high level of tactical voting going on, but little strategic voting/coordination taking place. Alternatively in a situation where parties were working together and encouraging vote switching, but little actually took place in the ground, there’d be a high level of strategic voting/coordination taking place, but little or no tactical voting. The question is whether that has to be a wider strategy in place for tactical voting to have any more than a limited local effect, or how much are voters capable of voting to achieve instrumental ends without coordinated strategic input?

Canada might provide some interesting data for that question in this election – is voter antipathy to Harper and the Conservatives sufficient on its own to motivate local tactical switching on a large scale, or will the ongoing Liberal-NDP rivalry (and lack of coordination) mute the effects of it? Hopefully, there’ll be some sort of answer amidst tomorrow’s results.

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I’ve mentioned the upcoming Canadian election here before, and as the campaign there enters its final week, it seems a good time to return for another look.

Unlike in our election, the polling there has been quite volatile, with individual polls giving a wide spread of results at any one time, though the overall trend has become quite clear. At first, the three-way tie appeared to be resolving with the New Democratic Party moving ahead of the other two, but after hitting their zenith, the NDP began falling back, first to level pegging with the Conservatives and Liberals, then dropping behind as the other two moved slowly upwards until finally the Liberals have opened up a small gap over the Conservatives.

As we head into that final week, it appears that the momentum is behind Justin Trudeau and the Liberals. CBC’s poll tracker puts them 2.5% and 15 seats ahead of the Conservatives, but still some way short of an overall majority.

This brings us to my prediction: I think the Liberals will win, and though it will be close in terms of vote percentages, they’ll have a much clearer victory in terms of seats, possibly getting close to an overall majority. From what I can tell from several thousand miles away, the battleground of the election is being drawn with the Conservatives on one side and Liberals and NDP on the other. Because of this, I suspect there’ll be quite a few voters willing to vote for whoever the best placed anti-Conservative candidate is in their riding (Canadian for constituency) and that will lead to the Liberals picking up seats that are beyond the expectations of the swing. It may also benefit the NDP, though that could be more them holding onto seats they might otherwise have lost, rather than making any more gains. However, that would depend on them holding onto their current vote share, and the volatility of Canadian politics does mean that they’ve possibly not hit the bottom floor of their support yet.

So if I’m right, Pierre Justin Trudeau will be Canada’s new Prime Minister next week, and we’ll have some Liberal success to cheer, even if it does come in the wake of the third party bursting to national prominence and then slipping backwards after the long-awaited prize of electoral victory looked so close…

Qualitative Election Study of Britain

qesb-logo-3-logogardenBack during April and May, I did a little bit of work helping Drs Edzia Carvalho and Kristi Winters on their Qualitative Election Study of Britain project, which was looking at people’s perceptions and attitudes towards the election campaign.

They’re now publishing some of the data they gathered from their work, in the form of transcripts of various of the focus groups that were conducted. They make interesting reading, as even though they’re individual testimony, they give an interesting account of how people outside the political bubble see and understand politics and should help to give anyone a bit of perspective on what ordinary members of the public were thinking during the election campaign. I’ve only had time to peruse them briefly so far, but there’s plenty in there of interest.

Click here to go to the main QESB site.


I’ve mentioned before that election junkies looking for their next fix should be looking to Canada, who’ll be electing a new government on October 19th. It’s a country where elections often deliver unexpected outcomes, with really big poll movements often happening during the campaign and this year’s campaign seems likely to keep up that trend. There are three parties that the polls can barely separate, each also rising and falling in different parts of the company so first past the post voting looks like it could deliver some very confusing and unpredictable results when the votes are cast. Remember that this is the country where a majority ruling party lost all but two of its seats at a national election, where the Opposition lost over half its seats last time, and at the same time a party that had never won more than a handful of seats in Quebec swept the province to the extent that a candidate who never even visited her constituency during the election was elected.

There’s still over a month until the voting takes place but the campaign’s in full swing already and this piece from Maclean’s gives an idea of the mood around Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s campaign. It all feels very pessimistic – though I recall us debating whether David Cameron really wanted to win in April and if he was just going through the motions – but one section from it caught my attention and got me thinking:

As early as 2009, Conservatives close to Harper were describing his political aims in terms that lasted beyond Harper’s own career as leader of the Conservative party. Earlier Conservative leaders—John Diefenbaker, Brian Mulroney—had left their parties so worn out that their opponents rolled over them, leaving them without influence for many years. If the Liberals have been Canada’s natural governing party, in this analysis, it’s because Conservatives have failed to build something that could last and compete long after the first flush of a new leader’s novelty.

If you look at the Canadian politics since the war, it does appear to be long periods of Liberal dominance punctuated by occasional Conservative success, making it the mirror of Britain where we’ve had long periods of Conservative dominance, punctuated by the occasional Labour government. The diagnosis of the cause is also similar: both Labour and the Canadian Conservatives have been unable to renew themselves in government in the same way Britain’s Conservatives and the Liberals have been able to. The two successful parties were able to hand over the Premiership from one election-winning leader to another, while the two unsuccessful ones were able to get into power with the right leader at the right time but couldn’t stretch that success into another generation.

I’m reminded of one of the criticisms levelled at Tony Blair during this Labour leadership election: that he didn’t pay attention to what would happen to the Labour Party after he left, leaving it short of credible future leadership candidates to carry on his ethos. Meanwhile, David Cameron appears to have made the focus of his second term in office ensuring that George Osborne succeeds him as seamlessly as possible, and if he should stumble, there are plenty of others willing to continue the Cameron project.

Is the secret to success for parties having that focus on the real long term? Not just planning how to win the next election, but already thinking about who’s going to win the ones after that? It seems that a good leader can make a party successful and electable in the short term, but something else in the party’s institutions and operations is needed if it’s going to win after they’ve moved on or the electorate has tired of them.


Second place stats to break the silence

I’m still alive, and still working through my Masters dissertation so my time for thinking about things to blog about is limited, which is somewhat handy as just about the only political topic to write about at the moment is just how silly Labour’s leadership election can get and I’ve already covered that.

However, things are coming close to the finish (though I may also be writing a PhD research proposal, because I don’t have enough on my plate right now) so more regular posting may resume here sometime soon. Until then, some statistics from my dissertation that a few of you might find of interest:

Parties in second place in Liberal Democrat seats post-election:
1992: Conservatives 16, Labour 4
1997: Conservatives 39, Labour 6, SNP 1
2001: Conservatives 44, Labour 8
2005: Conservative 43, Labour 18, Plaid Cymru 1
2010: Conservative 38, Labour 17, Plaid Cymru 1, SNP 1
2015: Conservative 4, Labour 2, Plaid Cymru 1, SNP 1

Parties holding seats in which Liberal Democrats were second:
1997 (Pre-election, notional results for new boundaries): Conservative 157, Labour 11, Plaid Cymru 1
1997 (post-election): Conservative 73, Labour 32
2001: Conservative 57, Labour 53, Plaid Cymru 1
2005: Conservative 83, Labour 106
2010: Conservative 167, Labour 76
2015: Conservative 46, Labour 9, SNP 8

(I’m pretty sure that’s all accurate, but please flag up any errors you spot!)

And if you’re interested in election data, you might find this collection of datasets interesting.

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