Thursday, September 15, 2011

The BC Conservatives have arrived - it really was inevitable

With the new Can't Trust Cummins campaign from the BC Liberals, the BC Conservatives seem to have arrived on the political scene in BC.    By all measures the BC Conservatives have to be seen as the #3 party in BC now.

I have a habit of paying attention to the fringe parties in politics provincially and federally,  so I have been watching the rise of the BC Conservatives over the last year.   It was only last year that the party was little more than a joke and was suffering yet another internal division.   But here we are and the party seems to be solid and gaining real support.

It was not that long ago that few commentators were not taking the BC Conservatives seriously but I have thought was an error for a long time.  There is a significant conservative constituency in BC that simply can not vote BC Liberal - they are not voting.    I see the evidence of this through the differing turnouts in Provincial and Federal elections in BC in the last several elections.

Federal election turnouts are underlined
  • Year  Total Votes Turnout
  • 2011  1,879,304    60.4% - this is 240,000 more than 2009
  • 2009  1,640,542    50.99% - this is lower than previous 3 fed elections
  • 2008  1,799,892    60.1%
  • 2006  1,827,183    63.7%
  • 2005, 1,762,450    59.19% 
  • 2004  1,739,999    63.3%
  • 2001  1,591,306    55.44% 
  • 2000  1,621,101    63.0%
  • 1997  1,529,139    65.6% 
  • 1996  1,582,704    59.11%
Turnout is measured slightly differently provincially and federally because they do not use the same voter list.   

As you can see voter turn out in the three federal and three provincial elections from 1996 to 2005 are roughly the same. when one compares the matching federal and provincial elections.   It is in 2009 that BC took a dive in the provincial election total vote.

So who is missing?  I believe it is mainly federal Conservative voters.   Honestly, the socially conservative right wing was never going to vote Liberal long term.   The BC Liberal party is however you want to measure it a Liberal party in the Canadian tradition, the policies of the Gordon Campbell government was more or less in political sync with the federal Liberal party under Jean Chretien and Paul Martin.

If the 2009 election had a similar turn as the 2011 federal election, the BC Liberals should have attracted about 861,000 votes, not the 751,661 they did manage to achieve.  This is close to 110,000 missing voters.  

A further dynamic I believe going was on in 2009 was a number of 2005 BC NDP voters that vote Federal Liberal voting for the BC Liberals as well a significant number of 2005 Green voters moved over as well.   2005 supports of the two parties seem to have contributed about 100,000 votes to the BC Liberals in 2009.   Before you say it, I do not have rigorous data to prove this, just a lot of back of the envelope calculations using results in federal and provincial ridings in the six elections from 2004 to 2011.

Something like 210,000 2005 BC Liberal voters did not vote for the party in 2009.   So where did they go?   I believe about 40,000 either voted for the BC Conservatives or one of three independents, Vicki Huntingdon who won in Delta South, Arthur Hadland in Peace River North, and David Marley in West Vancouver Capilano.  The other 170,000 stayed home.

I also see some 50,000 2005 NDP supporters from 2005 stayed home in 2009 because they could not vote for the 2009 version of the party.

What all this says to me is that if a BC Conservative party runs a full slate, bringing 100,000 to 150,000 back to the polling booth is realistic.   The BC Conservatives could collect 200,000 votes in the next election, about 11%, and not take a single voter away from the BC Liberals.  The BC Conservatives need to be polling over 15% to be pulling any new support from the BC Liberals.

The addition of an extra 150,000 BC Conservative voters in the next election and no change in NDP or Liberal support means their share of the vote falls.   For the Liberals the drop is to 41.7% and the NDP to 38.4%.    What this means is that the NDP can win a majority was as little as 39% and for the BC Liberals with 41%.

When I look at all this information and crunch these numbers, the BC Liberal attack campaign on John Cummins does not strike me that useful for the party.   It only makes sense if the Conservatives are polling around 20% and 2009 BC Liberal voters are being lost to the BC Conservatives.   I have not seen any BC provincial polls in a long time so I have no idea what the trends are, but I know the NDP and Liberals have been doing polling.
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