Thursday, June 6, 2013

Can the NDP win Westside Kelowna? Maybe

The latest election results look rock solid for the Liberals but by-elections are strange creatures.   In a by-election Westside Kelowna is not nearly as safe as people think it might be.   We have to consider the likely drop in voter turn out and then there is a the "government curse" in BC by-elections - in 31 by-elections in the last  50 years, only three have been won by the government, 10 were seats the government held but then lost in the by-election.

2013 Election Results
Ben Stewart   Liberal 12,987 58.39%
Carole Gordon NDP      6,790 30.53%
Brian Guillou BCCP     2,466 11.09%
The total vote        22,243

What comes into play in a by-election is lower voter turnout.  In the last 30 years the norm in Canada has been by-elections with significantly lower voter turnout than the previous general election.   Over the last nine by-elections in BC, voter turnout has average 2/3s of the previous provincial election.    This is roughly the same results over the last 50 federal by-elections so it would be seem to be a trend.   I think we can safely assume that the turnout will be lower than the recent election and that a 2/3s turnout is a good starting point.

A turnout of 2/3s of of the provincial election would leave us at 15,000 valid votes but how will that play out in the by-election?   Everything depends on who will come out and vote, if the NDP gets their supporters to vote they can win the by-election.

Too often people focus much too much energy on the percentage of the vote a party will get and not on the raw absolute numbers which I think are more important.    When we look at the results in Chilliwack-Hope for New Democrat Gwen O'Mahony we can see this at play.   She ran in the 2009 and 2013 provincial elections and the 2013 by-election

2009   5,638  33.43% - lost by 3,347
2012   6,022  41.89% - won by  1,429
2013   7,364  36.01% - lost by 2,689

She managed to increase her vote in every election but only won in the 2012 by-election when the voter turnout was low overall.   This sort of pattern repeats itself in many by-elections.   A party that should not be competitive manages to get their supporters to vote in a by-election and they then win or come close simply by not suffering a drop in votes when the other parties do.

The 6,790 votes the NDP recently managed to achieve is enough to have a chance to win the seat if only 15,000 people vote.

A notional vote split with 15,000 voters assuming the NDP manages to get their vote out:
NDP   6,750
Libs  6,250
BCCP  1,500
Others  250
(this is not a prediction, just an illustration to show how voter retention by the NDP could allow them to win)

For the Liberals to be certain of winning they need a high voter turnout and they need to have people that voted NDP  recently decide not to go to the polls.

I do think Christy Clark will win but I think it will be much closer than people expect it to be.
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