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:
(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.