I know it has been a few days, but life is busy so I only got around to this today.
On the surface, nothing much changed in the four by-elections. The Liberals and Conservatives both retained their seats but when we look at the numbers it was not a good night for anyone, but it was a really bad night for the Conservatives.
I tend not to look at the percentage of the vote in by-elections because they are odd electoral creatures due to low voter turnout. What I look at is total votes and how they changed from the last general election.
In these by-elections the Conservatives lost the most votes of any party and their vote drops in Brandon-Souris, Provencher and Toronto Centre were the three largest on the night. The Toronto Centre drop is interesting because the Conservatives had come third in Toronto Centre in 2011 so started much lower. Overall the Conservatives dropped from 66,164 votes in 2011 to only 29,102 in the by-elections. 56% of the people that voted Conservative in 2011 did not vote for them in the by-elections.
The NDP took a big hit as well losing 51% of their 2011 vote. If their Manitoba vote losses are strategic voting the night looks bad but not awful for the NDP. The loss in votes in Toronto Centre and Bourassa are moderately proportional with the Liberals in those ridings.
The Liberals were up overall on the night by 1,459 votes from 2011, but 2011 was the worst election for the Liberals, ever. 2011 was 11,789 lower than 2008 which was lower than 2006 which was lower than 2004. The by-election results would indicate a level of support for the Liberals similar to 2006 or 2008. The by-elections may signal an end to the Liberal decline but it is not signalling a strong return. The Liberals gained a large amount of votes in Brandon-Souris and Provencher but saw significant drops in Toronto Centre and Bourassa.
Without Brandon-Souris and Provencher, the Liberals would have had an OK night. The question for me is who voted for the Liberals in Manitoba and why?
In Brandon-Souris the voter turnout was the highest of all four by-elections. Did a sense that the Conservative might be defeated increase the turnout and did people flock to the Liberal candidate as the best choice to defeat the Conservative? Did a lot of Conservatives choose to stay home? If these are the factors at play, then I suspect in the next general election it will be hard for the Liberals to come as close to the Conservatives again. Also, it if it was an anti-Harper strategic voting phenomena, the NDP could be the beneficiary in 2015 instead.
In Provencher some of the same factors may be at play, but the Conservative margin was so large going into the by-election that no one gave anyone a hope that the Conservatives would lose. Provencher is where the Conservatives had their biggest overall vote drop with loss of 14,799 votes or 53% of their 2011 vote.
What I think happened in Provencher and Brandon-Souris is that the anti-Harper vote came out to vote and lined up behind the Liberal candidates while at the same time the Conservative voters stayed home. In 2015 the anti-Harper voters could just as easily line up behind the NDP than the Liberals but I think the voter turnout from Conservatives will rise significantly.
In Toronto Centre many people thought the race would be much closer between the Liberals and the NDP but in the end Freeland won for the Liberals by a comfortable margin. The NDP not only held their ground, proportionally they did slightly better than the Liberals, but given that the party had a star candidate, this is not good enough. The NDP needed to have a win here to show a clear path to government in 2015.
For me the big surprise in Toronto Centre was the collapse of the Conservative vote. More than 3/4s of the people that voted for the party in 2011 did not vote for them in the by-election.
Toronto Centre is a good example of why looking at percentages can mislead people. If the Conservatives had maintained a proportionally similar level of the vote as the Liberals and NDP, they would have had about 9,500 votes. If these people had voted it would have meant a 44.8% voter turnout instead of 38.0%, which is what the NDP and Liberal votes seemed to indicate is what it should have been. It says to me that most 2011 Conservative voters simply stayed home. If they had voted in proportion to the NDP and Liberals, the percentage of the vote NDP and Liberals got in the by-election would have been almost unaltered from 2011.
So why did all these voters stay home and can the Conservatives bring any of them back in 2015?
Bourassa had the lowest turnout of any of the by-elections with only 26.2% voting. I think this is because the Bloc and CPC put no energy into the race and the Quebec NDP is still not a strong electoral machine. I assume that this seat will comfortably remain Liberal in 2015.