Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Could Adrian Dix stay on and are there examples of success after blowing an election?

There are more more signals out there that Adrian Dix wants to stay on to contest the next provincial election.   The latest being things about people being given a second chance, or musings about how Gary Doer in Manitoba won for the NDP there in his fourth election.   Are there good examples out there of party leaders that really blew an election and then came back to win the next time?

Here is a list of political leaders that might fit the criteria for blowing an election and then what happened.

Bob Strachan
Bob Strachan as the CCF/NDP leader in BC from 1956 to 1969 he lead the party in four elections losing all of them.   He only became leader a few months before the 1956 election so his losing that one is not entirely his fault.

It is the 1960 election that he should have been able to win given the relatively unpopularity of the Socred government at the time.  1960 was really in many ways his first election.  The party was his and he had a proven track record as the leader.  He gained on the bad result from 1956 but not nearly as much as he should have been able to.  He blew the 1960 election but still stayed on as leader to the detriment of the NDP.

Election CCF/NDP % behind Socred seats seats short of majority
1956     28.32%     (-17.52)      10     (-17)
1960     32.73%      (-6.10)      16     (-11)
1963     27.80%     (-13.03)      14     (-13)
1966     33.62%     (-11.97)      16     (-12)

The 1963 election saw the party drop to the lowest percentage for the CCF/NDP since it started in the early 1930s.  Strachan should certainly stepped down after than election but he hung on.   The 1966 result was a mild improvement but still he should not have been leader going into that election.  Given the failure of 1966 he should have resigned on election night.   Instead of resigning, every indication was that he would try to run in the next election.  There was an attempt to remove him in 1967 that came closer than most people expected.  That result and the previous election losses meant that by early 1969 he realized he had to go.

By him hanging around so long after the 1966 election he did not allow Tom Berger to have time to get the party united and ready for the 1969 election.  The 1969 leadership race was a fairly bitter one between Barrett and Berger and time is needed after something like that to field a strong campaign.

The failure of Strachan to build on a decent result from 1960 when he had had the best chance of winning for the party might be a prognostication for Dix.

Dave Barrett
Dave Barrett lead the NDP from 1969 to 1984.  In that time he lead the NDP to one win and three loses.

Election  NDP % behind Socred seats  seats short of majority
1972     39.59%      (+8.43)    38     (+10)
1975     39.16%     (-10.09)    18     (-10)
1979     45.99%      (-2.24)    26      (-3)
1983     44.94%      (-4.82)    22      (-7)

Should have quit after 1975?  Maybe, but on the other hand his 1979 result is the zenith for CCF/NDP popularity in any BC election.  In 1983 Social Credit was unpopular and the NDP seemed to be headed to victory under Barrett, in the end Bill Bennett pulled off another win.  Barrett's 1983 result is still the second best result as a percentage of the vote in BC history for the CCF/NDP.   Barrett also stepped aside after losing the election he should have won in 1983.  

Would the NDP have done better in 1986 with Barrett at the helm instead of Skelly?  I suspect so but I am not convinced it could have won that election.   Barrett is not a good comparison to the Dix situation.

Gordon Campbell
Campbell lead the BC Liberals in four elections losing the first one and then winning the next three.  Even his loss in 1996 was not entirely a loss because the BC Liberals were the most popular party in BC.  Because of the irrational quirks of our electoral system the NDP won a majority of the seats even though the Liberals finished 2.37 percentage points ahead of them.  Campbell is not a good comparison to the Dix situation

Gary Doer
Gary Doer lead the Manitoba NDP in six elections from 1988 to 2009.  He lost the first three and won the next three.  

Doer only became the leader of the Manitoba NDP after the 1988 election had already been called.   There were fears in 1988 that the NDP would be wiped out which means even though the party came third, Doer stopped a total wipeout.   

In 1988 the NDP history in Manitoba was not as strong as the one in BC.  Before their first government in 1969 they had never been the official opposition though some CCF members served in a wartime PC government in Manitoba.   1988 could have marked a return to a PC - Liberal governance paradigm in Manitoba with the NDP as a small third party.   Doer managed to rebuild the NDP enough that in 1990 he regained official opposition.    

Election  NDP % behind PCs  seats  seats short of majority
1988     23.62%  (-14.75)    12      (-17)
1990     28.80%  (-13.19)    20       (-9)
1995     32.81%  (-10.06)    23       (-6)
1999     44.51%   (+3.67)    32       (+3)
2003     49.47%  (+13.28)    35       (+6)
2007     48.00%  (+10.11)    36       (+7)

Doer managed to stay on after the 1995 election result even though he did not manage to improve things dramatically for the party from the 1990 results.     Should he have been able to win the 1995 election?  I am not sure.   

He then went on to win three majority governments for the NDP.   

Doer is not a good comparison for Adrian Dix because for at least his first two elections there were no expectation that he would win so he did not blow an election.   

Stephen Harper
Stephen Harper has led  the Conservatives in four elections and managed to win one majority and two minorities in that time while only losing one election.

I do not think Harper is a good comparison because no one out there thought he had any realistic chance of winning in 2004 and since then he has done as well or better than people have expected of him electorally.   There is no election that he blew.  

If there is a federal leader that blew an election, that would have to be Stockwell Day.   He only managed to marginally increase the Canadian Alliance result in 2000 over the Reform one in 1997.   Day was then forced out by his own caucus.

Danielle Smith
She lead the Wildrose party in the 2012 Alberta election and managed their best result but did not win government when the polls were indicating she would.   She is in some ways in a similar position as Adrian Dix by losing the election she was supposed to win, but in other ways her situation is nothing like what happened in BC.   

The Wildrose party sort of contested the 2008 Alberta election but they could only field 61 candidates and their total vote was less than 7%.  One of their precursor parties, the Alberta Alliance did a bit better in 2004.   

2012 was really their first election as a serious party and of the polls had not been saying they might win, their 17 seats and 34.29% of the vote would be seen as a dramatic victory for Smith.  Smith is not a good comparison for Dix.

There might be other examples out there, but I am not coming up with any.   Comment if you have any you can think of.

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