Election 2011 watching guide

A quick apology to my regular readers: This blog post is non-technical and entirely about Canadian politics. My normal style and selection of topics will resume shortly.

The 41st Canadian general election is taking place today — polls are already open in Atlantic Canada — and like most Canadians, I hope to know the outcome as quickly as possible. Being a resident of British Columbia, I am disadvantaged in this respect by section 329 of the Canada Elections Act, which forbids the transmission of results from East to West until polls have closed here; so given my penchant for statistics, I decided to put together an "election results watching guide" to assist me in analyzing the results when they finally arrive.

For the benefit of other eager Canadian election-watchers, here it is:

Conservative Majority

The big question all through the election campaign has been whether Canadians will hand the Conservative party a majority government. Based on the latest polls alone, I would say that this is unlikely; but in the past two elections the incumbent party has significantly outperformed the polling consensus, and the Conservative party is known for being good at making sure that their supporters turn up to vote; so I wouldn't absolutely rule this out.

To determine if the Conservatives (possibly including Andre Arthur, who is running as an Independent but has sided with the Conservative party in the past) are likely to win a majority of the House of Commons, watch the following 15 ridings:

If the Conservative party (together with Andre Arthur) win...

NDP/Liberal plurality

If the Conservative party does not win a majority of the seats in the House of Commons, then a hypothetical NDP-Liberal-Bloc Quebecois coalition would hold a majority; however, such an arrangement is not likely to be stable due to the Bloc Quebecois being devoted to the breakup of the country — as a friend of mine commented recently, a coalition with the Bloc Quebecois would be like going canoeing with someone who keeps talking about how he wishes the canoe would sink so that you could go swimming instead.

The far more interesting possibility is that of an NDP-Liberal coalition holding more seats than the Conservative party. Based on the latest polls alone, I would say that this is unlikely; but the NDP have doubled their support from 16% to 32% in the past 24 days, so we can't rule out the possibility of a significant further jump between yesterday's polls and today's results.

To determine if the NDP and Liberals combined are likely to hold more seats than the Conservatives, watch the following 15 ridings:

Whichever side (NDP-Liberal coalition or Conservatives) wins more of these 15 seats is likely to hold the most seats in the House of Commons.

Bloc Quebecois official party status

To be treated as a political party in the House of Commons and provided the associated benefits awarded to political parties, e.g., funding for research staff, a party must hold at least 12 seats. Based on the latest polls, I think it is very likely that the Bloc Quebecois will retain official party status; but the dramatic surge of NDP support in Quebec makes many ridings very difficult to predict since — given their almost complete lack of track record in Quebec — it's hard to know how the NDP votes will be distributed in the province.

To determine if the Bloc Quebecois is likely to retain official party status, watch the following 9 ridings:

If the Bloc Quebecois win...

Worst Liberal defeat ever

In 1984, the Liberal party dropped from 147 seats to 40 — its largest drop in a single election, and its smallest number of seats ever. Given that the Liberal party only held 77 seats in the 2008 election, the 107-seat drop will not be surpassed any time soon; but it is possible that the Liberal party will set a new low watermark for seats won.

To determine if the Liberal party is likely to win fewer than 40 seats, watch the following 9 ridings:

If the Liberals win...

Green party

Until now, the Green party has never elected an MP in Canada — indeed, their best performance thus far was in 2008, when they came second in a mere 5 out of 308 ridings. With the latest polls showing the Green party with significantly less support in 2011 than they had in 2008, it seems unlikely that the Green party will manage to gain representation in the House of Commons; but the Green party has focused far more on individual ridings in this election, so it's just possible that they'll surprise us.

The ridings to watch for the possible appearance of the first Green member of the Canadian Parliament are:

Between these five lists, there are 35 ridings worth watching. This does not mean that other ridings are undisputed; indeed, there are many ridings which are just as close or closer than these 35. But in the event that votes shift to make any of the above scenarios possible, the ridings I've mentioned will be become borderline; so they're the ones to watch to determine if — or more likely, to very quickly rule out the possibility of — the above scenarios.

Happy election watching, and don't forget to vote!

Posted at 2011-05-02 12:15 | Permanent link | Comments

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