Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Electoral Autopsy: Dissecting the Ontario 2014 Election

At the start of the election I highlighted five things to look for. I figure that is a good place to start from.

I initially predicted that turnout would go up. I became pessimistic after speaking to family members and friends, but ultimately I was proven right. Voter turnout improved to over 50% again. The approximately 52% of the population who participated is refreshing, but should not be considered the beginning of a new trend, in my opinion. Turnout is still below the 2007 election level. We’ll see what 2018 has to show.

The only swing involved with the Progressive Conservatives was a universal rejection of the party. To my knowledge the Conservative vote share declined in every single riding, even Tory strongholds.

Third, did the Liberal voters come home? The improvement of the Liberal vote suggested that they did, at least in part. I feel that might be reflected in the turnout improvement and slip in the Conservative vote. It is difficult to say for reasons I will explore below.

The fourth question I raised was how would the ONDP vote do in Brampton. The results in Brampton were frankly shocking to me. The ONDP finished a strong second Brampton-Springdale, a virtual tie for second with the PCs in Brampton West, and Jagmeet Singh was re-elected in Bramalea-Gore-Malton. Given that Gurpreet Dhillon was intended for a by-election candidate it is difficult to say that the ONDP could get a stronger one for the next time around. However, Jagmeet Singh ran provincially after a narrow loss federally in 2011. Perhaps history will repeat itself. It would be a strange twist of fate if the red-blue seats of Brampton began flipping to orange.

The fifth point I made was about NDP support in Southwestern Ontario. More impressive than the NDP growth in Brampton was their surge of support in Southwestern Ontario. The party grabbed Windsor West from the Liberals, held onto their surprising by-election victories in London West and Kitchener-Waterloo and came very close in ridings like Sarnia-Lambton and Chatham-Kent-Essex.

The election results are confusing. While there are general trends certain seats stand out as strong outliers. The Liberal and NDP vote exploded upwards in some ridings, but not in others. Likewise the Conservatives ticked down somewhat in some and imploded entirely in others. Take ridings like Cambridge and Durham. The Tories won those ridings quite comfortably in 2011 but lost handily in this last election. Similarly the NDP blew the Tories out of the water in Oshawa. In many ways it might be right to say the PCs lost this election, not that the Liberals won. Their decline in the vote opened up the opportunity for a Liberal majority. 

Liberal support seemed anchored very firmly in the large cities: Toronto, Mississauga, Ottawa, Brampton and the GTA more generally. Their support spiked in those areas. The NDP did well in Brampton, Niagara, Southwestern Ontario and the North. Alice Funke on her blog suggested that the change in fortunes may be a symbol that the NDP have found ways to appeal to traditional Conservative voters in the working-class depressed areas of the province and medium to small sized cities. Liberals meanwhile are cleaning up in the affluent, relatively prosperous cities and suburbs. The Conservatives are left with the rural belts around the cities.

The vote percentage does not tell the story of the election. One must look at the results in the seats for trends and changes. It is unlikely that the next election will look much like this one. The province badly needs to redraw the riding boundaries. This may result in surprises. Toronto ridings may become more difficult for the ONDP to retake, but may make some in Brampton and southern Ontario more accessible. Redrawing will likely hurt the PCs until they rebuild inroads to the 905 and 416.

It was an exciting election. Congratulations and my deep respect to all the men and women who put their names forward. I’m sad I wasn’t there to see it in person.

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