Don’t split the difference


Conservative strategist Ken Boessenkool and NDP strategist Brian Topp dispute the vote-splitting conventional wisdom.

The Conservatives and the NDP won their seats with, on average, large pluralities and considerable margins over the party that finished second – which was usually not the Liberals. Across Ontario, within the GTA and in British Columbia – the battlegrounds of the election – the Conservatives and NDP increased their vote, had large pluralities or outright majorities across the seats that they won.


Don’t split the difference

  1. Weren’t the Liberal and NDP popular votes essentially equal (about 25%) in seat-rich Ontario – the province credited with giving Harper his majority? This would seem to be the optimal condition for the Conservatives.

  2. On what planet is the notion of vote splitting between the Liberals and NDP relevant? The Liberals and NDP are not together nor have ever been, nor do they share a similar philosophy. Sure, the NDP and Liberal platforms were quite similar in 2011, but that’s more a comment on how far the Liberals have fallen than anything.

    • Sure, but the point is that everyone who votes Liberal wants a government to the left of where the Tories are, and everyone who votes NDP wants a government to the left of where the Tories are. They’re “together” in the sense that they’re both on the same side of the Tories ideologically.

      It’s not widespread, but my riding (Scarborough Centre) is an interesting, and possibly the most obvious case of a split. It’s a riding where the worst the winning candidate had EVER done before 2011 was 16,595 votes, but in which the 2011 Tory candidate won the riding with just 13,401 votes (the support of less than 20% of eligible voters) because the NDP candidate went from 5,801 votes in 2008 to 11,273 votes in 2011.

      The top three candidates in my riding received 35.5% (CPC), 32%(Lib) and 30%(NDP) of the votes respectively. This in a riding where the Liberals had NEVER recieved less than 33% of the vote (even in years in which they lost the seat) and the NDP had NEVER received more than 20%.

      I’d say in my riding it’s crystal clear that votes drifting left from the Liberals to the NDP allowed the Tory candidate to come up the middle. The Liberals won this seat in 2008 with almost 49% of the vote and a 6,000 vote margin of victory over the Tories (at 30.1%). The Tories didn’t win my riding because they picked up 2,400 votes from the Liberals, they won my riding because the NDP picked up over 5,000.

      • Oh no, they’re not on the same side.

        The real story is how the Conservatives have stolen the centre, and how the Liberal platform sounded like a half-hearted attempt at aping the NDP.

      • Sorry, the above response was a bit curt. Allow me to elaborate.

        I would like to caution anyone who is conflating the current “vote splitting” notion with the one that we knew and loved in the 1990s among the PCs and Reform/Alliance. That was a true vote split amongst a splinter conservative movement and the last vestiges of the old party.

        The Liberals used to straddle the centre of the political spectrum basically unchallenged for a good part of the 20th century, and in turn scooped up most of the swing voters. The CCF/NDP and the various conservative iterations were left to their base vote.

        Now, Harper has (at least temporarily) succeeded in supplanting the Liberals as the natural governing party, and the NDP has made some moves towards the centre under Layton, although this may be disrupted by their Quebec caucus.I feel part of the reason for the Liberal collapse was by voters listening to the words coming out of Ignatieff’s mouth, and the listening to the words coming out of Layton’s mouth, failing to distinguish the salient differences, and then voting for the “genuine article” i.e. the NDP.

  3. The Conservative seat gains in Ontario can be ascribed to three factors:

    1. Overall, Conservative support in the province increased by five percentage points over the 2008 election.

    2. In the 416 region, the Conservatives benefited from increased support by members of various ethnic communities.

    3. The NDP surge and the Liberal flop in the final weeks of the campaign led at least some “blue Liberals” and establishment types to switch to the Conservatives, preferring a Harper majority to a Layton-led coalition government.

    • Certainly agree that there isn’t just “one reason” for the results – vote splitting may have contributed to the CPC wins in a limited number of ridings, but it certainly isn’t THE reason for the LPCs dismal election results.

      Your reason 3 was more of a factor – the CPC almost certainly has the NDP surge to thank for converting an uncomfortably slim majority into a comfortable majority.

      • Agreed that reason #3 was an important factor, which is why most Conservatives underestimated their seat total, predicting a slim majority rather than a comfortable majority.

        Colby Cosh raised an interesting point: “Question I’ll never figure out: How much did awareness of Taleb-type exponential tail risks influence elite support for Tories in 2011 election?”

        I think the consensus on Bay St. was that an NDP-led coalition was unacceptably risky.

    • About that — it’s interesting to note that there was no need for a bunch of blue Liberals to go around yelling about strategic voting. They just looked at the polls, and went and did it.

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