On the impertinence of the NDP: a (vote-)splitting headache


(UPDATE: I’ve changed the title of this post. The author of the Globe article I link to, Éric Grenier, sent me a note telling me he didn’t like my calling his a “Liberal analysis.” I don’t like to pin partisan tags on people who don’t want them, so I take that part back. And while I’m at it, I’ll repeat that I have less problem with his article than with the headline. – pw)

Here’s an article in a Toronto newspaper: How vote-splitting gave the Tories Ontario — and a majority. Apparently the Globe is using its Random Headline Generator again, because the story is about how vote-splitting didn’t give the Tories Ontario or a majority.

The Conservatives won 12 seats in the province in large part due to vote-splitting on the centre-left. Had the NDP surge fizzled on ballot day – and the votes cleaved to the Liberal camp – Stephen Harper’s majority would have been a bare-minimum 155.

Fun fact: 155 is a majority. The Conservatives picked up 22 seats in Ontario on Monday, so blaming the NDP for running still leaves the Conservatives with 10 more seats than they had walking in. Give the dozen “split” seats to the Liberals and they would still have only 23 seats in Ontario.

Had vote splits in other parts of the country also been avoided, the Conservatives would have won 151 seats – four short of a majority.

…and the Liberals would have had 60 seats. Whee. What good would that have done? None, unless the Liberals had teamed with… the much larger NDP caucus… to form a cooperation agreement to replace a Conservative government. So the basis of the whole analysis is a kind of exquisitely balanced wish: “If only the NDP had stayed out of our way, while continuing to beat BQ and Conservative MPs by the dozen from coast to coast.” Liberals who are whining about vote splits don’t even wish the NDP would go away: they just wish it would go away from a dozen and a half targeted ridings while going gangbusters elsewhere.

To his credit, the author of the analysis finally stops resisting the conclusion of his own numbers. “Vote-splitting is only part of the story,” he writes, and then: “The achievements of Stephen Harper and the failings of Michael Ignatieff contributed most to the Conservative Party’s third consecutive electoral victory.”


On the impertinence of the NDP: a (vote-)splitting headache

  1. When I was a kid and would wish for something, my grandpa use to tell me that I could wish in one hand and $hit in the other and see which filled up fastest.

    • I see, you got your nickname when you tried it.

      • Alex Trebek: And finally, back again, Burt Reynolds in a commanding lead with $14.

        Burt Reynolds: Hey. Hey, ah… check out the podium. Look at this.

        Alex Trebek: Mr. Reynolds has apparently changed his name to Turd Ferguson.

        Burt Reynolds: Yeah, that's right. Turd Ferguson. It's a funny name.

        • Who is Scooby-Doo?

  2. No, vote splitting didn't cause a Conservative majority. The people's election of a Conservative candidate in 167 ridings did.

    Yes, vote splitting caused a Conservative majority. If the Liberals and NDP had been combined as a single party – even in Ontario only – a Conservative majority would've been thwarted.


    The statements above are (likely) both true. Neither captures the rather significant nuances present in this election or the Canadian political landscape. It's a bit tough to find nuance in the Globe's political reporting these days.

    • If the Liberals and NDP had been combined as a single party – even in Ontario only – a Conservative majority would've been thwarted.

      That's not true. Many Liberal voters would not vote NDP. Ever. In fact, with the Liberals at 20% in the polls and the NDP at 30%, the Cons at 37%, those Liberal voters chose to vote Liberal. What does that tell you? For one thing, it tells you they don't want to vote NDP, even if it would help to defeat the Conservatives.

  3. It's worth pointing out that the Conservatives won 48% of the votes cast outside Quebec. In "English Canada", they came awfully close to a majority of the popular vote.

    • I've always wondered how that was a relevant part of the discussion. Replace Quebec with Alberta…how does that change the numbers? How does it change the relevancy of the comment?

      • It seems to make an argument for Quebec separation.

        • Or Alberta separation. Or (once upon a time) Toronto separation.

          Or in the US Texas separation. Or California separation.

      • It's a relevant part of the discussion. The "two solitudes" may be a cliche, but there are still some very real differences between Quebec and the other nine provinces that are worth exploring, especially when we're looking at electoral outcomes.

    • There is still a sizable Anglophone population in Quebec – we can't simply define "English Canada" as "not Quebec."

      This is important because if anything, the Liberals had the plurality of the vote among Anglophone Quebeckers. And if I'm wrong on that, it's the NDP that had the plurality, not the Conservatives.

  4. In fairness to the original author (Éric Grénier), the caveat "But vote-splitting is only part of the story." appears near the top of the article (i.e., in the first ~25%).
    I think you are overstating the whining and that in most matters Grénier would pretty much agree with everything you wrote above.

    • The top of my blog post points out that the headline and the analysis disagree.

    • Here's another selection from a Toronto newspaper.

  5. People are very keen on a merger of the Libs and NDP….the 'unite the left' idea.

    However, the 'unite the right' only worked because it was 're-unite the right'…..they were all in the same party originally. Reform was a splinter group of PCs. So they just all got back together.

    The Libs and the NDP are two distinct parties and always have been. The NDP is leftwing….and while their platform has been moving towards the center they aren't there yet. They are still a populist party of unions, students and candies. The Libs are a party of the center, between the 2 extremes.

    • It also ignores the fact that there is more to politics than degrees of left/right. I don't like the NDP, but it has little to do with how far left they are. Honestly, I don't find the mainstream of the NDP to be all that left-wing.

      • We are definitely past the left/right nonsense of the Cold War, it just takes people awhile to adjust. In this case it's been over 20 years. LOL

    • I think at some point many Reformers/Alliance and PC members probably thought the differences between their parties were quite significant and that unification (or re-unification) was impossible.

      I guess experience and electoral set-backs changed (slowly) people minds.

      I don't think the distinct culture histories of the NDP and Liberal parties are insurmountable obstacles to future unification.

      • No, not insurmountable, but there are legitimate differences. Which is why I expect the first step before unification to be a push for electoral reform. And, with the Bloc gone for now, it would be two 2/3 of parties (3/4 if you count the Greens) in the Commons pushing for it.

  6. If only no others parties had existed, the Liberals would have swept the country, just as it should always be, forever and ever.

    • To borrow from an old expression, "if your Aunt had balls, she'd be your uncle".

  7. If you don't believe in strategic voting, consider that it probably played a very important role in getting Liz May and Linda Duncan elected. Voters who may have ideally preferred another party candidate likely rallied behind them in order to ensure they got elected instead of the conservative they were competing with. I have no doubt that NOT doing this in many ridings across Ontario did in fact play a large role in the ability of the conservative to come up the middle and win. I just can't see any logic in someone voting NDP or Green in a riding where it actually is between the Conservative and the Liberal. Doing so is undoubtedly correlated to many of their small margin wins over Liberals.

    • Because some people actually believe in something, rather than just hating something. It's no secret that Harper brings out heavy animosity in some people, but the some of you need to stop deluding yourselves into thinking there's lots of you.

      • And you need to recognize that Harper's own behaviour has earned the hatred of many people. He is a hateful man. Look at the longlasting vicious ad campaign attacking and smearing Ignatieff. That is the act of hateful people.

        So stop whining about him being hated – he's earned it.

        • Hateful people? Or good politics? Well, maybe not good politics, but effective for sure. Listen, it's a fairly simple point: just because you hate Harper with a passion does not mean everyone does, nor does it mean that everyone should. Getting all angry and hating on me isn't going to change this reality. Rob Silver admitted that the Liberals failed to understand this simple point. That's all I'm saying.

          • It would be effective politics just to murder the leader of the opposition too, but I don't reward that with my vote any more than I reward spending 50 million dollars of taxes to murder his image.

          • Well lucky for you it's the Tories who are going to make sure none of your hard earned money is ever used for digital murder again.

      • To be fair, it's over 60% of the electorate – and a lot more people who stayed home for one of many reasons. Guy's not popular.

        So what.

    • Which "small margin wins over the Liberals" are these? The Liberals finished first OR SECOND in only 109 ridings, and in a bunch of those they were a distant second.

  8. Wonderful!

  9. Trudeau used to call them 'candies'…..the goodies a govt gives out to the electorate.

    Benefits, tax credits, rebates….what have you.

  10. You just have to decide which one would provide the better govt.

  11. I love it when Inkless goes to town on the Globe for editorial laziness like this: do keep it up!
    Listening to the coverage on election night, I couldn't get over Diana Swain saying over and over that the Conservatives only increased their share of the vote in Ontario by 5% points. 'only?' this was a HUGE increase (like 12%).

    Honestly, vote splits or no vote splits, a party that wins 45% of the vote in Ontario, and even more all points west (as Crit Reasoning's numbers show above) is in all likelihood going to win a majority. period. (I would have said point finale, but the CPC didn't win in French)

    The Conservatives aren't going to be defeated without an alignment of the parties to its left (through any combination of arrangements, mergers or obliterations), but it wasn't vote splitting on the left that caused the Conservatives to win this election, it was getting more votes than their opponents that caused the Conservatives to win this election.

  12. Wells, someone could build a career out of debunking the rest of the media. Not that I think you should be the one.

  13. One thing about a merger on the left: if it went anything like the merger on the right, it would lead to short-term losses for the left. Compare the results for the right over the last couple of decades:
    1988: PC+Reform: 45%
    1993: PC+Reform: 34.7%
    1997: PC+Reform: 38.2%
    2000: PC+CA: 37.7%
    2004: CPC: 29.6%
    2006: CPC: 36.3%
    2008: CPC: 37.6%
    2011: CPC: 39.6%

    The result that stands out in retrospect are the weak 2004 numbers, back when former PC-ers were terrified of the Reformization of their party, and the right scored its worst election result in living memory. A lot of Harper's success since then has, perhaps, simply been bringing back to the fold those very former PC-ers, especially in Ontario.
    Might something similar happen if the LPC and the NDP merged? An initial drop in support, as voters from both fled, followed over time by a return to higher levels approximating those of the two parties separately…

    • great analysis

      the election after the NDP-liberal merger the Social democrats will get 40% of the vote…. and the CPC around 44-46%.

      So looks like we are talking a 12 year CPC majority. 1 more election to drive home the need to unite and another election to shake out the new party.

  14. I believe that the Federal Liberals in Ontario bore the brunt of the anger the Ontario people feel against the McGuinty Provincial Liberal government.

  15. It seems like it was aeons ago when there were three parties on the right: the Progressive Conservatives, the Reformed Party and the National Alliance Party. Now there's only the Conservative Party of Canada on the right while there are still three parties on the left, the Liberals, the NDP and the Bloc– four, if you include the Greens.

    The NDP was able to exploit the breech between the Bloc Quebecois and the Liberals in Quebec, but it didn't hurt the Tories enough to make a difference; the Tories still won the election.

    Maybe it's time for the left to take its cue from the right and unite.

  16. Not true.

    Eliminating the vote subsidy leaves other subsidies in place, all of which put proportionately more money in the Conservative's pockets than those of the other parties.

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