Second choices in the 2011 and 2004 elections

I found out the 2011 Canadian Election Study data has been made available to the public, so I just had to download it and start going through the data. (If you are unfamiliar with the CES, a short description of it is at the bottom of this post.) The CES Team outputs several official publications and presentations on the data, so there is little that I could contribute to the great work that they already do. (Though, as an aside, it is a dream of mine to work on the CES, even as a research assistant.) Rather, I look at particular topics of interest to me. Today’s post is about second choices.

Even without going into the topic of strategic/tactical voting, measuring voters’ second choices collects valuable data. From this data, one can infer the number of ‘blue Liberals’ or ‘red Tories’. That can also help show which parties had a broad appeal and were able to appeal to voters as a credible alternative to their preferred choices.

The following tables are crosstabs of vote choice by second choice for the 2004 and 2011 elections. Why these elections? 2011 is most recent, and 2004 is the first election with the current party configuration (i.e. where there is a united Conservative Party of Canada, or CPC ). For both elections, respondents from Quebec were excluded from the analysis.

2004 vote by second choice, ROC

2nd choice Vote
Lib CPC NDP Total
Lib 66.9% 75.4% 40.3%
CPC 41.4% 24.6% 22.2%
NDP 58.6% 33.1% 37.4%
Total 100.0% 100.0% 100.0% 100.0%

Source: Canadian Election Study 2004

2011 vote by second choice, ROC

2nd choice Vote
Lib CPC NDP Total
Lib 34.3% 65.8% 33.6%
CPC 24.0% 34.2% 17.2%
NDP 76.0% 65.7% 49.2%
Total 100.0% 100.0% 100.0% 100.0%

Source: Canadian Election Study 2011

Obviously, a degree of change is to be expected, given that the 2004 election resulted in a Liberal minority and the 2011 election resulted in a CPC majority. However, how the changes in patterns of second choices is substantial. Whereas Liberals’ second choices in 2004 were about a 41 to 59 split in favour of the New Democrats, that ratio has since widened to 24 to 76. The Liberals used to be the second choice of about two-thirds of Conservatives, but by 2011, the Liberals and NDP exchanged places, and the latter are now the second choice of most Conservatives. Ideologically, it seems counter-intuitive that a conservative would favour the NDP over the Liberals as a second choice. However, due to the regionalized nature of party competition in Canada, there are some regions where the contest is predominantly between the CPC and NDP. Moreover, the CPC’s majority in 2011, and the decrease in the number of Liberals whose second choice is the CPC, could also indicate that they were able to successfully appeal to voters who usually vote Liberal but whose second choice is the CPC.

Finally, the most interesting—to me, anyway—finding is that, in the 2011 election, the NDP was the second choice of almost half of all voters in English-speaking Canada. Whereas the Liberals were the second choice for a plurality of voters in 2004, in 2011, the NDP was the second choice of almost a majority of voters—and increase that comes at the expense of both the Liberals and CPC. This provides further evidence of the broad appeal of Jack Layton and the NDP’s efforts over the last couple of years to moderate their image to not only appeal to a broader cross-section of the electorate, but to deliberately squeeze the Liberals out. Given that the CPC has, in spite of having a majority government and in spite of fulfilling a few ideological promises, resisted pressure to revert back to its decidedly ideological stances of the past, the Liberals are facing an existential problem of how to define themselves when the best parts of its policy stances are being co-opted on both sides.

This was a quick analysis done on a single variable between two elections, so I do not want to make too much of this. However, with the last remaining old-line party trailing Canada’s new parties that are in a statistical dead heat (May 12, 2012), I cannot help but wonder if the Liberals will suffer the same fate as the Progressive Conservative party of old. If so, then, from a party systems perspective, Canada could be experiencing one of the greatest political realignments of its history.

(For additional read, I recommend looking into John Ibbitson’s ‘Death of the Laurentian Consensus’ thesis. This blog post by The Reeves Report summarizes it well.)

About the Canadian Election Study:

The Canadian Election Study (CES), it is a study done by a team of political scientists who specialize in public opinion and voter behaviour for every federal election. There are three ‘waves’ of surveys: a campaign-period telephone survey that is done by a rolling cross section throughout the campaign, a post-election telephone survey, and a follow-up paper survey that is now done on the internet. The study covers many topics outside of how people voted like their attitudes and beliefs, political activity, volunteer work, and demographics


About jbsantos
Polling, politics, PR and outdoor pursuits.

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