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Crunching Numbers

Does easy access to Starbucks latte really make you vote Liberal? Add to ...

Latte-sipping elites, ensconced in comfy chairs and typing away at laptops in their local Starbucks, are a fixture of Canadian politics today. The stereotype is used - often scornfully - to describe Liberal voters, probably from downtown Toronto.

The reality, however, is that this person is no more likely to vote Liberal than he or she is to vote New Democratic or even Conservative. An analysis of the locations of more than 1,000 stores, booths, counters and kiosks reveals that the availability of Starbucks coffee shops in a riding is in no way indicative of likely voting habits by its inhabitants.

In fact, there is very little difference between a typical Liberal or Conservative-held riding. With an average of 5.4 locations per riding, the New Democrats have the highest Starbucks density of the four major parties. The Conservatives have the next highest density, with an average of 3.9 locations in each of their ridings. That's only fractionally more than the Liberals, with an average density of 3.8 Starbucks coffee shops per riding.

The Bloc Québécois has an average of only 0.2 Starbucks locations per riding, but this is more indicative of the Seattle-based franchise's lack of penetration in the Quebec market. However, most of the shops in the province are located in ridings held by Liberals, Conservatives or New Democrats.

Quebec ranks fifth among 10 provinces for most Starbucks locations with 46. British Columbia has the most in Canada, with 372 locations and one in each of its 36 ridings. Ontario is second with 332 locations. The province with the third highest number of Starbucks outlets, however, may come as a surprise.

It's Alberta, with 224 locations spread across 27 of the province's 28 ridings. There are more Starbucks locations in Alberta than there are in the rest of the country combined, excluding British Columbia and Ontario. The three ridings in Canada with the most Starbucks locations are Vancouver Centre (held by Liberal MP Hedy Fry), Trinity-Spadina (represented by the NDP's Olivia Chow), and Calgary Centre, which first elected Conservative Lee Richardson to the House of Commons in 2004.

Of the top 10 per cent of ridings in Canada with the highest Starbucks density, 17 are Conservative, nine are New Democratic and only five are Liberal. Of the top five ridings in the country, which include the three mentioned above as well as Toronto Centre and West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky Country, one is held by the NDP, two are Liberal and two are Conservative. The average percentage of votes each party received in these five ridings in 2008 was 20 per cent for the NDP, 31 per cent for the Conservatives, and 34 per cent for the Liberals.

Even when breaking down each party's ridings by number of Starbucks locations is it impossible to see any statistically significant variation. While 18 per cent of the NDP's ridings do not contain any Starbucks stores, that number is 31 per cent for both the Liberals and the Conservatives. Ridings with a low Starbucks density (one to three locations) make up 45 per cent of the New Democratic caucus, 39 per cent for the Liberals, and 30 per cent for the Conservatives. Perhaps most surprisingly, of those ridings with a medium-to-high density (four or more locations), the Conservatives come out on top as they make up 39 per cent of their caucus, compared to 37 per cent for the NDP and 30 per cent for the Liberals.

This disparity between the public's perception and reality was previously hinted at in a poll conducted by Harris-Decima in 2009. It found that while 49 per cent of Canadians preferred coffee from Tim Hortons, only 12 per cent liked the coffee from Starbucks best. Where Canadians get their coffee does not seem to act as an indication of their voting intentions, as the Tim Hortons/Starbucks split was almost identical for all three national parties: 53 per cent to 10 per cent among Conservative supporters, 49 per cent to 13 per cent for Liberals, and 54 per cent to 11 per cent for New Democratic voters.

In politics, however, perception can be more important than reality. But Conservative politicians and pundits who decry the influence of the "latte-sipping elites" should beware. Among the four party leaders in Ottawa, it is not Gilles Duceppe's riding of Laurier-Sainte-Marie that has the most Starbucks locations. There are only three in his downtown Montreal seat.

Nor is it Jack Layton's Toronto-Danforth riding, which has four Starbucks stores within its boundaries - the same number as in Etobicoke-Lakeshore, where Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff was elected. Among the four party leaders, and with five locations in his riding of Calgary Southwest, it is Stephen Harper who can boast of having the most ready access to a double caramel macchiato.

Éric Grenier writes about politics and polls at ThreeHundredEight.com

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