For most of the 75 years the centre-right Non-Partisan Association ruled the city, it drew its power from the well-off and vote-rich southwest corner of Vancouver.
But a new study of voting patterns reveals that the number of votes, as well as the turnout, has dropped in the past 15 years in the area, while a new coalition of super-engaged voters has emerged elsewhere, says one of Vancouver's high-profile data analysts.
That means if the NPA wants to win this November's civic election, it will have to do much more than get out its traditional base.
And any of the parties – COPE, Green, Cedar or other – that wants to challenge Vision Vancouver's hold on city hall will need to tap into the new power-voting bloc.
That's the crescent of big-turnout polls that extends from the Commercial Drive area, through Mount Pleasant to Fairview and Kitsilano – the city's inner ring of neighbourhoods.
"Those are the council – and mayor-makers these days," says Andy Yan, a planner with Bing Thom Architects known for the public-data analysis he does to inform conversations about urban issues. "This marks a sea change that is happening in Vancouver politics."
It's a truism of those who study voter turnout that the people who tend to vote are better-off economically, own homes, have a higher education, are older and have lived in the community for a long time.
Mr. Yan said that there seems to be a new type of person who turns out to vote.
These voters are not necessarily the richest or the oldest. Instead, they're engaged.
He noted that other data studies he's done show that the same crescent of the "super-engaged" citizens shows up elsewhere. They were the people most likely to complete the long-form census when asked. They are also the people whose neighbourhoods appear on Mr. Yan's annual, more-fun-than-scientific map of the big Halloween trick-or-treating hot spots, done in conjunction with a local newspaper.
Mr. Yan said Vision Vancouver's successful campaigns in 2008 and 2011 were "able to reach out to that crescent of super-engagers."
It also did relatively well in another corner of the city rich in votes, the southeast, although that has been traditionally more NPA.
The new voting pattern also bodes well for centre-left parties in the future, because the new vote-rich areas of town have been more willing to accept density and are absorbing new population. That adds to their voting strength.
But there are lots of possibilities for other parties to make gains in this election, say other analysts.
"The NPA has reached into other parts of the city," said Norman Gludovatz, a public-engagement specialist who worked on COPE's hugely successful sweep of Vancouver council, school board and park board in 2002.
New, dense communities in Coal Harbour and Yaletown are starting to vote in greater numbers and they are choosing more conservative politicians, both provincially and municipally.
Mr. Gludovatz also noted one reason for the changing voting patterns is that wealthier, older, and home-owning people are migrating to the east side as they're priced out of the west.
As well, people in certain areas of the city that had had low turnout previously – the West End, Kitsilano, Mount Pleasant – started to see numbers go up as the municipal elections got more competitive.
"I don't think the city is any more right or any more left than it's ever been," Mr. Gludovatz said. But having a candidate, like Gregor Robertson, who was seen as more centrist and likely to win than previous COPE candidates, encouraged people from those areas to come out and vote when they hadn't previously.
There's some debate about whether the coalition of supporters Mr. Robertson brought together will fracture, with COPE, Greens, and a coalition of anti-big-developer candidates all trying to tap into voter dissatisfaction with the way Vision has handled planning, development, affordable housing, homelessness and the way it communicates with the public.
Another question for this election is whether people will see this as a competitive one. With less than 50 days to go until the Nov. 15 voting day, neither Vision Vancouver nor the NPA has issued a party platform or made any groundbreaking announcements.
The campaigns were overshadowed by the teachers' strike in the early weeks, but even since that ended, the efforts have been low-key.
Vision Vancouver appears to be reaching out to its potential voters largely through personal e-mails gathered from lists generated over the past several years, emphasizing its opposition to tankers, its efforts on homelessness, and its advocacy for a Broadway subway.
The NPA's mayoral candidate Kirk LaPointe has concentrated on transparency and communication problems at City Hall, promising to create a city ombudsperson and a lobbyist registry. But he has not announced a platform, saying the party's platform will be released only in pieces and not too early, so that it won't just get picked apart by Vision Vancouver. By and large, he's been echoing the message of the NPA the last three years, which is that the city is being badly run.
The Green Party, which is running three candidates for the 10-member council, and the left-wing COPE party have presented the most complete election platforms. But they don't have the money to buy big advertising or the ability to attract a huge amount of media coverage.
So far, the only issue that has generated mild attention is the support from both of them for some kind of tax on vacant or luxury homes, a reflection of Vancouverites' persistent concern that the city is turning into a wealthy resort and investment haven for vacationers and offshore investors.