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Crunching Numbers

Provincial election results reinforce Liberal pain, Tory and NDP gains Add to ...

Fewer total votes were cast in favour of conservative candidates in the five provinces that went to the polls this fall than the federal Conservative Party received in those same five provinces in the spring federal election. But the results in the provinces are part of a trend of faltering support for the Liberals and gains for the Conservatives and the New Democrats over the last four years.

Conservative parties (Progressive Conservatives in Ontario, Manitoba, Newfoundland and Labrador, and PEI and the Saskatchewan Party in that province) took 39 per cent of votes cast in the five provincial elections held this fall. It was enough to elect conservative governments in Saskatchewan and Newfoundland and Labrador, while the Tories formed the Official Opposition in Manitoba, Ontario, and PEI. Support ranged from as high as 64 per cent in Saskatchewan to as low as 35 per cent in Ontario, where the vast majority of votes were counted.

The Liberals formed government in PEI and Ontario and the Official Opposition in Newfoundland and Labrador, taking 32 per cent of all votes cast. There was greater variation in Liberal support across the five provinces, however, as the party took less than 1 per cent in Saskatchewan and more than 51 per cent in PEI.

The New Democrats took 25 per cent of the vote, forming government in Manitoba and the Official Opposition in Saskatchewan. Support for the NDP was as low as 3.2 per cent in PEI and as high as 46 per cent in Manitoba.

For the New Democrats, their vote haul was not much different from the May federal election. The federal party took 26 per cent of the vote in these five provinces a little more than six months ago. The provincial parties did earn about 411,000 fewer votes than their federal counterpart did, but much of that was due to lower turnout.

The vote share for the provincial (2.8 per cent) and federal (3.6 per cent) Greens was also relatively similar.

But for the Conservatives and Liberals, the provincial elections were quite different. The Liberals only took 24 per cent of the vote in these five provinces in the federal election, eight points less than their provincial counterparts this fall. Despite the drop in turnout, particularly in Ontario, the provincial Liberal parties took about 103,000 more votes than the Michael Ignatieff-led party did in the spring.

The Conservatives, on the other hand, saw their vote share in the five provinces fall from 45 per cent in the federal election to 39 per cent in the provincial elections. About 943,000 fewer votes were cast for conservative candidates this fall than in the spring.

Of course, provincial and federal parties are different beasts, and much of the change took place in Ontario. The Conservatives took about the same amount of votes in the federal election in PEI and Saskatchewan as their brothers-in-arms did this fall, while the Progressive Conservatives more than doubled the federal Conservative total in Newfoundland and Labrador.

But the changes in the provinces that have taken place since 2007, when the five provinces last held elections, follow the same trend line as what has happened federally.

As there was no federal election in 2007, the results of the federal elections in 2006 and 2008 can be used as a basis of comparison. The changes that have taken place federally are roughly twice as important as those that have taken place provincially, but the trends at the federal and provincial levels point in the same direction.

In Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Prince Edward Island, the provincial conservative parties increased their vote share in 2011 by 3.8 percentage points over their collective performance in 2007, attracting about 150,000 more voters to their parties.

Federally, and in those same provinces, the Conservatives increased their vote share by 8.1 percentage points over the average of the 2006 and 2008 elections, increasing their total by about 530,000 votes.

The New Democrats have also improved their performances, by 4.8 percentage points provincially between 2007 and 2011 (for a net gain of about 232,000 votes) and by 7.1 percentage points federally between 2006-2008 and 2011 (a net gain of about 470,000 votes).

The Liberals, however, are on the downswing. At the provincial level, their parties have dropped by 4.8 percentage points between 2007 and 2011, losing about 317,000 votes. Federally, the Liberals saw their vote share in these five provinces decrease by 10 percentage points, for a loss of about 690,000 voters.

The Greens are also losing support: 3.9 percentage points provincially (about 220,000 votes) and 2.1 percentage points federally (about 150,000 votes).

Though federal and provincial election campaigns can focus on different issues and parties at both levels can share the same name but not the same policies, the positive trends for the Conservative and New Democratic brands, as opposed to the negative trends for the Liberal and Green brands, is clear, particularly for the Grits. Both provincially (since 2007) and federally (since 2006-2008), the Liberals took a step back in total votes in all five provinces that held elections this fall.

Éric Grenier writes about politics and polls at ThreeHundredEight.com

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