Saturday, February 20, 2010

Strategic Electoral Agreements

The title uses the word "coalition", but really the argument speaks to more of a "non aggression" pact between the Liberals and NDP. No secret to anyone, the Conservatives benefit greatly from a divided center-left vote, as the professors argue in the piece. The idea of the Liberals and NDP agreeing not to run candidates where one or the other could win, minus division, has obvious merit. Whether any talk is practical, given entrenched self interest, remains to be seen, but it's an intriguing proposition.

I did some digging on my own, using the 2008 riding results, which does present a huge potential, if people looked beyond their narrow partisan perspective. Quantifying all ridings where a Liberal or NDP finished second to either a Conservative or Bloc MP, you see the absence of the other could have tremendous impact.

The Liberals finished second in 107 ridings, the NDP 53. What I found surprising, just how many of those ridings were close enough, that the elimination of one party would probably flip the seat. Many of these second place considerations are mute, given the landslide percentages for the incumbent MP, but a large percentage are not. A healthy percentage of NDP second place numbers include very distant totals, wherein any agreement would have little effect. A general thesis, the NDP clearly hurt the Liberals, more than the Liberals hurt the NDP, which in and of itself probably isn't attractive. That said, any agreement would increase NDP seat totals, relative to no arrangement, so there is a self interest consideration for both parties.

In the last election, there were 35 seats where the Liberals were within 10% of the Conservatives. Everyone of them would flip, if the NDP candidate wasn't present, and one assumes were that vote would largely move. That is just the starting point, because a quick review shows many more seats in play, if the Liberals and NDP weren't competing, to the advantage of the Conservatives. If the two parties simply agreed to not run candidates where they have no chance of victory, Stephen Harper would be gone, it's as simple as that.

Back to reality for a second, the major obstacle to this proposal, beyond partisan interests- our public funding system virtually negates this possibility. Parties receive money based on votes, which means not running a candidate is counter productive. Hard to believe the NDP would agree to a disproportionate "stand down", because even though they would win more seats, their vote percentage would fall and the coffers would suffer. For the Liberals, a deal is less offensive on this score, because they are an almost non factor in the majority of NDP second place ridings. Any loss in support would probably be made up by cultivating NDP votes in those ridings where they didn't run. Almost a wash for the Liberals, a decided disadvantage for the NDP overall.

Philosophically, an agreement has a "no brainer" quality, if people are truly interested in seeing a center-left dominated Parliament. The NDP would hold the balance of power, the Liberals would be in government and Stephen Harper would be gone. However, while I find that scenario attractive, you can see how any such talk would be quickly derailed, primarily because the idea necessitates a "greater good" mentality, and that is more wishful thinking than practical probability.

34 comments:

fern hill said...

I so wish for this to happen.

But if money is at stake, as you say, probably it's a no-go.

If it's the NDP who'll suffer most, how about we -- well, some of us -- pledge to send dough if they do this?

The Jurist said...

As Malcolm has pointed out, there are serious questions as to whether a pact involving candidates withdrawing from races would actually result in any positive results. It would take a near-complete transfer of all opposition parties' votes into the selected camp to shift enough seats to make a difference, and past efforts at a pre-election arrangement have never come close to that result.

Which is why I've followed up by suggesting that the NDP, Libs and Greens instead work on some coordination of on their campaign messaging, with each party agreeing not to engage in the types of campaigning which tend to lead to opposition-party squabbling, and thus presumably allowing more of the campaign narrative to focus on each opposition party's critique of the Cons. Any interest in that from your perspective?

fern hill said...

I have an idea.

Vote for the strategic candidate, come home, donate $1.75 to the candidate you would have voted for. Presto! Money made up.

Jerry Prager said...

It took Liberals and Labour to defeat corporatism in 1935, and it will require the same again.

The Jurist said...

Jerry: Actually 1935 saw the emergence of a stronger party to the left of the Libs than existed in the previous election (when the Cons won power in a two-party race). So if anything, it signals that the key is to make sure the defining messages of a campaign work against the Cons, not to try to clear the field against them.

ottlib said...

This split handed Brian Mulroney government in 1988.

Five years later the NDP was almost wiped out in the Liberal sweep.

This happens every so often in Canadian politics. Progressive Canadians get tired of the Liberals so they go elsewhere.

Some of the more conservative ones vote Conservative. The more left leaning ones vote NDP leaving the rest for the Liberals. The result every time is a Conservative government, usually a majority government.

After a few years all of those progressives get tired of the Conservative government and go back to the only party they believe can govern, the Liberals.

I have not seen any evidence that this pattern has been broken. The Liberals are still considered the most likely alternative to the Conservatives. This is demonstrated in polls and in the election results for the last three elections.

My suggestion to Liberals is to wait it out.

The Conservatives are past their best before date and they are quickly taking on a funky odor. It won't be long before the desire for change hits critical mass and changes the political dynamic in this country.

Hell, I am even thinking Quebec might be in play again with the statements of Mr. Bouchard last week. For the last 15 years Quebecers have walked away from Canadian politics by voting for the Bloc. If Mr. Bouchard's statements begin a change in that dynamic the Liberals will be in the best position to capitalize because Quebecers, when they decide to get involved in Canadian politics, always vote for the party they think will become government.

A voting pattern that has existed since the formation of the CCF is still in existance. One of the best ways to change that pattern, to the long-term detriment of the Liberals and to the long-term benefit of the Conservatives, would be for the Liberals to stop running candidates in every riding.

900ft Jesus said...

the other problem I see with not running candidates in certain ridings is that some voters are denied a chance to vote for the party they normally would have voted for. Could cause resentment, and I don't find that very democratic, either.

It should be accomplished, in my opinion, by the Libs and NDP working together and encouraging their constituents to vote strategically. Harder to do, since not all voters will understand, or even be reached.

With strategic voting, the party of your choice may not get your 1.75, so that would have to be addressed as well. Not enough to simply vow a donation of 1.75 since you may have given that financial support to a party you don't really want to support.

Massive campaigning, on-line and off would be needed. I know it was tried last time without success, but it may have a better chance this time around, considering the political climate change brought on by Harper.

900ft Jesus said...

oh yeah...Green can piss off, as far as I'm concerned, after May pulled that "I won't be the Ralph Nader of Canada" thing then turned around and did just that when she saw her popularity climb.

Green should have the care for Canadians to step aside for the next election.

Skinny Dipper said...

I understand the logic of uniting the so-called left. However, there are many differences between the Liberals, NDP, and Greens. Also, with some of the parties, they don't get all of their votes from the Conservatives. While the Liberals and Greens can get support from people who might vote Conservative. The NDP gets a lot of support from people who might vote Liberal. People who vote Green aren't automatically going to support the NDP as a second choice.

I do think all of the parties can attack the Conservatives. By having some sort of strategic voting means that there would be less effective parties and more likely that either the Liberals or Conservatives will receive a majority. As much as I do not want a Conservative dictatorship, I do not want a Liberal one either.

I won't mention which party I may support or if I will vote in the next election. Don't assume it will automatically be the NDP. I'm not a member of the party.

I do look for a party that advocates democratic principles (beyond just anti-prorogation). The other promises do sway me also. So far, none of the parties appeal to me as democratic reforms to my liking are not high on their priorities. I won't be voting in the next election if no partt advocates and demonstrates democratic improvements.

DL said...

Its actually a fallacy to say that the Liberals can never win of the NDP is relatively strong. In 1968, the Liberals under Trudeau won a landslide and the NDP also took 17% of the vote. Let's look at an even better example, in 1980 Canadians were fed up with Joe Clark and everyone waned to throw the Tories out. So Trudeau won a majority government - but the NDP also won 32 seats and 19% of the vote. The Liberals and the NDP were able to both gain seats at the Tories expense.

In the UK, after Thatcher and Major won four straight majorities with 41-42% of the vote, there was similar hand wringing about how we would NEVER be rid of the Tories unless Labour and LibDems made some sort of an electoral accord etc.... well guess what? no accord was ever agreed to - but in 1997 when people finally had had enough of the Tories in Britain, not only did they give Labour over 400 seats - but they also double the seat total of the LibDems and gave them their best result ever. Once again - when people want the Tories out - ALL opposition parties get to feast on the pickings.

The key to getting the Tories out of power is to get people to stop voting Conservative. We have to get away from this defeatist attitude that its impossible to get anyone who voted Tory in 2008 to vote Liberal or NDP next time. In the 2004 election, the Tories took 29% of the vote against a scandal ridden Liberal government - there is no reason why they can't be driven back to 29% or lower in the next election.

What I do think is an idea worth exploring is a very simple reform of the electoral system where we have Australian-style preferential voting and people get to rank all the candidates - that way I can vote NDP but if my candidate comes in third, I can direct all my votes to the second place Liberal. Just imagine the possibilities - Liberal and NDP rallies across Canada peppered with people waving signs that say "Rank Tories last!"

Steve V said...

Jurist

I'm not sure about the complete transfer required, because the spread is tight in dozens of ridings.

As for the suggestion, sounds fine from here, but really I don't think it would have much effect. From the Lib perspective, they pretty much ignore the NDP in campaigns anyways, apart from the requisite "unite the left" chant in the last few days. I frankly don't see much impact from that. You may recall, in the debates, everyone went after Harper, little "squabbling", and we all know how that turned out.

Truth be told, if I was in the OLO, I would be putting out feelers to try and poach a few high profile, moderate NDPers. I shouldn't say this, but really the end game here is to marginalize other alternatives.

I also think that people need to view the Liberal Party as poorly defended entity. If NDP and Green activists were to pour into this party, you could overwhelm it in short order, and with that influence achieve the progressivism you want. You would still see a compromise, but that's the best case scenario anyways, should any formal governing agreement ever come to pass.

Steve V said...

"In the 2004 election, the Tories took 29% of the vote against a scandal ridden Liberal government - there is no reason why they can't be driven back to 29% or lower in the next election."

Not sure that's the best analogy for a couple of reasons. You had a 4% Green vote, plus you had a utterly non existent Tory party in Quebec.


I see absolutely zero possibility of the Cons falling below 29%(it was actually 30%) in the next election.

DL said...

In any case, we don't need the Tories to go below 30% for them to be out of power. I think that if their popular was even just peeled back to 32/33 percent - which I think is LIKELY - then they would almost certainly be out of power. Even if they still had a plurality, I think that if you had an election where the Tories lost 20 seats and the election was interpreted as a rebuke to them and if the Liberals made somewhat of a comeback and if the Liberals and NDP together had more seats than the Tories - I think that Harper would be out. Period.

As for the Liberals trying to poach "moderate" NDPers - i guess that was the idea behind getting Bob Rae and Ujjal Dosanjh - but all that did was saddle the Liberals with the two most unsuccessful NDP politicians of all times - and there is no evidence that the voters were at all impressed.

Anyways, my point is that our electoral system is not the problem. There are already more non-Tory MPs in the House than there are Tories. The issue is figuring out how to use that advantage.

Steve V said...

Not sure DL, they're peeled back to that now, and the Cons would still likely retain power. You'll note the Libs no longer rise to 36% when the Cons fall to 30%. The landscape is changing...

Gene Rayburn said...

"but all that did was saddle the Liberals with the two most unsuccessful NDP politicians of all times"

Hilarious, apparently winning a provincial election or being a premier constitutes failure.

DL said...

Its up to the opposition to get its act together after the next election and defeat the Tories in Parliament. If the number of anti-Harper MPs exceeds the number of pro-Harper MPs then there is no reason for him to remain in power. It's as simple as that. Though apparently it was too complicated for Ignatieff to figure out a year ago.

I realize that in the next election campaign, the Liberals will have to walk a very fine line. On the one hand, you want people to get the impression that the ONLY way to get rid of Harper is to elect more Liberals and that voting NDP or Green or whatever wont do it. On the other hand, you can't be too categorical about that because in fact probably the likeliest prospect after the next election is a significantly reduced Tory plurality - and of course the Liberals would be stupid to say anything really categorical where they disqualify themselves from trying to form a government if they have slightly fewer seats than the Tories but are wayyyy more able to win a confidence vote in parliament. So its a dilemma.

Ultimately though, its all abut getting LESS people to vote Conservative. If less people vote Conservative - things will sort themselves out.

A reader said...

Two points, Steve:

"From the Lib perspective, they pretty much ignore the NDP in campaigns anyways, apart from the requisite "unite the left" chant in the last few days."

Not true. The Liberal central campaign viciously targetted and attacked the NDP in daily emails to the national and regional media, and deliberately sought to undermine NDP candidates, to some clear success. Also, Bob Rae was sent on a fairly constant tour to target possible NDP gains in western Canada. Talk about short-sighted.

Anyways, good luck with trying to poach any more NDPers after the way you guys have treated Rae. You've pretty much proved that you'll use them to attack their former colleagues, but you'll NEVER EVER let them be leader, even when they're clearly the better choice.

Anyways, I appreciate that you're starting to think this through, but you guys have some big trust hurdles to overcome with your putative future partners based on past behaviour, to say the very least.

BTW, to whoever is still citing the $1.75 per vote ... with the inflation adjustment, it's now up to $2.00.

Steve V said...

Thanks for the kneejerk, boring analysis, per usual. Don't ever change, it would actually frighten me.

A reader said...

Well, certainly always happy to oblige, Steve.

DL said...

Yeah, I'd forgotten about how Bob Rae was the great poster boy for Liberal/NDP cooperation when he went on his little tour of Tory/NDP marginal seats in western Canada and urged people to vote Liberal. I wonder if the Tories paid his airfare to Saskatoon where he went to Saskatoon-Rosetown-Biggar and pleaded with people to vote Liberal to "stop Harper" - this in a riding where the Tory defeated the New Democrat by less than 200 votes and the Liberal took less than 10% of the vote.

What was he thinking???

Steve V said...

You guys really want to play that game? You'll lose you know.

A reader said...

"Philosophically, an agreement has a "no brainer" quality, if people are truly interested in seeing a center-left dominated Parliament. The NDP would hold the balance of power, the Liberals would be in government and Stephen Harper would be gone. However, while I find that scenario attractive, you can see how any such talk would be quickly derailed, primarily because the idea necessitates a "greater good" mentality, and that is more wishful thinking than practical probability."

Proving your own point already, I see.

Steve V said...

You're like the tryptophan of commentary.

RuralSandi said...

Well, there's an issue that Libs and NDP should think hard about. We have an aging Supreme Court which could leave Harper able to appoint a very, very right wing Conservative court.

This sure as hell frightens me.

I think the NDP people should really give this a thought.

A reader said...

At the risk of putting Steve completely to sleep, Sandi, I'll point out that we've been thinking about it plenty, and have been waiting for a willing partner.

For your information, that doesn't mean that we will bend over and accede to the Liberals on every point, nor follow your lead.

I agree with you that the potential retirement of that many members of the bench in the next few years is a very frightening prospect indeed, and should not be dismissed lightly.

A reader said...

Sorry, I think I meant to write "should not be *taken* lightly". I don't think you were dismissing it; it just seems like the wrong word rolled off my keyboard.

See, I may even be putting myself to sleep, Steve.

Steve V said...

You're incredibly potent today, maybe a boomerang effect?

Kim said...

The voters could send $1.75 to the political party that stepped out. Dammit Janet's idea. Even I could afford that!

A reader said...

Again: it's not $1.75 anymore -- it's up to $2.00 now.

(Maybe this will finally sink in via hypnotic suggestion.)

DL said...

Although the two people Harper has already appointed to the Supreme Court have been very uncontroversial, mainstream appointments and so far they have not taken positions on any issues that have deviated from all the judges appointed by Chretien and Martin.

fern hill said...

Two bucks, is it?

I think my budget would stretch to that.

Robert said...

No simply put no. Liberals had their chance at cooperation and hey threw it under the bus. Now that it looks like Iggy can't beat Harper they want it again? Come up with some progressive ideas and we will talk maybe.

Tof KW said...

”No simply put no. Liberals had their chance at cooperation and they threw it under the bus.”

Because if they did, the Liberal party would be dead in western Canada - for good. The coalition with the NDP wasn’t the issue so much, it was working with the Bloc. I credit Ignatieff that he saw this and was reluctant to sign on in the first place. The whole coalition thing should have been thought through more back in 2008, but then again they had to think quickly thanks to Harper’s stupid partisan tactics.

Also, Skinny Dipper wrote:
” I understand the logic of uniting the so-called left. However, there are many differences between the Liberals, NDP, and Greens. Also, with some of the parties, they don't get all of their votes from the Conservatives. While the Liberals and Greens can get support from people who might vote Conservative. The NDP gets a lot of support from people who might vote Liberal. People who vote Green aren't automatically going to support the NDP as a second choice.”

There were plenty of differences between the Progressive Conservatives and the Reform/Alliance, though the underlying thing which united them was that they really didn’t like the idea of endless Liberal governments. Hell, I fell in that camp. If Harper manages to continue splitting the vote and remains PM for the next decade …I’m sure everyone’s attitudes here towards merger would be very different then. Not sure that would be a good thing however. A hard swing to stupidity is was what made prevented me from following the new CPofC …a more pro-union / anti-business merged Lib-Democrat party would be just as distasteful to me.

I’m thinking the real solution may in fact be to study proportional representation. I was in disagreement with it in the past, though Harper’s reign made me see the potential logic in it. The Libs would be a looser though in that they’d probably never see a majority again, but then the Cons never would either. For certain if this were to see the light of day, Canadians had better get used to understanding coalition governments. However the biggest stumbling block towards adopting PR isn’t the Conservatives, it is Quebec. I can see the Bloc screaming blue murder, and using it as that ‘crisis’ they praying for that can raise up the separatist ghost. Sorry I don’t see any good solutions here except for ottlib’s view of the average voter…

” Some of the more conservative ones vote Conservative. The more left leaning ones vote NDP leaving the rest for the Liberals. The result every time is a Conservative government, usually a majority government. After a few years all of those progressives get tired of the Conservative government and go back to the only party they believe can govern, the Liberals. I have not seen any evidence that this pattern has been broken.”

I tend to agree. There is only one thing that would drive the CPofC’s numbers down below 30% (as Steve mentions that’s their base, it doesn’t get any lower) and that is a real ‘5-alarm’ scandal. The Grits should wait it out and play the long game. The more time you give Harper, the more dirt he wears until the inevitable occurs. In the meantime, the Libs should consider some long-term policies, one of which I seriously suggest is meaningful parliamentary reform. This has the potential of being their next ‘red-book’ as the anti-prorogue protests clearly showed Canadians are sick and tired of the current system.

Steve V said...

Robert

I don't consider dead enders like yourself part of the equation to be honest. The bitter left isn't the audience.