Monday, May 21, 2007

The 40 per cent threshold

The percentage of the vote is less important than the distribution. I wish there were more polling results showing specific constitutencies. I still have not seen a prediction of results by specific seats.
I have no idea why younger people support the Conservatives a bit more than the NDP. However I expect that the turnout among them is lower than older people so it may not hurt the NDP too much. On the other hand NDP supporters often do not bother to vote. The NDP has actually done worse than would be expected because of low turnout in several recent elections. Doer is certainly wise not to take anything for granted and to get every last possible vote out. I imagine by now he should have an effective machine and it is most important that the machine pulls out every vote it possibly can.

Monday, May 21st, 2007

The 40 per cent threshold
This election ain't over 'til it's over

Sat May 19 2007

Chris Adams

LAST Thursday, the Winnipeg Free Press and Global Television released the results of their mid- to late-2007 election campaign survey. The poll, conducted by Probe Research, was the only publicly released analysis of party leadership and voting intentions presented during the five week campaign. The survey findings provide some critical insights into the electorate's mood.

Many think the news is good for Gary Doer and the NDP. With the support of 44 per cent of Manitobans, it appears that his party is on the brink of winning its third majority government. Indeed, an examination of previous elections shows that this percentage figure closely mirrors Doer's first victory in 1999 when his party obtained 44 per cent of the vote and displaced the 11-year-old Progressive Conservative government of Gary Filmon.

Hugh McFadyen's Tories are behind, yet they are also within striking distance of the 40 per cent threshold. A late campaign shift in provincial support from the NDP to the PCs, or differences in turnout levels between the two parties, could result in the vapourization of this anticipated NDP majority.

Many scholars of Manitoba politics believe that the 40 per cent figure is the requisite threshold for winning majorities in the Manitoba legislature. While the 40 per cent rule is generally true, the principle only holds its predictive power as long as only one party crosses this mark at the same time. Since the 1960s -- when the last major redistribution of the province's electoral boundaries was conducted -- there have been three elections in which the losing party obtained at least 40 per cent of the vote: Sterling Lyon's PCs in 1981, with 44 per cent, were ousted by Howard Pawley's NDP with 47 per cent of the vote. Gary Filmon's PCs in 1986 lost with 40 per cent while 41 per cent voted for the NDP.

And, dramatically, the PCs lost in 1999 when they obtained 41 per cent compared to the NDP's 44 per cent.

Past elections therefore teach us that the 40 per cent line in the sand might be a mirage for the thirsty traveller seeking an oasis. One certain thing is that the PCs need to both reach at least 40 per cent of the popular vote and exceed the NDP's popular support if they are to win on Tuesday. Under current conditions, this looks like an improbable, though not impossible, scenario.

When looking at the last two provincial elections (1999 and 2003), voter turnout plummeted from 77 per cent to 54 per cent, largely due to the widespread belief that the NDP was on its way to a certain victory. Given this recent trend, PC supporters must be at least somewhat encouraged by the reasons behind Premier Doer's repeated warnings to his supporters to consider themselves "one vote behind" in every constituency. The last thing Doer and the NDP need is to have apathetic or overconfident supporters choosing to sleep off long-weekend hangovers rather than make a trip to the voting booth.

Finally on leadership, there is no doubt that Gary Doer's personal charisma is helping his party as our poll showed him to be clearly ahead of his two rivals on both campaign performance and being the most suited person to be premier.

However, respect for the leader does not always translate into a party's victory. In 1999, a Probe Research pre-election poll revealed that 39 per cent of Manitobans thought Gary Filmon would be the best premier compared to only 30 per cent of those who said the same thing about Gary Doer. Two weeks later they elected Doer rather than Filmon.

In this election there are a number of candidates with quality credentials who are running in swing ridings. In some ways the leaders will be riding on the coattails of these local candidates.

Many will be watching on Tuesday night to see which of the ridings that were held previously by the PCs during the 1990s and which have since switched to the NDP will revert back to the PC fold. These include Brandon West, Riel, La Verendrye, Assiniboia, Gimli and St. Norbert.

The recent polling numbers might deflate PC supporters as they get closer to the Tuesday count. However, overall provincial numbers partially mask some of the critical local campaigns.

Furthermore, beneath these "horse race" numbers there are some positive signs for the PCs' future -- a potential youth movement. Of those under the age of 35, 41 per cent say they will vote PC compared to 37 per cent for the NDP. Indeed, a review of Probe Research's quarterly tracking data (which reaches back to the late years in the Filmon era) shows that this is a new phenomenon for the party which has been developing since McFadyen took over as leader.

Political party strategies can be both long term and short term. This year the PCs are probably thinking both short term and long term. After all, the biggest roadblock to regaining power since the days of Filmon has been Gary Doer, an effective pragmatist and government leader who wins the respect of Manitobans of all stripes. Three terms should be enough for him. This 2007 election, therefore, might be the PCs' stepping stone to a 2011 victory.

Chris Adams is an adjunct professor of political studies at the University of Winnipeg and research director at Probe Research.

© 2007 Winnipeg Free Press. All Rights Reserved.

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