What would the popular vote be in Canada?

Preliminary results from Wikipedia

In yesterday's election, there's been a lot of talk of the popular vote totals. In particular, in the totals, made by incorrectly summing up the totals for each riding by party, Liberals (which will form a minority government with 157 seats (needing 170 for majority) took 31.1% while Conservatives get 121 seats with slightly more "popular" vote at 34.4%. Most robbed perhaps are the NDP with 15.9% of the "popular" vote but only 24 seats, compared to the BQ with less than half the "popular" votes and 32 seats.

As I've noted in US elections, there is no popular vote in Canada or the US Presidential election. Rather, there are 338 popular vote elections, conducted under the plurality rule called "first past the post." The media then sum these elections up to make a popular vote, even though that's misleading and statistically invalid.

It's invalid because only 60-70 of the 338 ridings are "in play." The rest are generally safe, though elections in Canada swing a lot more than in the USA, so it's a little harder to determine this number. The elections in those swing ridings are hard fought, and the federal parties spend real money there, and the leaders often come to visit. In Canada, even though the actual election is only for your local MP, in most, but certainly not all ridings this MP is seen as just a proxy for the leader.

In the other ridings, there's less campaigning, but there is some because those local candidates do care. In safe states in the USA, there's almost no money spent on the Presidential election. Even so, because voters know their riding is safe (my riding was a safe Liberal seat won by a 2 to 1 margin) they act differently, and many people don't bother to turn out for an election they know they can't affect the result of.

In the USA, this causes about 3% of voters to not show up in safe states. In the USA, though, there are lots of down-ticket races you can still vote on. In Canada you have only one thing on the ballot, and there is nothing to show up for except sense of civic duty in a safe riding. (You also get to change the published numbers in a way nobody will notice when it comes to major candidates.) I will point out that I still voted, mostly because the recent law changes let me vote for the first time in years.

It's hard to compare, but in general you can't simply add the numbers from a hard fought race to a "do your civic duty race." They are two entirely different sorts of polls. What we want to know is, "if all voters felt their vote counted, what parties would they have supported." That's impossible to know precisely, though polling might be able to make guesses.

This is important, or was, because Trudeau promised but did not deliver electoral reform. People have spoken both of switching individual ridings to ranked choice or Approval Voting, and also to some sort of proportional representation based on real national popular votes. In such a syste, the Greens would have 22 seats instead of 3 if their popular vote was 6.5% -- a fairly big difference. There would also have been 5 seats for the far-right People's party. (Perversely, I think the totals for the minor parties are more likely to be accurate, because almost nobody who voted People's Party expected them to win, so they only voted to show up in the popular vote totals.)

If there were such an election, then the totals would be valid because all voters would be voting under the same incentives and weight. For now, we don't know too much.

Where would it lead?

It is generally viewed that the NDP, Greens and BQ mostly take votes away from the Liberals. Quebec used to be very Liberal until the BQ showed up, and it is a social democrat party whose primary focus is Quebec nationalism. Green and NDP voters are highly unlikely to rank the Tories 2nd choice. People's Party voters would have taken away from the Tories. As such, any ranked choice or approval system would probably have resulted in a Liberal majority. I say probably, though, because there are a lot of voters who might like the NDP or Greens more, but don't expect them to have a chance, and thus vote Liberal. If there are a lot of those, it could make a radical difference. There might also be more parties to further cloud the waters.

With a proportional house, a majority government would be almost unheard of. Coalitions would be a must. Parties would even perhaps declare in advance (which they don't like to do) what coalition they might join.

A ranked choice proportional vote is unlikely, and would, today, result in solid Liberal power. I say today because any change in the rules causes the two leading parties to adjust their positions until they have a chance of victory again. Ranked choice proportional voting would result in regular near-ties, just as the US Presidential vote gets.

Will this happen

The problem is this -- with any change in system, somebody loses. If that somebody has power today under the old rules, they will fight to keep the old rules. If one of the major parties will lose, it's very difficult for it to happen. It can only happen when there is a strong majority party in power which thinks it will improve its chances under the new rules, and that's exactly the sort of power-consolidating rule change you would prefer not happen.

All the parties have taken electoral reform off the priority list for now. Who knows if it will show up again?

In the USA, it's a bit more interesting because each state sets its own rules. Nothing (except political pressure) stops any state from switching to ranked choice or approval for its Presidential vote. But political pressure is a big thing, and both parties can remember recent times when they would have suffered under any better voting system, and so they remain scared. As most people know, such a system would have thrown Florida and the USA to Gore in 2000, but probably would have thrown the USA to Bush in 1992 if more Perot voters had Bush as 2nd choice.

As you can see from the map, Canada is not just polarized on the rural-urban axis as the USA is. It's also regional and has been for a long time. In some ways it is going to get worse as the world oil economy shrinks and Alberta suffers.

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