Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Liberals win 3 out of 4, what does it all mean?

Well, I guess it depends on what you believed going into these by-elections.

I have had some time to digest the reaction to the by-elections and the thing that stands out for me is most analysts, both the professionals in the MSM and the amateurs in the blogsphere, are using their results to reinforce their preconceptions.

Many, including some Liberal bloggers are using it to continue to flog that old horse about the leadership of the party while others are using it to flog the idea that the Liberals are now sitting pretty and victory is now assured.

As well, many are coming up with all sorts of reasons for the results coming to all sorts of conclusions, which again are usually along the lines of their preconceptions.

I have to admit they are all interesting. My favourite was the instant analysis by the NDP representative on CPAC last night. She stated that if Mr. Dion did not win all four by-elections his leadership would be in trouble. It was such a silly statement in light the thrashing the NDP took last night. I noticed that Peter VanDusan did not ask her too many questions after she laid that egg.

However, in any analysis of the results two truths have to be kept in mind. One, voter turnout for by-elections is always much less than for general elections. Two, the voters that bother to vote can do so secure in the knowledge that they are not going to cause any great upheaval in the grand scheme of things. Therefore, they can cast a protest vote with impunity.

Keeping those two truths in mind let's take a look at the four ridings.

The two Toronto ridings: Much has been made of the margins of victory and much crowing from Liberals has resulted. However, what needs to be kept in mind is both Liberal candidates were strong, high profile candidates. As well, both were former Liberal leadership contenders who have their own electoral machines. As a result they had the apparatus to pull the Liberal vote. That combined with the usual voter turnout in by-elections is probably the biggest reason why they won by so much.

It is premature for Liberals to be jumping to conclusions about the levels of support for the Conservatives and the NDP based on these results. In all likelyhood most of their supporters saw a no-win situation and stayed home. Things will probably be different during a general election. Not that the Liberals will lose either riding but their margins of victory will be much smaller.

The Saskatchewan Riding: This riding was won by the Liberals by 67 votes the last time and by most accounts it was the result of an extraordinary aboriginal vote. This makes sense since the last general election took place on the heals of the signing of the Kelowna Accords. Those Accords were very popular with Aboriginal Canadians so they came out in droves to support the party that supported them. This by-election did not have the same dynamic so voter turnout amongst First Canadians reverted to past patterns.

That is the most likely reason for the Liberal loss in this riding. All of that other stuff blaming the Liberal leadership is just spin.

The Vancouver Riding: It is interesting that Liberal support went to the Green Party instead of the Conservatives. I believe this is a classic case of voters voting for an alternative to the established parties knowing that it would have no grand effect on the greater scheme of things. In all likelyhood, such a dynamic will not happen in a general election.

What is most interesting about this riding is the Conservatives actually put alot of effort into winning it. From Mr. Kenney's efforts with the Chinese community to the resources they pored into the riding to pull the vote last night it is interesting that they could not increase their support in that riding. That should be of concern to the Conservatives.

All-in-all it was not a night of surprises. The Liberals hung on to their three strongholds and they lost the one seat they only won by a whisker in 2006.

Now we get to see what happens over the next few weeks or months leading to a general election. How that turns out is anybody's guess right now but I can virtually guarantee that last nights results are less useful in predicting the results than Tarot Cards and tea leaves.


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