Do Election Results Support “Unite the Right”?
The motivation to “unite the right” is driven by the perfectly understandable desire by conservatives to limit the NDP to one term.
But let’s look at the assumption that uniting the parties would turf the NDP.
It is true that if you simply add together the Wildrose (24%) and PC votes (28%) in 2015, the combined 52% vote would have exceeded the NDP’s 40% (and the seat count would have been 59 PC/WR to 26 NDP). Gosh, that’s pretty persuasive!
But is it that easy? Would the 28% PCs have been content with the more right-wing personality of the Wildrose? If that 28% didn’t abandon the party in 2015 – when many Albertans had had enough – this must be the PC base. They are loyal to the PC’s centre-right positioning.
Would the 24% who voted Wildrose been content to endorse the incumbent PC government? Many Wildrose supporters migrated out of frustration with the PCs. Do they now want to get married?
In the 2012 election, when there was a mood for change, Wildrose won 34% to the PC’s 44%.
In 2015, when discontent had escalated, the PCs dropped 16% of their vote down to 28%. But the Wildrose also lost ground, losing 10% of their vote down to 24%.
The “unite” theory would have predicted that the 16% loss from the PCs should have gone to Wildrose, giving them a minimum of 40% – even more, if they had also held onto their 34% from 2012.
That didn’t happen.
A post-election analysis on the political analysis website threehundredeight.com asked why (http://www.threehundredeight.com/search/label/Alberta, scroll to June 4).
Analyst Eric Grenier cites an Ipsos-Reid poll that quantified how many PC and Wildrose voters did not choose the other “right wing” party as their second choice. Counterintuitively, the second choice of 33% of Wildrose supporters was actually the NDP; 24% preferred the Liberal or Alberta Party, just 21% chose the PCs and 23% wouldn’t vote. PC supporters’ second choices were divided between WR and NDP.
Working from that data, Grenier analyzed what would have happened if there was only a PC or a Wildrose candidate in each constituency (choosing which of the PC or WR was stronger). He redistributed the votes according to the Ipsos-Reid second-choice data. The result: the NDP would have won 55 seats to 30 for the combined WR/PC option.
If you believe PC and WR voters are interchangeable, you owe it to yourself to read his full analysis.
Grenier’s conclusion, and I quote: “The idea that the PCs and Wildrose share the same voter pool is simply wrong. The right wasn’t divided. Rather, the anti-PC vote was divided between the New Democrats and Wildrose.”
There might be reasons to blend the PCs and WR, but don’t assume one plus one will always equal two.
Importantly, Alberta will have new electoral boundaries for the 2019 election.
Large rural ridings are currently allowed a 25% smaller population compared to urban and suburban ridings, resulting in more rural ridings than if the discrepancy was a more typical 5% or 10%.
There are good reasons that large rural ridings should be less populated. That isn’t my point. My point is – do you believe the NDP will allow rural overrepresentation to persist in the next redistribution?
Not likely. They are more likely to adjust the formula to yield more urban and suburban seats.
The only party that could today combat the NDP in those multiple urban seats is the Progressive Conservative Party. The Wildrose demonstrably cannot. In the last two elections combined, they have won just four urban or suburban seats.
Why? My theory is that Albertans, particularly urban Albertans, are centrists. They do not, in the majority, self-identify as “right wing”. In 2015, Albertans were ready to throw the bums out. They had a choice to replace the PCs with a left wing government or a right wing alternative. They did not swing right.
History and math both provide important lessons for the “unite the right” movement.
Susan Elliott is a partner at Strategy Portal Inc., a consultancy that specializes in complex issues and reputation management involving a diverse range of stakeholders and interests. Visit our website at http://www.strategyportal.ca.