Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Advancing Democracy: A Look at Some Poll Numbers

During this past long weekend, when I wasn't biking to Point Roberts or luxuriating in the sunlight that tore the Lower Mainland's usual cloudy ceiling clean away, I and exactly two million and fifty-six thousand other Canadians cast a vote at an advance poll. Elections Canada released its preliminary turnout count yesterday, and it was a slammer; more than a third again as large as the advance turnout in 2008. Hopefully, this represents a turn against the frequent media narrative that voters are disillusioned and that turnout will remain low come May 2.

I found something potentially interesting while browsing through the data Elections Canada made available. Saanich—Gulf Islands, the British Columbia riding where the Green Party is throwing every resource it has in the hope of unseating Conservative minister Gary Lunn in favor of their leader Elizabeth May, had a pretty respectable advance poll turnout: 11,330. As I looked through the rest of the riding data, I realized this was a considerable showing, and in fact represented the highest poll turnout of any riding east of Simcoe—Grey, where the turfed ex-Conservative independent Helena Guergis is battling it out against Harper's new Great Blue Hope.

It certainly wasn't the sort of turnout I was expecting; my own riding, New Westminster–Coquitlam, came in at 7,024 advance votes, even beating out Vancouver East and Vancouver Kingsway. So I had to wonder... was the turnout in Saanich—Gulf Islands a reflection of the Greens' efforts? Did it perhaps augur well for the removal of another Conservative MP and Harper being pushed that much farther away from his precious majority? Was the high turnout in Saanich—Gulf Islands, of all places, outside the realm of the ordinary? Coming on the heels of the Oraclepoll Research poll yesterday that found the Greens to be leading the Conservatives 45% to 38% there, I thought it was something worth investigating.

This isn't something I've seen the news media tackle yet, as I write this on Tuesday night: perhaps there'll be something fresh in the early editions, though there's just as great a chance they'll be distracted by the Canucks' overtime drubbing of the Chicago Blackhawks. Nevertheless, I did some further digging into this, and here are the numbers I worked with - the top eleven ridings in terms of advance voters. The preliminary poll counts come straight from Elections Canada, and the 2011 elector counts come from Wikipedia. Any errors beyond these are mine alone.

Nepean–Carleton (ON): 103,414 electors, 16,988 votes
Oak Ridges–Markham (ON): 136,755 electors, 15,003 votes
Simcoe–Grey (ON): 93,705 electors, 14,977 votes
Ottawa–Orléans (ON): 109,950 electors, 13,645 votes
Mississauga–Erindale (ON): 99,774 electors, 12,810 votes
Halton (ON): 115,255 electors, 12,710 votes
Louis-Hébert (QC): 83,272 electors, 12,686 votes
Barrie (ON): 91,447 electors, 12,446 votes
Ottawa Centre (ON): 92,877 electors, 12,054 votes
Louis-Saint-Laurent (QC): 81,053 electors, 11,393 votes
Saanich-Gulf Islands (BC): 91,822 electors, 11,330 votes

First impressions: aside from the two Quebec ridings, and the suburban sprawl of York Region that's contained within Oak Ridges–Markham, the ridings seem to be on a pretty even keel in terms of how many electors can choose to cast their ballots. With the exception of Louis-Hébert, which represents portions of Quebec City, none of these ridings are solely "big urban" - they're suburbs, the sort of battlegrounds where Harper picked up a good deal of support in 2008. I can speak with particular authority on the suburban nature of Barrie, since I lived there for thirteen years - though, due to quirks of election timing, I was never able to actually vote there.

At first I wondered whether the Saanich—Gulf Islands numbers might be exaggerated due to its population makeup; I've never been there, I had no idea what the nature of the population looked like. But as you can see by the numbers, it doesn't have vastly more or fewer electors than the rest - hell, even Barrie doesn't have so many. To get a better look at the true nature of the turnout, I recalculated the advance turnout as a percentage of each riding's total potential turnout, confining it to the same top eleven ridings because, damn, I don't have the time or the energy to paw through the numbers for all three hundred and eight. Here's what I came up with:

Nepean–Carleton - 16.4% of total
Simcoe–Grey - 15.9% of total
Louis-Hébert - 15.2% of total
Louis-Saint-Laurent - 14.0% of total
Barrie - 13.6% of total
Ottawa Centre - 12.9% of total
Mississauga–Erindale - 12.8% of total
Ottawa–Orléans - 12.4% of total
Saanich-Gulf Islands - 12.3% of total
Halton - 11.0% of total
Oak Ridges–Markham - 10.9% of total

So what's to be concluded from these numbers? For myself, a total political amateur, it suggests to me that while there may be a Green Revolution rumbling on Vancouver Island, it's not necessarily so. The real action looks to be in Simcoe–Grey, where a drag-down fight and certain vote-splitting between independent conservative Guergis and Harper Conservative Kellie Leitch may open the door for the Liberal or NDP candidate to squeak into victory.

This time next week, we'll know. But seeing such a high turnout gives me hope that I'll like what I'll see then.

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