Friday, October 16, 2015

Inside Politics from 'E-day' to 'Shy Tories'

     ‘Inside baseball’, is an expression that describes something that is so detailed in sports that only true aficionados would understand, see here.  In American politics, a comparable expression is 'inside the Beltway', named for the highway that circles Washington.  Similarly, some Canadian pundits describe Ottawa centric issues as 'inside the Queensway'.

     The fact is, like sports commentators, political analysts often use a range of unfamiliar language. Below I identify and describe some of these terms and phrases, that are ‘inside politics’, which people will likely hear in the next few days before the 2015 Canadian National election.
     Election or 'E'-day, on Monday October 19, will be the final showdown in a long political season.  Broad details of the campaign, like party platforms, major debates and advertising are all part of what is sometimes called the ‘air campaign’. On E-day, all parties shift focus from the ‘air’ to play on the ‘ground’.

     The ‘ground’ battle in politics largely involves the employment of as many volunteers as possible to ‘pull’ or ‘get out’ the vote.  That is, each political party makes a maximum effort to encourage its own identified supporters to mark their ballots.

      The increased likelihood that supporters will vote is called ‘vote efficiency’.  Though ideology plays less of a role in party affiliations in Canada, left-leaning New Democrats have traditionally been viewed as more committed political activists, with a very efficient vote because they are better at turning out their supporters on E-day. In modern times, the same high commitment may be true of some Canadian Conservative voters, whose core base of supporters are characterized as both strongly loyal and motivated, see here.

       However, most political wisdom has it that ‘people do not vote for an opposition party, they vote against a government’.  Canada’s 42nd election appears unusual in that there has been a large increase in the number of people who have voted before the official E-day, in advance polls held last weekend, see here.  If the high turnout in advance polls reflects increased participation after E-day on Monday, and the accepted wisdom is sound, this may presage a change in government.

      Canada has a ‘first past the post’ electoral system, see here.  No matter how many candidates are in a specific riding, the one who gets to the ‘finish line’ of the most votes, will win.  In a campaign with 3 or more candidates, this means that someone can win with a ‘plurality’, or less than a majority, of the votes. In fact, pluralities are more the rule than the exception in Canada.

      For the last 100 years there have been a host of 3rd parties that have split the vote, making actual majority support difficult for anyone in Canada at the Federal level.[1]  In 2015, this means that there are even some ridings with four-way races, where a successful candidate may only need 25%, or less, of the votes cast, see here.

       It's sometimes said that the only poll that matters is the one on E-day. One phenomena to watch for in 2015, apparent in other elections, may be what has been described as the ‘shy Tory’ vote, see here  That is, advance polling has repeatedly understated the level of actual support a governing Conservative party may garner on E-day, since supporters may be reluctant or ‘shy’ to admit their voting intentions to pollsters.

      If this 'shy' voter factor is real, it’s not clear that it applies only with respect to conservative voters.  For example, advance polls in one recent Canadian provincial election also appeared to understate support for the Liberal incumbents, who went on to win a 'stunning' victory, see here.  Moreover, in the face of sustained advertising targeting Canada's Liberal Leader, see here, its possible that people might also be 'shy' about admitting their support, but will vote for him anyways.

      In any event, the end of any political campaign is something like the playoffs in sports. While sportscasters and political pundits may similarly employ ‘inside’ language to describe things, 2015’s Federal election also features a more direct overlap.

     Canada’s major league baseball team, the Toronto Blue Jays, have a scheduled playoff game of their own on October 19, when they will play in the 3rd game of the American League East Championship series.  Even though there is a possibility that divided political views will result in a minority Parliament, it seems likely a strong majority of Canadians will, at least, be supporting the Blue Jays on E-day - Go Blue Jays!. 
Update:  On Monday October 19, 2015, the Conservative Party lost its bid for re-election to Justin Trudeau's Liberals, who won a majority victory.  Turnout for the election approached 68% of registered voters, the highest in 20 years at the Federal level in Canada. The Blue Jays, playing at the same time, beat the Kansas City Royals 11 - 8 in the American League Championship series.

 [1] Since the early 20th century this includes, inter alia, Progressives, the CCF party, the Reconstruction Party, Social Credit, New Democrats, Reform Party, Bloc Quebecois and Green Party.


  1. Good read Tom and will be very understandable to the political novice!

    1. Thanks Gail. Watching BEY closely as well as your new riding!

  2. Very interesting Tom as usual. Another aspect is the support for the Bloc may have been underestimated by national pollsters, as Franco voters (traditional audience of the Bloc) were diluted in the polls with all voters in Quebec while they could make a tipping difference in most of the regional ridings (while non-Franco voters are concentrated mainly in Montreal ridings).

    1. Yes, and typically smaller sample sizes for regional races like in Quebec, so that may be a factor too. Thanks Pascal!