Green gains likely came at BC Libs’ expense

Further election number crunching that suggests the centre-left vote split is myth.
By Tom Barrett
May 31, 2013
TheTyee.ca

Andrew Weaver, first Green MLA in B.C., on May 14 election night. Photo by Robert Alstead, Running on Climate.
Andrew Weaver, first Green MLA in B.C., on May 14 election night. Photo by Robert Alstead, Running on Climate.

The Green Party’s biggest gains in the May 14 election seem to have come at the expense of the Liberals.

During the campaign, the New Democrats seemed obsessed with losing votes to the Greens. The Liberals even tweaked the NDP by running a pro-Green newspaper ad in Victoria near the end of the campaign.

Maybe the Liberals should have saved their money.

The final count shows the five ridings where the Green vote increased the most were all in southern Vancouver Island. And in four of those ridings, the Liberal vote dropped more than the NDP vote.

One popular theory holds that the Greens steal votes from the NDP. If that were true, you’d expect the Greens’ gains to come at the expense of the NDP in these ridings. But that doesn’t seem to have happened.

In Oak Bay-Gordon Head, where Andrew Weaver won the Greens their first seat ever, the Greens picked up 8,392 more votes than in 2009. At the same time, the NDP vote dropped by 3,780.

But the Liberals, who won the seat in 2009, saw their vote drop by 4,110. Those votes don’t seem to have gone to the Conservative party, which is usually assumed to be the biggest vote-splitting threat to the Liberals. The Conservative vote increased by only 492 over 2009.

The numbers suggest that the Greens pulled a lot of support from former Liberal voters.

Libs suffered in Island ridings

Now, it’s possible that a whole lot of Liberal supporters stayed home May 14 and a whole bunch of new Green supporters turned out for the first time. Or a lot of Liberal supporters switched to the NDP and some NDP supporters switched to the Greens. But, given the size of the Liberal collapse, it seems likely that plenty of former Liberal supporters went Green.

The overall number of valid votes in Oak Bay-Gordon Head increased by 994, or four per cent, suggesting that Weaver’s support didn’t all come from new voters.

The Greens’ other big increase came in Saanich North and the Islands, which also went Liberal in 2009. This time, after all the ballots were counted, the NDP took this riding in a close three-way race.

The Green vote increased 6,913. The NDP vote dropped 2,363. The Liberal vote dropped 2,784. There was no Conservative candidate.

Overall, the vote in Saanich North and the Islands increased by 2,365, a hefty eight per cent over 2009.

The Greens had their third-largest increase in Victoria-Beacon Hill, where party leader Jane Sterk took on former NDP leader Carole James.

James won this riding easily. Still, the Green vote increased by 4,641. The NDP vote dropped by 840. And the Liberal vote dropped by 1,997. Again, there was no Conservative.

Overall, the vote in Beacon Hill increased by 1,615, or seven per cent.

The table at the bottom of this page shows the 13 ridings where the Green vote increased by more than 1,000 over 2009. In about half of them, there was a substantial drop in the Liberal vote.

Surprise: it’s complex

So what does all this mean?

On the face of it — despite the argument that the Greens split the centre-left vote — Green votes don’t appear to have all come from the NDP. Their gains, it appears, often came at the expense of the Liberals.

Immediately after the election, this reporter looked at a scenario based on a world where there were no Green candidates and all their votes went to the NDP. While a lot of readers seemed to think I was arguing that such a world would be desirable, I meant it as an exercise to gauge the strength of the Green vote.

If you want to argue that the Greens cost the NDP the election, you have to assume that the overwhelming majority of Green votes were drawn from the NDP. That doesn’t seem to be the case.

(And as I said then, assuming that all Green votes would otherwise go NDP “ignores an important point that often gets missed when people talk about vote-splitting: third parties like the Greens wouldn’t exist if their supporters found what they were looking for in the main parties.”)

The Liberal losses we’ve looked at also fit with something Chad Skelton noted in the Vancouver Sun. In the May 14 election, the Greens ran only 61 candidates, down from 85 in 2009.

As Skelton points out, if the Greens were NDP vote-splitters, you’d expect the NDP vote to go up in the ridings where there was no competition from the Greens.

“Did it?” writes Skelton. “Nope. Indeed, in 18 of the 24 ridings, the NDP’s share of the vote actually went down between 2009 and 2013.”

That could be because something else changed in the riding that caused the NDP support to drop, he notes. This exercise isn’t conclusive, “but it certainly undermines the argument that the Greens are simply spoilers for the NDP,” says Skelton. “If that were the case, you wouldn’t see figures like these.”

The results from the ridings where the Greens made their biggest gains aren’t conclusive, either. But they do suggest that the whole vote-splitting thing is a lot more complex than a lot of people make it out to be.

Change in vote totals, 2009-2013

Riding Winner Liberal Change NDP Change Green Change Cons Change Other Change Total Valid Vote Change
Oak Bay-Gordon Head Green -4110 -3780 8392 492 0 994
Saanich North and the Islands NDP -2784 -2363 6913 0 599 2365
Victoria-Beacon Hill NDP -1997 -840 4641 0 -189 1615
Victoria-Swan Lake NDP -699 -769 2632 0 -174 990
Saanich South NDP -1959 249 2347 873 -93 1417
Nelson-Creston NDP -614 -860 2198 -1083 0 -359
Cowichan Valley NDP 41 -1852 2044 299 187 719
Juan de Fuca NDP 178 724 1897 0 0 2799
Powell River-Sunshine Coast NDP -26 -156 1420 0 -249 989
Nanaimo-North Cowichan NDP -741 -1346 1295 1603 447 1258
Esquimalt-Royal Roads NDP -68 -551 1264 0 343 988
Comox Valley Liberal 362 -28 1141 1740 -386 2829
Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows Liberal 1326 432 1029 0 247 3034

Source: Elections BC

Find Tyee election reporting team member and contributing editor Tom Barrett’s previous Tyee articles here. Find him on Twitter or email him.

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