In order to get a better sense of the different perspectives in this campaign, I decided to attend the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada’s roundtable discussion called “Perspectives on the 2019 Federal Elections” at the McGill Faculty Club on October 15. The discussion was moderated by McGill University’s Dean of Arts, Antonia Maioni with panelists Claire Durand, Allison Harell, and Melanee Thomas.
Professor Claire Durand - l'Université de Montréal.
Professor Durand began by discussing the reliability of polling systems. While polls are generally reliable, she notes that there are times when these kinds of systems misrepresent information. For example, in the case of the New Democratic Party (NDP), polls often overestimate their popularity. During the 2004 election, the polls put the Conservative Party of Canada (CPC) and the Liberal Party of Canada (LPC) at neck and neck but the actual election results had the LPC ahead of the CPC by 7%.
Using Ipsos and Leger Polls, Prof. Durand pointed out the changes in the electorate’s desire to vote. Durand claimed that while LPC and CPC voters are less likely to change, partisans of smaller parties such as the NDP are more likely to change. From looking at both polls, non-traditional parties, such as the NDP, Green, and the Bloc Quebecois votes were overestimated because partisans of these groups had higher chances of voting another way. Durand claims that there is less volatility in the 2019 elections as pointed out in the polls showing proportion of “may change” from 39% to 34% in the 2019 elections compared to 45% to 39% during the 2015 elections.
In the case of the 2018 Quebec provincial election, there were polling misses of more than 10%. Supporters of Quebec Solidaire (QS) had a greater chance of voting for other parties. Additionally, the Ipsos Post-Election poll observed that those who changed their votes made their decision the week of, on election day, or even at the ballot box.
Durand noted that there is much more research needed in this field. One way of getting better data and predictions of how people vote could be to look at the second choices of voters. She also considers that there needs to be better research to understand last-minute decisions and shifts. In order to get solid data, there needs to be a reliable question regarding the certainty of one’s vote.
Professor Allison Harell - UQAM
Professor Harell started her discussion by highlighting partisans. Generally, people interpret events in line with their partisanship. Partisans are highly motivated reasoners that interpret information in a way that reinforces their previous biases. In addition, partisan votes are more mobilized and have a high rate of voter turnout. Partisans are important to study because they show different cleavages and polarization across the country. For parties, they are important because partisans are the groups that parties attempt to appeal to and obtain votes.
While observing a survey from the summer of 2019, Harell points out that the CPC has a 22% population of partisans while the LPC has a population of 25%. Likewise, within these partisans, there is a strong sense of identity. Strong partisans are four times more likely to develop an instant connection with other partisans of the same party and are likely to feel offended when upsetting remarks are made about their party.
When looking at votes with sociocultural and economic filters, Harell claimed that group identification, religion, economic background, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or regional background, is important because of issue ownership. Parties will champion said issues if there are a group of partisans that have a strong attachment to them. Harell made the prediction that partisans are likely to drive the turnout and the polarization in this election.
Professor Melanee Thomas - University of Calgary
Interestingly, Professor Thomas looked at the diversity and gender of the candidates running in the election. Thomas noted that in general, an overwhelming majority of the candidates know that they will not win, but choose to run as part of their democratic service. Looking at this issue from a gender perspective, for the three large parties, the CPC, LPC, and the NDP, men are in safer seats compared to women. Citing a CBC study, Thomas said that 75% of female candidates are sacrificial lambs as they are running in seats that they have no possibility of winning.
When looking at this issue from a regional perspective, Thomas said that regionalism favours the LPC across Canada. Although Alberta and Saskatchewan are known to vote for the CPC, the regional distribution of voters across the country mean the LPC is still favourable across Canada. This is because even with the CPC majority in the Prairie Provinces, Atlantic Canada will likely be LPC, while Quebec is coming in as NDP and Bloc Quebecois, and LPC on the Island of Montreal. Other areas to note include The Greater Toronto Area of Ontario, which is polling LPC and CPC at neck and neck. Similarly, Vancouver’s Lower Mainland is polling in a tight three-way race between the NDP, LPC, and CPC, with Green votes only coming from Vancouver Island.
Polls close at 9:30 p.m. (Eastern). For more information, visit www.elections.ca.