the numbers guy

Archive for August 2011

Canadians of all political stripes were deeply saddened yesterday to learn of the death of Jack Layton, the Leader of the Official Opposition.

The NDP in particular are reeling from the loss of their highly popular leader, a man who almost singlehandedly swept an incredible 59 of 75 seats in Quebec for the NDP in May’s federal election.

Jack Layton has led the NDP since January 2003 and his impact on the electoral fortunes of the NDP was immense. Mr Layton became leader at a time when the NDP had just 13 seats in the House of Commons and only 8.5% of the vote.

In the four general elections fought by Mr Layton since becoming leader in 2003, the NDP’s number of seats and share of the vote has increased on every occasion:

A remarkable increase, reflected coast-to-coast-to-coast in provinces and territories across Canada:

Jack Layton will be honoured by a state funeral to be held Saturday in Toronto. The funeral will be open to the public – further details here from CityTV Toronto.

The NDP are also accepting messages of condolence on their website (FrançaisEnglish).


“My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair.

So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.”

Jack Layton, Letter to Canadians, August 20, 2011


It’s been a month since this blog’s last look at GOP candidate Facebook followings and since then there have been a number of notable developments – Bachmann’s Ames Straw Poll victory, Pawlenty dropping out and, last but far from least, the entry into the race of Texas Governor Rick Perry.

How have these developments affected the candidates’ following on Facebook? Here’s a comparison of each candidate’s number of Facebook ‘likes’ from mid-July to mid-August:

Here’s the increase since mid-July:

And finally this increase expressed as a percentage of each candidate’s mid-July following:

Clearly Perry’s entry has had a significant impact – he’s seen a whopping 78.6% increase over the past month. That said, he’s still got a way to go before closing the gap with Paul and Bachmann, let alone with Mitt Romney who has nearly nine times Perry’s following. The speed with which Perry can close this gap will be worth watching in the run up to Iowa. Perry’s percentage increase is impressive, but Romney, Paul and Bachmann each added nearly as many Facebook followers last month.

The other big if is whether Sarah Palin, whose 3,226,736-strong Facebook following is larger than all the other candidates put together, will enter the race. With Perry and Bachmann (and to a lesser extent Cain and Santorum) already in the field and appealing to her tea party base, she may well feel the need to declare her intentions soon if she does intend to run.

In 1944 a 40 year old former Baptist preacher named Tommy Douglas shocked the Canadian political establishment by leading the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) to victory in the 1944 Saskatchewan provincial election – and forming the very first socialist government in North America.

Tommy Douglas went on to be voted “The Greatest Canadian” by CBC voters from coast to coast while his CCF went on to win four straight provincial elections after 1944 before later evolving into the Saskatchewan NDP – in total the CCF and NDP have governed Saskatchewan for 47 of the last 67 years, winning 12 of 17 elections.

The NDP lost power in the 2007 election after a 16 year stint under premiers Roy Romanow and Lorne Calvert. The NDP achieved 37.2% of the vote in 2007 (down 7.4% from 2003) and won just 20 of the 58 seats (down 10 from 2003).

Their nemesis was the centre-right Saskatchewan Party, a centre-right grouping founded in 1997 (largely from the ashes of the provincial Tories) and led by Swift Current MLA Brad Wall. In 2007 the SKP won 50.9% (+11.6% from 2003) and 38 seats (up 10 from 2003).

Saskatchewanians go to the polls again on November 7 to pass judgement on the SKP’s first term. Polling evidence is relatively scarce (the most recent poll I could find was from Insightrix Research a month ago and showed the SKP at 58.2% to the NDPs 30.8% with Liberals on 4.2% and Greens on 5%) – numbers which are very much in line with what other polls have been saying over the past 2 years.

Numbers like these, repeated on polling day, will result in a large Sask Party victory, an increased majority and may see the NDP reduced to a hard core of urban and far north strongholds.

With opinion polling like this, the NDP may be tempted to focus on defending its existing seats, rather than spend resources on the 10 seats they’ll need to gain to take power. The NDP won 5 seats with a margin of under 10% in 2006 – these seats will be especially vulnerable to a swing to the SKP:

For the NDP to actually regain power and win an overall majority they’ll need 30 seats in the 58 seat Legislative Assembly – a gain of 10 from their current total of 20. There are 7 Sask Party seats which would be low-hanging fruit in the event of an NDP recovery – in Moose Jaw North for example the NDP lost last time by just 33 votes:

That’s where the good news for the NDP ends – after the low-hanging fruit, the going gets distinctly tougher. They’ll need to win all 7 marginals along with 3 of the following 6 of the next most vulnerable Sask Party seats:

It will also be worth watching for shifts in regional party support. As in neighbouring Manitoba, politics is quite regionally polarized in Saskatchewan, with the SKP very strong in rural areas and the NDP strong in the far north, the capital Regina (with its large public sector worker population) and, to a lesser extent, in Saskatoon and smaller urban areas like Moose Jaw.

In 2007 the Sask Party broke into the NDP urban strongholds for the first time (especially in Saskatoon) and it’ll be interesting to see whether this encroachment continues. It’s notable how many of the marginal ridings listed above are clustered around Saskatoon and Regina.

What little polling evidence there is available points unequivocally to an Saskatchewan Party victory on Nov 7. The Sask Party also have the benefit of a popular and charismatic leader in Premier Brad Wall.

The NDP on the other hand have a real mountain to climb and will need to run a hell of a campaign to win back power. It’s also worth remembering that Saskatchewanians are not in the habit of voting out provincial governments after a single term – the last time this happened was over 75 years ago in 1934.

If you’ve enjoyed this piece, be sure to check out ‘Showdown on the Prairies’ from the CBC’s Digital Archives which features some fascinating extracts from the last 50 years of CBC Saskatchewan election coverage.

As for the next chapter in Saskatchewan’s political history, after November 7 we should at least have a clearer picture of what the future has in store.

Last night the House of Representatives passed the debt ceiling compromise by 269 votes to 161, with 3 members not voting. Republicans voted 174-66 in favour, while Democrats were evenly split 95-95.

I thought it would be interesting to break down the House vote district-by-district using the Cook Partisan Voting Index(PVI). PVI measures how strongly a congressional district favours one party over the other and is based on averaging the results of the previous two presidential elections.

For instance, a district like the Illinois 1st is rated as D+34 (the heavily democratic south side of Chicago). The Texas 13th on the other hand is rated as R+29 (heavily republican, in rural northwest Texas).

I wanted to see what correlation there was between a ‘nay’ vote and the PVI of a House member’s district. In general the right-wing of the Republican party joined the left-wing of the Democratic party in voting against the compromise. To what extent did a Congressman’s ‘nay’ vote represent the partisanship of his or her district?

For the purposes of this graph, I assigned a negative PVI value to the 31 cases where a district is represented by someone from the ‘opposite’ party (i.e. a Republican representing a D+ district).

I’ve defined ‘Moderate’ districts as having a PVI of less than 10  (217 of the 435 congressional districts), ‘Partisan’ districts as having a PVI of 10 or over (218 in total) and ‘Heavily Partisan’ districts as having a PVI of 20+ (71 of the 435).

Here are the percentage results of last night’s House vote broken down by PVI:

Clearly there is a strong link between the partisanship of a Congress member’s district and his or her willingness to vote for a compromise, even one backed by the leadership of both parties. Members from moderate districts voted in favour by a whopping 73%-26%. The result from partisan districts was far narrower – 51%-48% from the PVI-10+ districts while PVI 20+ districts rejected the compromise by 56%-42%.

It is also worth noting that Democrats representing >D+10 districts voted 58%-41% against the compromise (Dems from D+20 districts voted 62% against). Many will now be watching the polls closely to determine to what extent the debt ceiling compromise may have damaged President Obama’s support among his liberal base.

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