Assessing Voter Behaviour in Atlantic Canada

War is the continuation of politics by other means.
- Military theorist Carl Von Clausewitz

I think there’s a great deal of truth in the quote above. However, as a student of politics I’m curious as to whether we might be able to flip that statement on its head and say that “politics is just a continuation of war by other means”.

Carl Von Clausewitz

Carl Von Clausewitz

Von Clausewitz is famous for articulating and refining a number of key military concepts – most notably a concept known as the Centre of Gravity.

A number of different interpretations of what a centre of gravity is or isn’t have been examined since Von Clausewitz’s day, however, I think most people would agree that a centre of gravity can largely be defined by “where an entity draws its power from”.

So what does this have to do with Canadian politics?

Although the Liberals were able to build a winning coalition from ridings across Canada and form a majority government, I argue that Atlantic Canada is a symbolic representation of the Liberal’s centre of gravity – it’s where they drew (and perhaps will continue to draw) their power from.

Historically, the Liberals do quite well in Atlantic Canada and in 2015 the party won every seat east of Quebec. Sure, some seats were won by single-digit percentages, but in our first-past-the-post system you just need to have more than anyone else as opposed to having more than everyone else.

Challenging your opponent’s centre of gravity throws them off balance and forces them to adjust their strategy. Just because the Liberals won big on the east coast doesn’t mean the Tories, Dippers and Greens are going to let that happen again.

The Liberals did well with some demographics more than others and a number of possible flanks are open for opposition exploitation. The graphs below outline a number of ways the NDP and Conservatives can attack the Liberals in their highest performing region of the country.

(Quick note to the reader: I removed the Green Party from the analysis below due to the fact that a vast majority of the party’s performance among the different demographics were in the low single-digit percentages in 2015. However, considering the gains the Green Party brand has made in provincial legislatures and in Canadian voting behaviour more broadly, I would imagine future analysis of Canada’s east coast to include a lot more of the colour green in the mix.)

Source: Canadian Election Study

Source: Canadian Election Study

Gender

Right off the bat we see a quite a significant gender gap for both the NDP and the Conservatives. Broadly speaking, Tories tend to appeal more to men while the NDP tends to do better among women.

This is not the case in Atlantic Canada.

We see nine percent more women voting Conservative than men while six percent more men than women saying they would support the NDP.  A Liberal strategist reviewing their performance in Atlantic Canada should take pride in the fact that their party was able to cut through gender lines and obtain the support of large and equal percentages of men and women. That having been said, it’s very difficult to speculate as to whether this pattern will repeat itself in 2019.

In order to make life more difficult for the Liberals in the region, the NDP need to focus more on improving their perceptions among women while the Tories need to improve their perceptions among men.

 

Union Membership

I think most readers would agree that card-carrying union members are not exactly the biggest voting bloc for the Tories to count on. The Tories will try to appeal to voters across as many demographics as possible in 2019, however, it appears that going after union members would be more squeeze than juice. The NDP, however, can increase their fortunes in the region by convincing those union members that the Liberals have let working-class people down and were unable to deliver on the idea of a better life.

 

Age

Studies have shown that there was a significant increase in youth voter turnout in 2015 and that younger voters helped propel the Liberals to power. However, on the east coast the Liberals appealed most among middle-aged voters. Interestingly enough, the NDP did relatively well among voters 35-44. Past elections have shown that older voters are more likely to vote than younger voters, so if the party is able to maintain or grow their share of the vote among this age group and youth voter turnout goes down, the party may see its fortunes in the region increase.

The Tories on the other hand appealed most to voters under the age of 24 and over the age of 65. The party will have to focus on voters in-between those two age groups in order to make electoral gains in the region.

 

Education

The Liberals in 2015 were able to appeal to strong pluralities of voters across all levels of education. In order to ensure that this doesn’t happen again both the NDP and Tories will have to expand their communications to voters across all education categories but most notably those with lower levels of education considering that the NDP did relatively well with those with a college/university degree while the Tories did relatively well among voters with Master’s degrees or higher.

 

Household Income

There’s a truism in politics that voters vote with their wallets. Atlantic Canada is no different. With relatively higher levels of unemployment and lower levels of economic optimism than other regions of the country, the NDP and Conservatives need to highlight that the Liberals have done the region no favours and that their respective visions of the future will help the region grow and prosper.

For the Tories, tax benefits and other forms of policies that lure economic investment and put more cash in the wallets of voters would go over well in the region. The NDP may likely focus their efforts on lower income earners and focus on remedying financial insecurities to those voters considering they don’t appeal well to voters in households making more than $60k/year (with the exception of the three in twenty voters in households making more than six figures a year).

 

Isolated views of each party’s respective demographic appeal in the region can be found below.

Source: Canadian Election Study

Source: Canadian Election Study

Source: Canadian Election Study

Source: Canadian Election Study

Source: Canadian Election Study

Source: Canadian Election Study

Adrian Macaulay