Take a look at the vote results in St. John’s South-Mount Pearl in the last four federal general elections and you can see the dramatic switch of Conservative votes to New Democrat votes.
Let’s start with the advance poll turn-out. This is really just to remind everyone of the first sign something big was on the way.
The 2011 advance turn-out was 91% above the next highest, in 2006. The advance vote turn-out in 2008 - the year of the Conservative civil war called ABC - was slightly below the range for the two previous elections but there was actually nothing radically out of line with it.
Now look at the results for the three major parties for the same elections.
First of all, the total vote for all three parties ranges from 33,137 in 2008 to 38,567 in 2011. Leaving 2008 aside, total vote for the three parties in 2011 is only 4.2% higher than it was in 2006.
The Liberal 2011 vote total is 550 below the 2004 result and 3799 below the 2008 tally. On the whole, it is consistent with Liberal vote in the riding going back more than a decade. The 1997 Liberal vote in the old riding configuration, for example, was roughly 12,500.
On the face of it, Siobhan Coady appears to have managed to capture and hold most of the usual Liberal vote in the riding over the four elections. She gained about 2600 votes during the Conservative civil war, commonly known as the ABC campaign in 2008.
The most striking changes are in the Conservative and New Democrat vote. Basically the two parties have traded places.
In 2004, when the provincial Conservatives held back from completely supporting the federal party, Loyal Hearn held the seat for the Conservatives. Hearn increased his vote total in 2006 when the provincial Conservatives openly supported their federal cousins. In 2008, the civil war destroyed the connection between the two almost completely.
Take a look at the New Democrat number in that election and you can tell where the homeless Conservatives went. The bulk of them went to Cleary. Some others stayed home. A few went to Coady, likely the result of direct appeals by provincial Conservative cabinet ministers and members of the provincial legislature.
The 2008 vote total is the lowest of the four elections and the total for the four elections is actually fairly consistent over time. That strongly suggests that new voters didn’t enter the field suddenly in 2008. Rather, existing Conservative voters opted for the New Democrats instead of the Liberals.
That same trend continued into 2011. The other part of the change was Loyola Sullivan who appears to have attracted old Conservatives back or pulled them away from Coady. The new voters into the system were either old Conservatives who came back or some new voting from people who had not voted in the preceding four elections.
In 2011, the NDP vote increased by 4684. Conservative vote increased by 4539. That’s a combined total of 9,223. Liberal vote dropped by 3,799. Total vote for all three parties increased by 5,430. That’s a total of 9,229.
There are a couple of things one can say about all this:
First, there is no way of knowing with absolute certainty which voters moved where and whether the increased total in 2011 came from new voters, old voters coming back or a combination of the two. There just isn’t any information that would let anyone figure it out conclusively.
Second, given the overall consistency in the total votes for the three parties, it is more likely that the changes in NDP support came from vote moving from the Conservatives to the New Democrats than from Liberals or from new voters.
Third, the result in St. John’s South-Mount Pearl isn’t part of any national trend toward the New Democrats. The 2011 result came from a trend that began before the 2011 campaign.
Fourth, since the federal NDP voters in 2011 appear to be coming predominantly from provincial Conservatives, it is highly unlikely the New Democrats can translate their federal success into significant changes at the provincial level.
The party may have a good cadre of workers. They simply don’t have a reliable pool of voters who consistently vote for the same party federally and provincially. The NDP won St. John’s South-Mount pearl by appealing to swing voters. By definition, they are liable to swing in the future. What could make them swing would be a good subject for further, detailed research.
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