27 February 2012

Campaign Spending and Efficiency #nlpoli

Two of the three political parties in this province are spending more, on average, and getting less, on average in by-elections.

That’s one of the things you can see in an assessment of a decades worth of by-elections from 2001 to 2011.

Last week, SRBP gave you a teaser of a look at the idea of cost per vote, as measure of campaign efficiency and effectiveness.  As the name implies it tells you how much each campaign spent for each vote it received. The information for the assessment comes entirely from financial reports and by-election vote reports issued by the province’s chief electoral officer.

There were 21 by-elections during that time.  You can break them up into three phases or time periods.  Phase One covers the by-elections between 2001 and the general election in 2003.  Phase Two covers the by-elections from 2004 to 2007.  Phase Three runs from 2008 until the 2011 general election.

The charts below show the average spending and votes received by the three main parties with the resulting cost per vote in each of the three  phases.  We’ll look at the phases individually in other posts.


From Phase One to Phase Two, average Liberal spending on by-elections dropped 64% from an average of around $37,000 to about $13,500. In Phase Three they were spending about $20,000 less per by-election than they were when they were in power.

In the shift from being the opposition to government, Conservative average spending climbed from about $27,000 to $40,700.  It’s a jump of about 51%.

The average NDP spending over the same two periods went up from $2118 to $10,069.

The NDP and the Conservatives spent more in Phase Three than they did in Phase One.  Even the Liberals, who dropped significantly by the second phase had boosted their spending by the third phase to hit $17,663 per by-election on average.

What they got for their efforts is shown in the comparison of average votes received.


The most dramatic changes are at the beginning.  Both the average Tory and average Grit vote per by-election dropped precipitously from Phase One to Phase Two.  The Conservatives went down 30% while the Liberals went down 42%.

Dipper support climbed from 132 votes, on average, to 576.

The Liberal slide continued into Phase Three.  They dropped another 200 votes and took an average 1,000 per by-election in Phase Three.


The line that stands out is the orange one.  The NDP are getting more votes and they are spending more money on average to get them.  But the cost per vote is also climbing.  In the third phase, the NDP was spending $20.23 per vote compared to $16.05 before 2003.

The Conservatives saw a huge increase in their cost per vote by the second phase.  Incumbency effectively doubled their CPV from $8.15 to $17.65.

In Phase Three, the Tory CPV was $15.70.  It’s the lowest of the three parties, but not by much. By Phase Three, the Liberals are back close to their pre-2003 CPV with $17.64.  That’s nothing to cheer about.

Those Phase Three CPV numbers suggest that all three parties have problems getting their messages across or aligning with public opinion.  Remember, the lower the CPV is, the better you are doing.

Still, you can see some indication of what came in the 2011 general election if you look at Phase Three compared to Phase Two:
  • The Tories spent 8% less and got 3% more votes. They’ve got a relatively better position than the others and that helps keep them in power.
  • The Grits spent 31% more and got 17% less in the vote department.  That’s all sorts of bad news.
  • The Dippers spent 5% less and got 18% less in votes.  Again, that should be all sorts of news, most of which isn’t good. 
Once Elections NL releases the 2011 general election financial reports, SRBP can do a comparison for all three general elections since the turn of the century.  We can also cross reference the general elections with the by-elections to see if there are any things that turn up.

In the next post on CPV, we will take a look at the three phases broken down by urban and rural by-elections.
- srbp -
*edited to correct typos