23 February 2012

Cost per vote: by-elections #nlpoli

One measure of campaign efficiency and effectiveness is comparing the amount a campaign spends for the number of votes it receives.

It’s called cost-per-vote.

Here’s a comparison of the cost per vote for each of the three political parties in a string of by-elections over the past three years.  From left to right, they are:

  • Straits-White Bay North
  • Terra Nova
  • Topsail
  • Conception Bay East-Bell Island
  • Humber West


Basically you judge CPV this way: the lower the number, the better. No matter whether your party is the incumbent or one of the outs, you want to spend as little money as possible to get your votes in the box.  That just reflects a basic notion about spending money efficiently.  Money, like people and time, is precious.

Just so that you don’t get turned around here, we are not talking about winning or losing.  Spending the most per vote doesn’t necessarily guarantee success at the polls. In fact, you can spend the most per vote and get clobbered.

In the four by-elections they won, the Tories spent the least amount per vote compared to the other parties. In three of the by-elections, the variation was marginal. In Humber West, for example, the Conservatives spent $21.50 per vote compared to the Liberals $23.48. The New Democrats spent $28.29.

In the one by-election in this series they lost (Straits-White Bay North in 2009), the Conservatives spent $30.96 per vote compared to $19.61 per vote for the Liberals.  The NDP spent $37.50.

Take a look at the three by-elections in between those two extremes and you’ll see other extremes.  The Tory CPV  in Topsail was a mere $6.15.  In Terra Nova it was $11.53.

One of the reasons for this is that the Tories didn’t have to ship in large numbers of campaign workers a long distance from St. John’s in order to effect the win.  In both Humber West and the Straits, the Tories’ centrally controlled campaign system meant they had to pay cash to cover the travel and accommodations of their workers.

They didn’t have to do that in the two by-elections closest to Sin Jawns.  And not surprisingly, that’s the two where the Tory CPV was less than 10 bucks.

As noted here after the Humber West by-election, the Tories poured a heavy effort into hanging onto the seat.  Now that we have actual financial details, we can see that the Tories were relatively more efficient in CPV terms. 

But notice how close together the three parties were.

That’s interesting.

It will get more interesting when you look at the trends in cost-per-vote over the past decade and a bit.  That’s for another post.

- srbp -