30 April 2019

Voter Turn-out and Popular Vote Shares of Parties, 1949 - 2019 #nlpoli

Election turn-out has been declining steadily for provincial elections since the mid-1990s.  The 2019 general election is on track to show a record low turn-out at 44% of eligible voters.
Party share of eligible vote had declined in the same period.  The Liberal victory in 2015 went against the pattern since Confederation of an increased turn-out in an election in which the government changes hands.
In the 70 years since Confederation, provincial voter turn-out has varied in each election.

Turnout tended to be highest when there was a well-contested election such as on three occasions when the government changed hands.  The exception to this rule was 2015 when turn-out dropped from the previous election.

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In 1989, turn-out was higher than the previous election but, curiously enough, in the hotly contested election of 1993,  turn-out actually went up.  That was the third-highest turn-out since Confederation, falling only five percentage points behind the 1971 general election that effectively ended Joe Smallwood’s reign as Premier.

There was a slight uptick in turn-out in 2003, but what is unmistakable is the steady trend downward of turn-out since the peak in 1993 (the green arrow).  The 2019 projection – based on MQO’s last poll for NTV  - would put turn-out in the general election at 44%.  Turn-out might be higher than that, but the signs are pointing toward a record low turn-out even if it does not reach below 50% of eligible voters.

Party Share of Eligible Vote

While opinion polls and popular commentary tend to focus on popular vote - the share a party gets of people who actually voted - it is sometimes useful to look the share a party gets of all votes. This is the equivalent of looking at party choice as the share of all responses to a poll, not just the decideds.

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The black dotted line in the chart shows the turn-out in each election as a share of the eligible vote.  The party shares are shown in the appropriate colours.

In the period after 1972,  the Liberals, Conservatives, and New Democrats occupied fairly consistent shares of the eligible vote. Starting in 2003, though, the Liberal and NDP shares shrank considerably while the Conservative sustained the same level of support for two elections that the Liberals had enjoyed roughly a decade earlier.

Look at 2011, though.  The Conservatives won a majority government with 10% less of the eligible vote.  And on top of that the Liberals were just no longer a competitive political party.  There was a wholesale collapse of support for the party.

Now look at 2015.  The Conservatives and the Liberals changed place in support.  Dwight Ball won the same share of eligible vote as Kathy Dunderdale.  Notice as well that the turnout in the election dropped during this whole time as well, except for a minor uptick in 2003.  Not only were people not going to the polls but support for the governing party and for the opposition parties shrank as well.

The 2019 forecast numbers are the last poll MQO did before the election for NTV.  Turnout would be 44%.  The Liberals were 10 points below where they were in 2015.  The Conservatives would be roughly one percentage above where they were.