Battling ennui – and winning an election

March 24th, 2008
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A good friend of mine used to remark that Albertans don’t really need or want a real government, just a set of competent managers. I had to think of that observation while commuting past the umpteenth enormous road-construction project in Calgary this morning. The landslide re-election of the Progressive Conservatives under Ed Stemach seem to confirm the statement – which seems worthy of becoming an aphorism if a few more people would circulate it.

The pundits seemed to notice no contradiction in their mental yo-yoing between boldly detecting/predicting a general hunger for change and bitter lamentations of voter “apathy” – which would hardly seem to go together.

In fact the results strongly suggest that what most voters want (for better or worse) is credibly competent, centrist management. And the turnout, as a recent election analysis by Dimitri Pantazopoulous of Praxicus Public Strategies Inc. argues, is consistent with that impulse. Rather than terrible, the turnout was decidedly mediocre – which suggests neither burning zeal for change nor languid ennui. Rather, the middle: moderate satisfaction with the current government.

Pantazopoulous’s analysis suggest we should place a decided emphasis on the moderateness of the intensity. Voting patterns show that the electorate could be enticed to go either way. Whichever party hustled hard, his numbers indicate, got the vote. Writes Pantazopoulous:

…the results indicate that the PCs won because they were able to get out their vote, while the opposition voters were complacent (In fact, in the two cases where the Liberals were able to substantially increase voter turnout, they won).

Indeed, there were 65,000 more votes cast in 2008 than in the previous election in 2004. But far from capitalizing on the opportunity, the opposition lost votes:

The PC Party of Alberta received 84,100 more votes in 2008 than they received in 2004. By comparison, the Liberals received 10,900 fewer votes and the NDP received 9,800 fewer votes…

In the two ridings the Liberals picked-up, the total vote increased by 3,900 votes and the Liberals gained 3,100 votes. By contrast the PC vote increased by 1,200 votes in these ridings. In other words, the Liberal key to success was to outpace the PCs in voter turnout…

The Liberal losses were not only due to a swing of Liberal voters to the PC Party. In the nine seats where the Liberals lost to the PCs, the Liberal vote declined by 7,000 votes. However, the PC vote increased by 13,200 votes.

In sum, the PC vote went up in general, it went up a lot in ridings the PCs picked up, and it went up bit only a bit in ridings the PCs lost. The Liberal vote went down, it plummeted in Liberal-incumbent ridings that the party lost, but it went up in the few ridings the Liberals picked up.

It’s not only a strange-seeming outcome in a province in which the opposition parties swore up and down that people were hungry for change – it’s also a strangely fought election. Why, if they had a historic opportunity, was the New Democrats’ and, especially, the Liberals’ campaign so weak? Victory strongly appears to have hinged on doing the best job in milking the relatively meagre voting pool. An advertising type might describe it as a case of fighting for “market share” in a “stagnant legacy industry”. It seems the opposition pols themselves lacked the conviction and intensity to get out their own vote – almost as if they don’t see Alberta as being particularly ill-managed after all.

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