Anthony Koch: The CPC's electoral math is clear, no matter how much they may hate it
The Conservatives waste far too much time and effort pandering and aligning the party towards parts of the country that already vote for it with enormous margins.
In the last few weeks, many a columnist and political commentator have chimed in to give their take on what Erin O’Toole and the Conservative party need to do in order to win the next election and present a vision that is palatable to the broader Canadian public (with particular emphasis on the Greater Toronto Area).
That includes Ken Boessenkool’s recent piece here at The Line, noting the advantages (and limited risk) of a Conservative climate plan that includes a carbon tax, and Jen Gerson’s column urging O’Toole to crush the far-right fringe in the party before it devours the rest.
These are two examples, and there have been others, but a general consensus seems to have emerged around the idea that in recent years the Conservative party has become increasingly hyperfocused on “the base” to the detriment of their ability to appeal to the swing voters who decide elections in this country. Rather than just offering my opinion alongside the others, I decided to dig deeper and look at the data.
What I found was interesting. I shared my findings first on Twitter, but also collected them here. They’ll be of particular interest for Conservative strategists, but the broader public may also be interested in these 13 facts from the 2019 election that are essential to understanding the political realities faced by the CPC.
1. Of the 20 closest ridings (in terms of percentage of popular vote) the Liberals won 15. The CPC won three and the Bloc Québécois won two.
2. Every single one of the 20 largest blowouts (again, as a percentage of vote share) were in ridings won by Conservatives.
3. The margins in those 20 ridings range from an absolutely absurd 80.5 per cent in Battle River-Crowfoot to a less absurd but still nuts 61.6 per cent in Sherwood Park-Fort Saskatchewan. I want to be clear here, these figures do not represent the percentage of the vote earned by the Conservative candidate in those ridings, but rather the percentage that candidate received minus the percentage received by their closest competitor. In Battle River-Crowfoot, Conservative candidate Damien Kurek won 85.5 per cent of the total vote; NDP candidate Natasha Fryzuk locked up second-place with … 5.1 per cent.
4. The largest total vote share in any riding for any candidate of any party was the above-mentioned Kurek in Battle River-Crowfoot.
5. The largest percentage of the vote received by a Liberal candidate was the 62.19 per cent captured by Gary Anandasangaree in Toronto’s Scarborough-Rouge Park.
6. The number of Conservative ridings won with over 80 per cent of the vote was 10, and those 10 seats constituted 8.2 per cent of the total Conservative caucus.
7. The number of Liberal ridings won with over 80 per cent of the vote was precisely zero.
8. The number of Conservative ridings won with over 70 per cent of the vote was 27, and these 27 seats made up 22.3 per cent of the total Conservative caucus.
9. The number of Liberal ridings won with over 70 per cent of the vote was … also zero.
10. The number of Conservative ridings won with over 60 per cent of the vote was 39, and these 39 seats made up 32.3 per cent of the total Conservative caucus.
11. The number of Liberal ridings won with over 60 per cent of the vote was five, and these five seats made up 3.2 per cent of the total Liberal caucus.
12. The number of Conservative ridings won with over 50 per cent of the vote, an outright majority of ballots cast, was 57, and these 57 seats made up 47.1 per cent of the total Conservative caucus. Almost half of the entire CPC caucus won their riding with a majority of the local votes.
13. The number of of Liberal ridings won with over 50 per cent of the vote, an outright majority of the ballots cast, was 54, and these 54 seats made up 34.3 per cent of the Liberal caucus.
When margins of victory are factored in, it becomes clear that roughly half of the Conservative caucus could effectively turn into blue mailboxes and still win their ridings with substantial majorities.
In a first-past-the-post electoral system, where power is determined by the number of seats won and not the number of total votes received, it makes no difference whether the Conservative party (or any party) wins a riding with 80 per cent of the vote or 40 per cent of the vote. The CPC could literally sweep every riding it won, running up a huge popular vote win, but it wouldn’t matter if they didn’t win the totality of enough ridings.
And this is their challenge. The CPC voter spread/voter concentration is a major problem, especially when compared with the relative vote efficiency of the Liberals. The data clearly supports the notion that the Conservatives waste far too much time and effort pandering and aligning the party towards parts of the country that already vote for it with enormous margins. It would be strategically sound to metaphorically “sacrifice” a portion (potentially even a large portion) of those voters in order to compete for an extra 5-10 per cent of the vote in ridings elsewhere … notably the Toronto area and Atlantic Canada.
This is a tough pill to swallow for many Conservatives. But the math is clear. Conservatives and westerners can hate the demographic and political reality of this country all they — we! — want. Many of the arguments they’d raise would be entirely fair. But the arguments and gripes won’t change the fact that given the electoral system we have, and the results at the ballot box that are plain for all to see, Conservatives will continue to lose if we don’t at the very least risk losing some support in the Conservative heartland in order to make gains in the parts of the country that elect prime ministers.
There is simply no other route to a Conservative victory, and the Liberals know it. We need to accept it, too.
Anthony Koch has worked on Parliament Hill, was a key member of the movement to oust Andrew Scheer, is a former campaign surrogate for Erin O’Toole and currently serves as Managing Principal of AK Strategies. Find him on Twitter here.
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