The 2015 Canadian federal election: Do demographics tell the tale?

So, what happened on Oct. 19 to sweep Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservatives from power, and install in their place a Liberal majority government led by Prime Minister-designate Justin Trudeau?

In an effort to figure that out, I stayed up late Friday night and into the early hours of Saturday morning, downloading data from the 2011 National Household Survey for 70 random federal constituencies — a little more than 20 percent of the total — based on their 2013 boundaries, and incorporated the latest Elections Canada vote counts.

Then, after getting some sleep, I used a common spreadsheet technique called the Pearson Correlation  — no relation to the former prime minister by that name — to measure the closeness of the relationship between each party’s vote count in those 70 constituencies and different aspects of their demographic composition. The Pearson Correlation uses a scale from -1.00 to +1.00. The closer the correlation is to the extreme ends of the scale, the tighter the apparent relationship.

What jumps out about the Liberal Party is the way in which it tended to do better in constituencies with larger concentrations of university graduates, suggesting the possibility that either this was a group that felt particularly attracted to the Liberals, or just more averse to the other parties.

A solid relationship also seems to exist between the size of the Liberal vote and the number of residents being of various Middle Eastern ancestries, and the finance and insurance sector workforce in the area.

On the other hand, agricultural or resource sector employment, and trades training, seemed to have a negative effect on the size of the Liberal vote, suggesting lingering memories of Pierre Trudeau’s strained relations with these groups continues to have an effect. Some might be surprised to hear that the size of the local Indigenous community tended to have a negative effect on the size of the Liberal vote.

The Conservative vote tended to be higher in constituencies with larger Western and Northern European ancestry populations, and in those with larger non-Catholic Christian populations, recalling Mr. Harper’s comments about “old-stock Canadians”. Yet the Conservatives also tended to do better when the number of constituents of Eastern European ancestry was larger, suggesting the Conservatives’ core messages might resonate well with these groups. Unsurprisingly, larger concentrations of six-digit income households, and of management occupations, also tended to be associated with a larger Conservative vote.

The size of the French-speaking population in a riding stood out as being the factor most negatively associated with the size of the Conservative vote, as did the size of the local Catholic population, suggesting the Conservatives might need to make amends to both as it moves into the post-Harper era.  Unsurprisingly, the concentration of low-income households also appeared to have a depressing effect on the Conservative vote.

As for the NDP, virtually everything that seemed to work to their candidates’ favour, and to their detriment, was related directly or indirectly to income. The NDP tended to do better in constituencies with larger numbers of households earning less than $60,000; and their fortunes seemed to be particularly well-tied to the concentration of households in the $10,000 to $14,999 range. But higher incomes, larger average family sizes and higher rental housing costs and home sizes appeared to depress the NDP vote.

The Bloc Québécois tended to do better in constituencies with higher concentrations of born-and-raised Quebeckers, and worse in those with larger immigrant communities, following a long-standing fault line in Québécois politics. Larger concentrations of trades workers and health care workers also seemed to work a little bit to the BQ’s favour, suggesting this is a party with some of the working-class appeal traditionally associated with the NDP in the rest of Canada.

One of the curiosities of the Green vote is that it seems to be positively associated with the size of the Danish and Finnish-speaking populations: a spurious correlation, or a sign that this party that has often expressed Nordic sentiments has some appeal to those with Nordic roots? The Green vote also seems to be higher when the concentration of people with no religious affiliation is higher, which might be counterintuitive given leader Elizabeth May’s well-known Christian faith, but perhaps less so if one sees the Greens as the freethinkers of Canadian politics, averse to the demands of loyalty and conformity that have traditionally shaped Canadian political parties.

And finally, the vote itself. Voter turnout tended to rise with average and median incomes, and to be lower in constituencies with relatively high concentrations of social benefits recipients and people with very low levels of formal education. While low voter turnout is often assumed to be a “youth problem”, it also appears to be a “poverty problem”.

If you are one of those rare people who gets a kick out of scanning through a table full of correlations, feel free to go nuts here.

 

Constituencies included: Abitibi Temiscamingue, Acadie Bathurst, Ajax, Alfred-Pellan, Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing, Aurora-Oak Ridges-Richmond Hill, Barrie-Innisfil, Barrie Springwater, Battlefords-Lloydminster, Beausejour, Berthier-Maskinonge, Bow River, Brampton East, Brampton North, Brandon-Souris, Brome-Missisquoi, Burlington, Calgary-Shepard, Calgary Signal Hill, Cariboo-Prince George, , Chicoutimi-le-Fjord, Cowichan Malahat, Dartmouth-Cole Harbour, Don Valley West, Edmonton Mill Woods, Elgin-Middlesex-London, Essex, Etobicoke Centre, Grande Prairie-Mackenzie, Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes, Hull-Aylmer, Humber River-Black Creek, Joliette, Kamloops-Thompson-Cariboo, Laurier-Sainte Marie, Lethbridge, London North Centre, London West, Madawaska, Marc-Aurele-Fortin, Mirabel, Mississauga Lakeshore, Mississauga-Malton, Montmagny, Nanaimo Ladysmith, Nepean, New Brunswick Southwest, Newmarket-Aurora, Niagara West, Oakville-North Burlington, Oshawa, Ottawa Centre, Parry Sound-Muskoka, Port Moody-Coquitlam, Regina Lewvan, Repentigny, Richmond Centre, Rosemont-la-Petite-Patrie, Sackville-Preston, Saskatoon University, St. Boniface-St. Vital, Therese-de-Blainville, Toronto Danforth, Vancouver East, Vaudreuil-Soulanges, Vimy, Whitby, Winnipeg North, York Centre, and Yorkton-Melville.

Voting strategically: Is it worth it?

By the time polls close in the Oct. 19 Canadian federal election, roughly 15 million Canadians will have cast their ballots to elect 338 members of the House of Commons, an average of nearly 45,000 votes per constituency. During the campaign, there have been suggestions from time to time that voters in certain constituencies should “vote strategically”, usually with the goal of blocking the Conservative candidate from winning, though nothing stops what would otherwise be a Conservative voter from casting their own strategic vote in an attempt to block a New Democrat, Liberal, Bloquiste or Green from being elected.

This might be no problem if a candidate you genuinely like has been endorsed. But what if you find yourself leaning toward a third candidate — either as a candidate you really would like to see elected, or as the best of a bad lot — but worry that your least-preferred candidate might win if you don’t vote for a compromise candidate?

Put yourself in the position of a voter in the completely fictional riding of Waskaiowaka Centre. This voter logs on to her Twitter account one day, and finds out that a poll of 400 voters in the constituency shows a dead heat:

Big Party #1 — 35%

Big Party #2 — 35%

Medium Party — 26%

Minor Party — 3%

Fringe Party — 1%

Our voter doesn’t care much for the two big parties, and has been so far leaning toward the Minor Party because it has some interesting ideas and hasn’t been in her face as much as the other parties. But she particularly dislikes Big Party #1, the incumbent Member of Parliament’s party, and wants to see it lose the parliamentary seat.

So, she considers putting aside her doubts, holding her nose as it were, and voting for Big Party #2.

Is it worth it?

Using a spreadsheet, I generated 1,000 possible random scenarios based on the percentages given above, allowing for a bit of random deviation of up to a few percentage points to either side.

Big Party #1 wins between 13,400 and 18,529 votes (average: 16,031), and wins the seat in 527 of the 1,000 scenarios.

Big Party #2 wins between 13,391 and 18,520 votes (average: 15,940), and wins the seat in 473 of the 1,000 scenarios.

The Medium Party wins between 9,945 and 13,764 votes (average: 11,798).

The Minor Party wins between 1,148 and 1,588 votes (average: 1,363).

The Fringe Party wins between 383 and 529 votes (average: 454).

The winning party’s margin of victory ranges from 1 vote to 4,993 votes.

If one sets the threshold for one’s vote as having made a significant positive or negative difference if the margin of victory is 100 votes or less, that occurred in just 36 of the 1,000 scenarios, or just 3.6 percent of the time.

If one sets the threshold for one’s vote as having significantly affected the outcome at the margin of victory being 20 votes or less, that outcome occurred in just 10 of the 1,000 scenarios, or just one percent of the time, despite the close race in Waskaiowaka Centre.

It is up to each voter to make his or her own decision. The case for voting strategically is clearly a compelling one for some voters, given the amount of organization that has gone into strategic voting efforts during the 2015 Canadian election campaign. But if you are wrestling with whether to vote strategically or with your conscience, the odds of your vote being equivalent to one percent or even five percent of the victor’s margin in even a tight race are small enough that you need not fear voting with your conscience.

That we’ve come to all this suggests that, no matter who forms the government after next week’s election, it’s time to give Canadians a free and equal choice between first-past-the-post, the various forms of proportional representation and instant-runoff voting.

Understanding narcissism vital to understanding politics

Former U.S. president Bill Clinton: "a self-destructive narcissist, although he's so fatally charming" in the words of the author of "The Narcissist Next Door".

Former U.S. president Bill Clinton: “a self-destructive narcissist, although he’s so fatally charming” in the words of the author of “The Narcissist Next Door”.

If civics education in high school today is anything like the way it was when I was in high school, it remains nearly useless for creating well-informed, critical-thinking voters. It could basically have been summarized as: nice, ordinary people like us elect other nice ordinary people to sit in a big room in Ottawa called the House of Commons, making the people’s laws and holding the government to account.

Their work, we were told, is reviewed by some fancier people called Senators, and if things go well, a bill becomes law with the assent of the Governor-General, who represents the Queen, a free-floating celebrity whose role even a teacher could not coherently describe.

Having taught us the basic theory of how Canadian democracy is supposed to work, the teacher’s duty was done. At no time were students encouraged to be skeptics. And the human factors that occasionally brought a politician’s downfall through scandal? Irrelevant.

Yet human factors are important. In theory, people who run for public office are concerned citizens just like us who want to make a difference. Though this is often true in practice, the reality is much more complicated.

Consider the words of Alan Greenspan, the chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve and thus America’s top banker from 1987 to 2006. His tenure spanned the terms of four presidents, each of whom relied on him as an advisor. But Greenspan had also personally known two earlier presidents, making him one of a select few to have known a total of six U.S. presidents.

“Nixon was the extreme,” Greenspan wrote in his 2007 memoir, The Age of Turbulence, describing the 1969-74 Republican president as “an extremely smart man” but also shown by the Watergate scandal to have been “sadly paranoid, misanthropic, and cynical”. In private, Greenspan found Nixon so crude that his language “would have made Tony Soprano blush”.

“But I came to see that people who are on the top of the political heap are really different,” Greenspan continued. “Jerry Ford was as close to normal as you get in a president, but he never was elected.”

“There’s a constitutional amendment that I’ve been pushing for years without success,” he adds. “It says, ‘Anyone willing to do what is required to become president of the United States is thereby barred from taking that office.'”

“I’m only half joking.”

Greenspan had revealed a truth. Politics is a career that attracts a disproportionate number of highly narcissistic personalities: people who have a hunger for power or adulation so deeply rooted in their personalities that they are willing to make the harsh sacrifices of a political career to satisfy it — the 60-70 hour weeks, the public criticism, the invasions of privacy, the strained (and often destroyed) marriages, and everything else.

Narcissism is a normal human behaviour to at least some degree, as a scroll through a Facebook feed can attest, but is deemed by the American Psychiatric Association to be problematic when it begins to be expressed as “a pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, and lack of empathy.”

Politics, with its grand ceremonies, opportunities to cross paths with the famous and powerful, and reliance on the public’s admiration for success, makes for an ideal stage.

“…[W]hat typically drives [politicians] is a lust for power, prestige, status, and authority,” U.S. psychologist Leon Seltzer wrote in a 2011 commentary on the Psychology Today web site. “As senator or congressman the whole nation has become one huge ‘narcissistic supply’ for them. That is, the ego gratifications available simply from residing in congress are truly extraordinary: such an unusually prestigious role can’t but pump up their self-esteem to levels that further confirm their bloated sense of self.”

“Bill Clinton was a self-destructive narcissist, although he’s so fatally charming, which is also one of the narcissist’s great traits — a sort of lethal charisma — that we forgave him a great deal,” said Jeffrey Kluger, the author of The Narcissist Next Door, in a 2014 video interview.

“Barack Obama certainly would score high if he were to sit down and take the Narcissistic Personality Inventory. He sought the presidency after only two years in the Senate, he clearly believed that he could achieve high office — he did achieve high office. Unlike some narcissists, he doesn’t seem terribly comfortable in the public eye, or at least terribly comfortable mingling with people.”

Yet some politicians were able to harness their own narcissism effectively.

“Ronald Reagan, I think, is a very, very good example of perhaps the most highly functional narcissist who’s ever been at least in our political system,” Kluger notes. “It was narcissism, a healthy narcissism, that pushed him into movies; it was healthy narcissism that pushed him into politics.”

Indeed, the public might have to accept that the price of having leaders in any form is to be able to live with their narcissism.

“Narcissistic leaders are often skillful orators, and this is one of the talents that makes them so charismatic,” a 2000 Harvard Business Review article (republished in 2004) by American psychoanalyst-anthropologist Michael Maccoby noted. “Indeed, anyone who has seen narcissists perform can attest to their personal magnetism and their ability to stir enthusiasm among audiences.”

“Although it is not always obvious, narcissistic leaders are quite dependent on their followers—they need affirmation, and preferably adulation,” Maccoby continues, noting that this can give leaders the confidence to pursue their goals — or set them on the path to disaster:

“But the very adulation that the narcissist demands can have a corrosive effect. As he expands, he listens even less to words of caution and advice. After all, he has been right before, when others had their doubts. Rather than try to persuade those who disagree with him, he feels justified in ignoring them—creating further isolation. The result is sometimes flagrant risk taking that can lead to catastrophe.”

This could be used to justify changes to Canada’s parliamentary system at both the federal and provincial level that would strengthen independent oversight of the executives’ actions, from requiring that party leaders hold the confidence of caucus and not just the infrequently engaged party membership at all times, to formally protecting the independence of even governing-party legislators from prime ministerial and cabinet interference, as the Swedish parliamentary system does.

Either change would give legislators more latitude to rein in an over-the-top narcissist who happens to be installed in the top job.

Helpful too would be better public understanding of narcissism’s inevitable role in public life, especially as we enter the final weeks of Canada’s three-way, too-close-to-call federal election race.

In addition to carefully evaluating each party’s offerings, the voting public would be doing itself a favour by assessing everyone from the party leaders down to their local candidates and the talking heads each camp parades before the TV cameras, trying to discern who has a healthier form of narcissism, who has a more harmful one, and thinking through the implications for the country.

But let there be no doubt: narcissism will always be a factor in politics.

“Even our greatest and most humble people — Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King — had to have had narcissistic components to their personality. They gravitated toward attention, they gravitated toward crowds,” noted Kluger.

“If we believe that they didn’t get a charge out of standing before a crowd of half a million people . . . and moving an entire nation with their words, well, we don’t really understand human nature then if that’s what we think.”

 

Related:

Jerrold Post, founding director of the CIA’s Center for the Analysis of Personality and Political Behavior, discusses his book Narcissism and Politics (YouTube, 1 hr.)

Why a “Netflix Tax”, in the form of GST, might be coming no matter who becomes Prime Minister

A Conservative Party video suggests Liberal leader Justin Trudeau (left) and NDP leader Thomas Mulcair (right) are eager to impose a "Netflix Tax". But does the application of GST, which the incumbent government expressed interest in, count?

A Conservative Party video suggests Liberal leader Justin Trudeau (left) and NDP leader Thomas Mulcair (right) are eager to impose a “Netflix Tax”. But does the application of GST, which the incumbent government expressed interest in, count?

During an election campaign, one gets used to hearing all kinds of absurd, over-the-top rhetoric from the professional manipulators otherwise known as party leaders and their campaign staffs.  So, when Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper vowed on the campaign trail this past week to block Liberal leader Justin Trudeau and NDP leader Thomas Mulcair from imposing a “Netflix tax”, it was fairly easy to brush it off initially as yet another bit of daft nonsense one can expect from a mid-summer election campaign.

Out of curiosity, though, I decided to look up “Netflix Tax” on Google to see if any other jurisdiction had ever imposed one. Sure enough, just last month, the City of Chicago announced a nine-percent tax on “electronically delivered amusements” that many are referring to as a “Netflix Tax”. It comes into effect Sept. 1, and is intended to improve the dreadful state of the city’s finances.

Then another case caught my eye, this one from Australia, whose conservative Liberal-National governments under prime ministers John Howard (1996-2007) and Tony Abbott (2013-present) have long been a source of ideas and advice for the Conservative Party here in Canada.

This past May, the Australian federal treasurer, Joe Hockey — a man whose name alone would make him a star here in hockey-mad Canada — announced that Australians will need to begin paying 10-percent GST on international digital purchases beginning in 2017. As the Australian media company News Limited reported:

The move, dubbed the “Netflix tax,” would see the GST expanded to cover digital purchases from overseas companies, potentially raising the price of Amazon e-books, Steam online games, Tidal music subscriptions, and apps from Microsoft and BlackBerry by 10 per cent.

The scheme would not begin until July 2017, however, and would not affect international companies already collecting the GST from Australian consumers, including Apple and Spotify.

Federal Treasurer Joe Hockey said the move would “level the playing field” for Australia-based businesses delivering digital content.

“It is unfair that overseas-based business selling services into Australia may not charge GST when local businesses have to charge GST,” Mr Hockey said.

“A local business that employs Australians, pays rent in Australia, pays tax in Australia, and helps build our economy is disadvantaged by the current system.”

Similar issues have been raised here in Canada in the recent past. The Canadian government’s own 2014 Budget pledged to look into “cross-border tax integrity issues, such as ensuring the effective collection of sales tax on e-commerce sales to Canadians by foreign-based vendors.”

As the Globe and Mail reported in January 2015, one of the vendors that could be among the targets of this 2014 budgetary vow could be Netflix, which officially is not “carrying on business” in Canada and is therefore not compelled to collect GST.

But there is a difference between not being required to collect GST and being GST-free. As the Globe and Mail report went on to note:

In theory, when foreign companies don’t charge sales tax, it is up to each consumer to self-report digital purchases from abroad and pay HST or GST, though virtually no one does.

“These digital supplies are already taxable,” Rogers writes in a submission to government, decrying “the competitive disadvantage in the digital economy for Canadian domestic suppliers which must charge GST/HST to Canadian consumers.” Rogers, for example, recently launched a streaming service called Shomi, which costs $8.99 a month, plus tax.

And it is an idea that has had its fans within the incumbent government:

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development agrees the best solution is to compel companies to register and collect sales taxes in the countries where they make sales. Such measures are part of a larger OECD tax plan presented to G20 finance ministers in the summer of 2013, aimed at combatting tax-base erosion and profit-shifting.

In Canada, the notion of taxing digital sales from abroad gained traction with the government in the fall of 2013, under then-finance minister Jim Flaherty. But it burst onto the European Union’s agenda more than a decade earlier over fears that companies might move offshore to stay competitive.

The notion of expanding GST to include digital services such as Netflix is not necessarily a bad one. Like many affluent nations, Canada has a growing population of pensioners, in absolute numbers and as a percentage of the population, who will become more reliant on costly government services at the same time as their income tax and sales tax payments drop significantly.

For instance, Statistics Canada data shows that in households where the key financial decision-maker was between the ages of 55 and 64, the average household income taxes paid were $16,189 in 2013. In households where the key financial decision-maker was aged 65 or older: just $8,097.

Other wholly or partially taxable household expenditures that were, on average, more than $1,000 lower in 2013 among the 65-plus group than they were among the 55-to-64 group: total food expenditures (-$1,668), shelter (-$3,838), household operations (-$1,028), clothing and accessories (-$1,286), transportation (-$4,624), recreation (-$1,483) and education (-$1,088). Overall, total household consumption was on average $16,810 lower among the households where the key financial decision maker was aged 65-plus than it was when that decision-maker was aged 55 to 64.

If Canada is going to have a prosperous economy in the future, it also needs a healthy and well-educated workforce; it needs transportation systems that gets goods to market and both imports and exports to where they need to go promptly; it needs a border that is secure against various threats, but at the same time not delaying harmless people or goods needlessly; it needs local roads and public transit systems that get employees to and from work and customers to and from businesses; and it needs places where people can leave their children while they work, even if this is evening or weekend work. All of that is going to require government spending to at least some degree.

At the same time, as the fierce response to even a modest one-point rise in the Manitoba provincial sales tax in 2013 showed, there are high political costs to be paid for raising the rates that show up on the sales receipt.

Therefore, much like the airlines, governments have high fixed costs and yet struggle to exert pricing power. Thus the path of least resistance to raising the revenue that is needed to pay the bills for the services that people won’t tolerate being deprived of is to move sideways instead of tackling the issue head-on: by eliminating exemptions and giveaways, charging more fines, unbundling the core product, packing people more tightly into existing space, and replacing less complicated forms of human labour with technology wherever possible.

As the population ages, making the revenues add up to what is needed to pay for the bills that Canadian governments cannot easily get out of paying will only get more difficult. Whether this October’s election produces a Prime Minister Harper, a Prime Minister Mulcair or a Prime Minister Trudeau — or, though the odds are extremely long, a Prime Minister May —  the urge to apply GST to Netflix and other foreign-based digital services might be virtually impossible to resist.