What “vote efficiency” might mean to Manitoba in 2015-16

The 2011 Manitoba election was, based on seat counts, a huge win for Premier Greg Selinger’s NDP, which won 37 seats, far greater than the 19 seats won by Opposition Leader Hugh McFadyen’s Progressive Conservatives. Yet, if you look at the popular vote, it was a fairly close election, in which the NDP won 46 percent of the vote and the Progressive Conservatives won 44 percent.

It would be correct to say that the difference between these two pairs of numbers can be attributed to Manitoba’s first-past-the-post electoral system, in which voters choose only one MLA for each of the province’s 57 electoral districts, and whoever gets the largest number of votes wins, no matter how far short of a 50-percent-plus-1 majority.

But there is another factor that many followers of Manitoba politics might have heard of, but not be too familiar with: vote efficiency.

As the name suggests, this refers to how readily each party’s share of the vote translates into seats. The first chart below shows the relationship between the NDP’s share of the vote and its seat count in each Manitoba election held from 1958 to 2011.* (Elections prior to 1958 were held under a different electoral system in which some districts elected only one MLA, while others elected multiple MLAs.)

Vote Efficiency NDP

As the chart suggests, there has traditionally been a very close relationship between the NDP’s share of the vote and the number of seats it wins. Generally, if the NDP wins more than 40 percent of the vote, it wins a majority of the 57 seats in the Legislature. Hence, one will occasionally hear political analysts commenting on the efficiency of the NDP vote: additional votes translate into additional seats.

The provincial Liberal vote has historically been fairly efficient, though less so than the NDP vote. Due to the efficiency of the NDP vote and the reliability of the Progressive Conservatives’ rural southern Manitoba strongholds, the Liberals would likely need to have both opponents’ vote collapse simultaneously to form the first Liberal government since Premier Douglas Campbell left office in 1958. But if they win more than 20 percent of the vote, they could win enough seats to force a PC or NDP minority government, or lower the threshold at which the Progressive Conservatives can win a majority government into the low-to-mid 40-percent range.

Vote Efficiency Liberal

The Progressive Conservative vote, by contrast, is fairly inefficient: between 1958 and 2011, less than half of its seat count can be explained by the percentage of votes won. Part of this is due to their tendency to win thumping majorities in rural southern Manitoba, such as in Morden-Winkler, where PC candidate Cameron Friesen won 86 percent of the vote in the 2011 election. Since this huge surplus of votes cannot be dispatched to other constituencies, the Progressive Conservatives depend to a larger extent on how the other two parties split the vote. They are most likely to prevail if the Liberal vote is high enough to hold the NDP vote below 40 percent, or both the Liberals and the New Democrats run weak campaigns.

Vote Efficiency PC

This dynamic bodes well for the Progressive Conservatives in the next Manitoba election, expected to take place in 2016. The NDP won 46 percent of the vote in 2011, and could only afford to lose no more than six percentage points to be re-elected to a fifth consecutive majority government: a tall order for a 16-year-old government beleaguered by both a controversial sales tax increase and a caucus in a state of civil war. Their hopes of winning a minority government also seem remote, being reliant on both their own party winning about 35 percent or more of the vote and the Liberals winning more than about 20 percent of the vote and enough seats to hold the balance of power.

This could explain why the race to lead the NDP into the next election is between three veteran MLAs: Premier Greg Selinger (first elected to the Legislature in 1999), former Jobs and Economy minister Theresa Oswald (2003) and former Infrastructure and Transportation minister Steve Ashton (the dean of the Legislature, first elected in 1981). Even if the government’s re-election outlook is grim, holding the premiership for even a year is an opportunity that will likely never come again after so many years in public life.

For current Jobs and Economy minister Kevin Chief, however, the incentives are likely quite different. Some were surprised by his decision to take a pass on the leadership race despite being the party’s front man at so many public announcements in 2014 that he was beginning to look like a man being introduced to the public as a premier-in-waiting.

But being only 40 years old and still in his first term as an MLA, a run for the top job now would put him in the awkward position of having to defend the government’s record as an incumbent premier in the 2016 election, and likely result in him becoming an ex-premier at just age 42. If he does indeed crave the premiership, his interests might be best served by letting a party veteran hold the job for the time being, winding down his or her political career after the 2016 election having at least briefly held the honour of being Premier of Manitoba before handing the job over, as almost assuredly will happen no matter who leads the NDP, to PC leader Brian Pallister.

This would leave Chief free to seek to lead the NDP into the subsequent election, by which time he would still be a relatively youthful 46.

By that point, vote efficiency might be working in his favour. To win a second term, the Progressive Conservatives will need either a relatively strong Liberal Party holding the NDP below 40 percent of the vote, or the support of close to half the electorate to give them enough votes to win the tight races in addition to their huge majorities in the rural southern constituencies. If a slip in Progressive Conservative support and ongoing Liberal weakness allows NDP support to recover to 40 percent or more in a 2020 election, then the NDP’s vote-efficiency advantage could allow them to win a majority of seats, even if the PCs win the popular vote by several percentage points.

Cue the calls for vote reform, atypically from the right, if that happens.

 

* – In the 1958 and 1959 elections, the NDP was known as the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation (CCF), and the Liberal Party was known as the Liberal-Progressive Party. Both had changed their names by the 1962 election.

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A memo to the NDP convention in Brandon

MEMO

From: The View From Seven

To: Manitoba NDP convention, Brandon

Re: Compulsory Voting

Dear Convention Delegates:

As you gather this coming weekend for your party’s provincial convention in Brandon, it is noteworthy that you will be discussing a proposal from your Elmwood constituency association which would, to quote the Winnipeg Free Press, “[r]ecommend the legislative assembly strike an all-party committee to study compulsory voting.” I have not seen the resolution’s exact text, but presume it would be similar to one crafted by the federal Elmwood-Transcona constituency association.

I hope you will accept a few questions from an independent voter with an admittedly varied party-voting history — though my turnout for elections has been good overall.

  • How much would the penalty be? The Elmwood-Transcona resolution notes that compulsory voting is used in several countries. In Australia, the federal Electoral Commission “will write to all apparent non-voters requesting that they either provide a reason for their failure to vote or pay a $20 [$20 Cdn.] penalty”. In Belgium, fines range from €25 ($33 Cdn.) for a first-time offence to €125 ($167 Cdn.) for repeat offenders.
  • How would a compulsory voting law be enforced? Note that the Australian Electoral Commission only applies penalties to “apparent non-voters”. This suggests that there are two ways to avoid being fined: a.) Vote, or, b.) Stay below the radar. If the same process were used in Canada, a compulsory voting law could have the perverse effect of encouraging the politically disillusioned to not be enumerated at all — which would only reduce their chances of ever going to the polls that much further.
  • Would these fines not fall disproportionately upon those least able to pay them? Note the graph on printed page 4 (PDF page 7) of the Manitoba Institute for Policy Research’s report, Voter Turnout in Manitoba: An Ecological Analysis. It shows that in 2007, higher-income areas tended to have the highest turnout rates (River Heights being the highest at a 69.4% turnout), while lower-income constituencies tended to dominate the lower end of the list (the lowest turnout being Rupertsland’s 33.5%).

    While low turnout might be attributable in part to how close the contest is — River Heights is a historically competitive riding, Rupertsland/Keewatinook less so — Statistics Canada has also noted that voting rates tend to be higher among homeowners and the well-educated. They also observed that, “immigrants, renters, the unemployed and people with children were significantly less likely to vote”.

  • Would compulsory voting really lead to better citizen engagement? A 2008 study by three academics at the Université de Montréal casts doubt on this assumption. While they agreed that “[c]ountries which have compulsory voting exhibit significantly higher levels of voter turnout”, their findings also showed that “avoiding forgoing money cannot be assumed to be a sufficient motivator for getting [a person] to learn more about politics.”

    They also cited studies showing that fine-avoiding voters in Belgium were less knowledgeable about, and less engaged in, politics than those who would likely have shown up to vote even without the threat of penalty; and that Australians were generally no better informed about politics than the British were, despite compulsory voting being the law in the former but not the latter country.

I should note that if compulsory voting were to become law in Manitoba, this would inflame the debate about per-vote subsidies, as this subsidy would become significantly less voluntary than before.

I would also note that the politically disengaged do not “owe” their vote to any politician, party or elected body. It is the sole responsibility of those who seek public office to earn these votes.

Before you debate compulsory voting this weekend in Brandon, I would encourage you to study the material at the links above. I would also encourage you to study the IDEA Voter Turnout Database, and to ask what could be learned from countries with relatively high voluntary voter turnout rates such as Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Finland and New Zealand.

All the best in your deliberations on this important subject.

Clipped Wings: The rise of moderates as the “must-win” constituency in Canadian politics, 1990-2006

Canada is a tough place to start a political revolution.

Maybe we’re too mellow for a passionate ideologue’s liking.

Maybe it has something to do with the fact that former Canadian prime ministers have to leave their security bubble after departing office. They cannot live reliably off speaking fees like former British prime ministers and American presidents do — or take for granted that they will be protected from physical harm for the rest of their lives, as illustrated by the 2007 attack on former prime minister Joe Clark while he was walking down a street in downtown Montreal without bodyguard protection.

Maybe we just don’t take politics all that seriously, as might befit a nation whose first prime minister was an alcoholic (a historical oddity we share with Australia) and whose longest-serving prime minister was a bona fide eccentric, being probably the first and only Canadian prime minister to participate in a seance.

And perhaps it’s because there are limits to how far a political party can stray from the political centre before it becomes unelectable.

The charts below are based on an analysis of data from the 1990 and 2006 waves of the World Values Survey, in which randomly chosen Canadians and Americans were asked the same two questions: which national party would be their first choice to vote for, and how they would position themselves on a 1-to-10 political scale where a “1” represents the hard left and a “10” represents the hard right.

The first chart shows how Canadians positioned themselves on the political scale in 2006. As the black line shows, the Canadian population as a whole tended to congregate in the middle of the political spectrum. Mainstream opinion more or less ended at a “3” on the left and at an “8” on the right. People rating themselves “1”, “2”, “9” or “10” were few and far between. As might be expected, Conservative sympathizers leaned a bit to the right of the population as a whole, while NDP and Bloc Quebecois sympathizers leaned a bit left — but only a bit.

Self-positioning on the political spectrum in Canada, overall and by first-choice party, 2006.

How had things changed since 1990? As the second chart shows below, there appeared to be some tightening up of public opinion around the centre of the political spectrum since 1990, when there was a more pronounced lean to the right in Canada.

Self-positioning on the political spectrum by Canadians, 1990 and 2006

Indeed, the third chart below shows that the 2006 Conservatives drew in more support from the political centre than did the 1990 PCs, though the somewhat more right-wing sevens and eights remained an important constituency within the small-c conservative movement.

Self-positioning on the political scale by those Canadians who called the Conservatives their first-choice preference in 2006 and those who called the PC Party or Reform Party their first choice preference in 1990.

What about Liberal sympathizers? There appears to have also been some tightening up around the political centre between 1990 and 2006. In 1990, the right-leaning sixes and sevens appeared to make up a larger part of the Liberal Party’s support base than they did in 2006. It wasn’t uncommon in 2006, however, to find Liberal sympathizers who leaned as far left as a three or as far right as an eight.

Self-positioning on the political scale by those Canadians who named the Liberal Party as their first choice, 1990 and 2006.

The NDP seemed to be the one party that suffered some loss of centrists as a proportion of its sympathizers between 1990 and 2006, with noticeable declines in the percentage of party sympathizers rating themselves a “5” or “6” on the 10-point political spectrum scale. There were, at the same time, signs of a more pronounced lean to the left by 2006. (And, curiously, of a pocket of support on the right.)

Self-positioning on the political scale by those Canadians who named the NDP as their first choice, 1990 and 2006.

How do we compare to the Americans, the country whose politics has more influence on our own than any other country’s? As the chart below shows, American opinion overall leaned a little further right in the U.S. than it did in Canada.

Self-positioning on the political spectrum by Canadians and Americans, 2006

There is a more striking difference, however, between Republican sympathizers in 1990 and 2006. During that 16-year interval, the percentage of Republican sympathizers referring to themselves as centrists took a tumble, while the party’s hard right — the eights, nines and tens — grew substantially.

Self-positioning on the political scale by Americans naming the Republican Party as their first choice, 1990 and 2006.

Democratic sympathizers appeared to shift slightly to the left between 1990 and 2006, with some loss of territory on the right leaving it as a party that gets most of its support from the threes, fours, fives and sixes. Contrast the limited overlap of the Republican and Democratic support bases — the two parties really only compete for the fives and sixes — to the heavy overlap in the political centre among all Canadian parties as shown in the first graph above.

Self-positioning on the political scale by Americans naming the Democratic Party as their first choice, 1990 and 2006.

Some of these changes here in Canada might reflect a growing need for all parties to practice something-for-everybody politics due to the disappearance of “loyalist” voters who could be counted on for support at election time. As recent research shows, there have been seismic shifts in Canadian politics that are producing an increasingly non-partisan and non-ideological public:

  • A 2010 Library of Parliament background paper noted that “young people in Canada demonstrate low levels of trust and interest in political institutions and representatives, and are less likely to vote and join political parties than previous cohorts of young Canadians”. This followed a 2008 paper prepared for the School of Policy Studies at Queen’s University which observed that “there is little reason to join a party except to nominate a candidate or play a role in leadership conventions”, with the result that card-carrying party loyalists are a “rapidly aging” group, with an average age of 59 years in 2000.
  •  

  • One 2009 study observed that technology has effectively erected an electronic Berlin Wall between parties and other political groups (both of which are on the wrong side of the wall) and the citizens they’re trying to get their messages through to: “The arrival of the [remote control], Video Cassettes, and the personal channel repertoires that cable and satellite providers offered subscribers resulted in a situation that allowed viewers, with minimal or no effort, to avoid political news. The result, notes Prior (2007), was a deeper political knowledge gap between those who pursue news and those who avoid it, a gap that could only grow with the arrival of a far more powerful range of avoidance devices.”

Looking ahead to the new decade

Ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one… Happy New Year!

Tonight at 11:59 p.m. and 50 seconds, millions of people will join together to count down the final seconds of 2009 and herald the arrival of 2010. Together, we will begin not just a new year, but a new decade, too.

It’s hard to believe an entire decade has passed since that morning ten years ago, Dec. 31, 1999, when I woke up to hear that the lights were still on and all was well in faraway New Zealand. The Kiwis, 18 hours ahead of us, were the canaries in the coalmine as the first computer-dependent society to ring in the year 2000 and thus show us whether the “Y2K bug” would really bring chaos or merely a few easily corrected glitches. (Just glitches, thankfully.)

On that last day of the ’90s, I had little more than two words to say about the end of that decade: good riddance. As far as I was concerned at the time, the ’90s had been the Seinfeld decade — a decade about nothing, a decade of cultural mediocrity, a dreadfully boring decade.

Ten years later, many people will be just as eager to say “good riddance” to the 2000s. In defence of the 2000s, however, at least it was a decade about something.

In the 2000s, Barack Obama, Sarah Palin, George W. Bush and Hillary Clinton showed us two very different sides of our southern neighbours. Social barriers were broken: Nicolas Sarkozy, the mercurial son of a Hungarian immigrant father and a French-born Jewish mother, was elected President of France; an Australian office worker named Mary Donaldson became Crown Princess Mary of Denmark, wife of the future King; and a frumpy, unemployed Scottish woman named Susan Boyle became an overnight singing sensation. Terrorism forced us to revisit not just the issue of airport security, but also the role of God and faith in society and Canada’s role in the world.

Amid all the turbulence, popular music — one of the best barometers of the public mood — arguably had its best decade since the ’70s.

That roller-coaster decade is now in its final hours. As we end an old decade and start a new one, it leaves us to wonder what lies ahead of us.

It looks as though the 2010s will be an interesting decade. Here is The View from Seven’s look ahead at what should be in store for us in the new decade:

Canadian Society and Politics

Harper will likely remain PM for a while yet, but a majority will remain elusive. There’s an old truism in politics that oppositions don’t win elections, incumbents lose them. Stephen Harper has proven to be a canny enough politician to avoid prodding the public into a “throw the bums out” kind of mood. As long as the public stays in that sort of mood, Harper’s position as prime minister will remain relatively secure.

The PM remains something of a cold fish, however, lacking the everyman likeability of a Gary Doer, the eloquence and style of a Barack Obama or the unthreatening, matronly demeanor of popular German chancellor Angela Merkel. That, plus the survival of Liberal, NDP and Bloc regional strongholds scattered around the country, will make it difficult for Harper to muster a majority.

Governments also don’t age gracefully, so expect a change sometime between 2012 and 2018 as the Conservative government gets old.

Popular German chancellor Angela Merkel having a beer.

Popular German chancellor Angela Merkel having a beer at Oktoberfest: Stephen Harper could learn a thing or two from her. (Copyright © daylife.com)

The ex-Reform faction within the Tories will continue to fade away. The Conservative leadership might be in the hands of former Reform Party MP Stephen Harper, but demographics are poised to give more moderate Conservatives the upper hand as older MPs are replaced by younger ones.

An examination of self-identified Conservative voters in the 2006 World Values Survey shows that younger Tories born since 1970 have more conciliatory views than their older counterparts about immigrants and labour unions, are less likely than older Conservatives to be religious, and tend not to consider tradition to be as important.

The NDP as the new party of individualism. Looking at the same data as above, I also noticed something interesting that divided younger New Democrats from older ones: younger NDPers were considerably more likely to say that they seek to be themselves than to follow others. I was ready to dismiss this as just some young vs. old thing, until I realized that there was no generation gap on this question among self-styled Liberals or Conservatives, suggesting that this individualistic streak is something unique to future left-wing leaders. That leads us nicely into the next trend to watch for.

The real “Me Generation”. If the Baby Boomers were the original “Me Generation”, their children and grandchildren are now the “Me Generation on Steroids”. As Jean M. Twenge, Ph.D. pointed out in her research, today’s younger generation are more likely to reject the idea that there is any single right way to live; are more egalitarian and less deferential to authority; are more ambitious; but are also more likely to feel alone and isolated.

Don’t declare Quebec nationalism dead just yet. If history can teach us one thing, it’s that nationalist sentiment is an unpredictable beast. In 1905, Norway went from being merely a region of Sweden that wanted more autonomy to being a fully independent country in a mere 10 months. In 1991, the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia disintegrated into a multitude of new countries with astonishing speed. In the former Czechoslovakia, the idea of breaking the country up into two new countries was only seriously put forward for the first time in July 1992, and still have just minority support as late as September 1992. By New Years Day 1993, Czechoslovakia was dead and two new countries, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, were founded to take its place. That Quebec could become an independent country within this decade should not be entirely ruled out, especially if Quebec nationalists find inspiration in the possible breakups of Belgium and Spain (see below).

Goodbye Queen Elizabeth; Hello King Charles? Canadians generally don’t give much thought to the monarchy; partly because Queen Elizabeth II doesn’t actually live or spend much time in Canada, and partly because the Queen had held the job for so long. The then-Princess Elizabeth was only 25 years old when her father, King George VI, died in February 1952. She inherited George’s throne and has occupied it ever since. Queen Elizabeth is now in her eighties, and will turn 90 in April 2016. There is a possibility that the Queen might not survive the decade, or might need to abdicate for health reasons, handing the throne over to eldest son Prince Charles.

Also, watch for the possibility (25% probability or so) of a debate about reforming the succession laws. It appears as though Prince William will likely marry girlfriend Kate Middleton. If they were to have a daughter first and a son later, the son would take precedence and the daughter would be automatically stripped of her title as heir to the throne. The law is the law, but it’s hardly a defensible one in this egalitarian day and age. If this were to happen, the public outcry over the shabby treatment of the daughter could spark a constitutional crisis.

Finding a way out of Afghanistan. After eight years of occupation, Afghanistan remains as violent and corrupt as ever. The odds of it ever becoming anything resembling a stable democracy that respects human rights are about as poor as they come, and the country’s long-term outlook is grim. The trick for the Canadian government over the next ten years will be to find some way out of Afghanistan without appearing to abandon the country to its fate.

A new government in Manitoba in 2011 or 2015. Since the creation of a reasonably fair electoral system in Manitoba in 1958 (unlike the gerrymandered pre-1958 system, where Winnipeg and its suburbs were woefully underrepresented in the Legislature), no provincial government has been re-elected after its 10th anniversary in power if it were lucky enough to survive so long. Newly installed premier Greg Selinger is hoping to break that record in 2011. It will be tough, but now-former Saskatchewan premier Lorne Calvert proved it wasn’t impossible when he was able to get a 12-year-old NDP government re-elected there in 2003. Even if Selinger’s NDP is re-elected to a fourth term in 2011, the odds of winning a fifth term in 2015 will be minuscule.

World Events to Watch For

Belgium — Risk of break-up. Belgium’s borders were drawn in the 19th century on the basis of religion, not language. The intention was to separate Catholic Belgium from the Protestant Netherlands, and never mind the fact that the Flemish-speaking (i.e., Dutch) northern Belgians and the French-speaking southern Belgians didn’t get along very well. The relationship has deteriorated in recent years — the country went without a prime minister for nine months because of the mistrust between the Flemish and the French. The dissolution of Belgium and its replacement with two new countries called Flanders and Wallonia is a very real possibility.

China — A bubble that’s about to burst? It’s kind of worrisome that China, as a major engine of global economic growth, is making so little progress to clean up the perception that it is a highly corrupt country. It also has two other makings of a potentially unstable country: a huge population, and a hierarchical social structure where those at the bottom of the heap count for little.  Watch out for trouble ahead.

The Czech Republic, Estonia and Uruguay — The little countries that could. Good things have been happening in these three countries over the past decade: democracy and human rights have established strong roots, their economies have done well and their governments are getting noticed for being among the cleanest in their respective regions of the world, and steadily improving. The new decade has the potential to bring rising living standards to these countries. If you follow world affairs, expect to hear more about the “Czech/Estonian/Uruguayan Miracle”.

Punta del Este, Uruguay

Uruguay's forecast for the new decade: Sunny! (Copyright © The Daily Mail / Associated Newspapers Ltd.)

Egypt — Risk of revolution. What do you get when you combine poverty, sectarian tensions,  an 81-year-old autocrat who has been in power for 28 years, and a population that’s huge (83 million), partially literate (a lacklustre 71%), young (median age: 25) and growing fast (1.3 million more people on the way this coming year)? Nothing good. President Mubarak’s age will make it progressively more difficult for him to maintain the iron grip that kept Egypt from boiling over; the risk of revolution being greatest when an old dictator loosens that grip.

Iran — Risk of revolution. Iran has several of the danger signs of a country sliding into revolution: it’s governed by an insular elite that considers itself answerable to God (who isn’t in the habit of confirming that those who claim to speak on his/her behalf are actually doing so correctly, or at all); it has a huge population; the people at the bottom of the social hierarchy count for little; and it’s becoming increasingly corrupt. It’s also increasingly urban (the cities being traditionally more liberal than the rural areas, where theocracy gets the most support) and it has a large young population (median age: 27 years) who often want a western lifestyle and to whom the 1979 revolution means little. Get ready for more trouble.

Iraq — Bush and Blair blew it. I recently saw former British prime minister Tony Blair on television, justifying the 2003 invasion of Iraq by asking if it would have been better if Saddam Hussein stayed in power. As awful as Saddam Hussein was, the depressing answer may well be “yes”: Iraq not only remains a violent and corrupt land full of ethnic and sectarian hatreds, it has also come to be seen as being more and more corrupt as the war has gone on, despite western occupation.  Half the population is under the age of 20 and full of energy to burn (and few elders to call for cooler heads to prevail), a quarter of the population is illiterate, the official unemployment rate is 18 percent, and the fertility rate is way too high for a country that struggles to feed and provide jobs for the population it already has. Either it will break up due to Sunni vs. Shiite vs. Kurd ethno-sectarian violence, revert to a cruel and repressive dictatorship, or spin out of control and become much like Somalia, recently named “Worst Country in the World” by The Economist. What a mess.

Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago — Trouble in Paradise. There’s the Jamaica that they promote to tourists: a country of beaches and sunshine. Then there’s the real Jamaica — the violent, corrupt and intolerant country where approximately 1,500 of the country’s 2.7 million residents are murdered every year. Imagine if Winnipeg had 350+ murders every year instead of the usual 25-35, and you’ll get an idea of just how abysmal things are in Jamaica. Trinidad and Tobago (approximately 500 murders per year out of a population of 1.3 million) is also in bad shape, and suffers from racial tensions to boot. Things have been getting worse, and little hope of improvement is on the horizon. Expect the U.S. and Canada (through the Commonwealth) to be called upon to do something about these countries.

Russia — A potentially naughty bear. The ’90s were an absolute disaster for Russia, but the 2000s weren’t a heck of a lot better as democracy had trouble taking root and corruption remained a serious problem. Russia’s government was perceived as being more and more corrupt as the decade went on, which is not a good sign for either Russia’s own well-being or that of its neighbours. Hopefully Russia won’t use wars and other forms of mischief-making to distract the population from its homegrown problems. (Some of its neighbours, like Belarus and Uzbekistan, have been on the wrong track, too.)

South Korea — Good prospects ahead, as long as the neighbours don’t get too rowdy. South Korea gets overshadowed a bit by its larger neighbours China and Japan and by the bizarre regime in North Korea. South Korea has been making good progress, however, in reducing corruption and improving how the country is run. If it stays on its current path and its neighbours don’t get too unruly, it could be a good decade for them.

Spain — Risk of breakup. Spain isn’t thought of as being a multicultural, multilingual nation, but it is. Spanish is, of course, the dominant language, but there are also Galician-speaking minorities in the northwest, Basque and Aranese in the north and Catalan along the Mediterranean coast — an area called Catalonia. Catalonia is affluent and defiant, and is seriously looking at declaring its independence from Spain. A 2008 poll found that more Catalans would vote for independence from Spain than against it (36% Yes, 22% No, all others undecided), so it should be treated as a credible possibility in the decade ahead.

The Middle East — No relief from the turmoil. With few exceptions, the Middle East remains on the wrong path. Syria and Israel are both troubled by increasingly perceptions of corruption, which will only make them feel even more insecure in their troubled area of the world. Things could even get worse if Egypt boils over into revolution and Iraq totally falls apart. If you don’t live in this part of the world, stay well away from it. If you do live in this part of the world and have the means to do so, emigrate.

Yemen — The new front on the war on terror. It’s been a terrorist training ground before, and was implicated more recently in the attempted bombing of a U.S. airliner en route from Amsterdam to Detroit. It’s also been under increasingly bad management as of late, so expect to hear more about efforts to neutralize Yemen as a terrorist den.

It should be an interesting decade ahead, promising us lots of drama. All the best to all of you in the year and decade ahead — and take a moment to be thankful that you live in a peaceful and affluent country.

Are political parties facing a demographic time bomb?

Here’s something interesting to consider if you’re into politics or the social sciences at all.

In 1981, Australian pollsters asked their compatriots whether they were an active member of a political party, an inactive member, or not a member at all.The average age of an active Australian political party member in 1981: 36 years.

In 1995, Australians were asked the same question a second time.  The average age of an active Australian political party member in 1995: 49 years.

In 2005, pollsters asked the same question a third time. By this time, the average age of a card-carrying member of an Australian political party was 55 years.*

Had there been a healthy intake of younger people into Australia’s political parties, the average age of an active party member should have only increased slowly over those years, in response to declining birth rates and longer life expectancies.

The average age of a card-carrying partisan shouldn’t have shot up by 19 years in just 24 years — the average 1981 party member having been born in 1945, and the average 2005 party member having been born only five years later, in 1950.

But that average party member age did skyrocket by 19 years between 1981 and 2005, suggesting that the parties’ attempts to engage younger Australians have been decisively rejected.

Not that this will matter much over the course of the brief Australian electoral cycle, where the public typically goes to the polls every three years.  But think ahead 15 years, and you’re looking at a future of shrinking constituency associations, an increasingly limited talent pool, and greater difficulty withholding nominations from fame-seekers who go on to become human train wrecks.

Regrettably, no directly comparable data has been gathered in Canada to determine whether or not we’ve seen the same trend here over time. But there’s little to suggest that Canada wouldn’t follow the same trend.

When the same question finally was asked in Canada in 2006, the average card-carrying member of a Canadian political party was 55 years of age.

Like Australians, we’re neither as civic-minded as the northern Europeans, nor as passionate about politics as the Americans. In both Canada and Australia, federal politicians are often viewed as rude loudmouths or hilariously inept. A TV network that pre-empts a hockey game in Canada or a footy match in Australia for a leaders’ debate or election night results better be ready to see its switchboard light up with calls from angry sports fans.

One wonders what will happen to Australia’s political parties fifteen years from now, when the average active party member will be  about 70 years old, and starting to be slowed down by the effects of age, if the 1981-2005 aging trend hasn’t been reversed by then.

One wonder what will happen to Canada’s parties, if we are indeed seeing the same trend here.

* – Source:  World Values Survey

Updated Sept. 15 at 12:34 p.m. with additional information about Canada.

Gary Doer passes the torch

[Updated Aug. 28 at 7:31 a.m. amid media reports that Doer is imminently about to replace the retiring Michael Wilson as the Canadian ambassador to the United States. Updated again Sept. 1]

It’s always a big event when one Premier of Manitoba prepares to hand over office to a new one. In the past 80 years, only ten people have reached the pinnacle of political power in this province.

And unless Manitoba’s political system changes in such a way as to produce a Japanese-style situation where politicians take turns at the top job in rapid succession, it’s unlikely that there are more than 10 future premiers alive in this province today, out of a population of 1.1 million.

I just wanted to share a few thoughts on Gary Doer’s upcoming retirement from Manitoba politics and on the prospect of our having a new Premier of Manitoba by Christmas:

  • Doer’s talent for salesmanship and showmanship should serve him well in his imminent new career as Canadian ambassador to the United States.
  • When Bill Blaikie was convinced to leave an academic job he had just taken up to re-enter politics, I suspected that there was some succession planning taking place in the premier’s office. With the implicit backing of the NDP’s heavy hitters, Blaikie should be considered the front runner for the leadership. [Update, Sept. 1: Bill Blaikie is not running for the leadership after all.]
  • There has been a surge in NDP MLAs signing up for their own firstnamelastname.ca Internet domains over the past two months. The latest two signed up for their own Internet domains just yesterday: Labour and Immigration minister Nancy Allan (nancyallan.ca) and Interlake MLA Tom Nevakshonoff (tomnevakshonoff.ca). An early sign of plans for a leadership campaign — or just coincidence?
  • The Doer government’s priorities have largely been in areas that can be shown by research to contribute to economic growth and improved social well-being: improving educational attainment, reducing illiteracy, encouraging research and development, and reforming campaign financing to reduce the perception of corruption. This should secure it a long-term legacy as a self-disciplined, pragmatic and progressive government.
  • Over the past 10 years, we’ve also seen a solid improvement in the diversity of the Manitoba legislature and of the people being recruited to run for public office. Change the demographics of a governing body, and you change the priorities as well. With all parties having improved in this regard, the Doer government cannot claim exclusive credit for this — but it can claim at least its fair share.

Conservatives are not Republicans; New Democrats are not Democrats

Canada’s parliamentary system of government might have been modeled after Britain’s, but the political campaigns we’ve seen in recent years have been highlighted by decidedly more American influences; attack ads, exploitation of “wedge issues” and even the invitation of U.S. political figures to be keynote speakers at Canadian party conventions.

No question, the left-wing New Democrats have increasingly looked to the Obama Democrats south of the border in hope of finding some kind of message or theme that will allow them to break out of their persistent distant-third-place showing in the polls. And the Conservatives have looked to the Republicans for guidance in using wedge issues to their benefit.

However, it’s important that the New Democrats, Liberals, Conservatives and even the Béquistes – supporters of Quebec’s separatist Bloc Quebecois – all remember that politics is like retail: you have to cater to local tastes if you want to succeed, and you can’t assume that what works in one country will work just as well in another.

For example, take a look at some of these findings I dug out of the latest round of the World Values Survey. These are based on interviews conducted in 2006 with people who had a preferred federal political party:*

550 Canadian Liberals
626 Canadian Conservatives
337 Canadian New Democrats
190 Canadian Béquistes
390 U.S. Republicans
502 U.S. Democrats
208 U.S. Independents

What these findings suggest is that, in some cases, supporters of rival Canadian parties had more in common with each other than their would-be American brethren.

Where they are on the left-right scale: When asked to rate themselves on a 1-to-10 scale, where a ‘1’ meant that they were on the far left and a ’10’ meant they were on the far right, American Republicans positioned themselves decidedly to the right of Canadian Conservatives. Canadian Liberals were closer to the Conservatives than they might care to admit.

“In political matters, people talk of the left and the right. How would you place your views on this scale, generally speaking?” (Average score, out of 10)

American Republicans – 7.0
Canadian Conservatives – 6.1
Canadian Liberals – 5.6
American Independents – 5.4
American Democrats – 4.9
Canadian Béquistes – 4.8
Canadian New Democrats – 4.7

Quebeckers averse to religious leaders trying to influence governments: Canadian Béquistes are the most likely to strongly agree that religious leaders should not influence governments, possibly remembering the power exercised by the Catholic Church in Quebec before the Quiet Revolution of the ‘60s. American Democrats and Independents also show some signs of wariness, illustrating the extent to which the differences between “Democrat” and “Republican” have almost become synonymous with “secular” and “religious” at times. American Republicans, for their part, are the least likely to be hostile to the idea of religious leaders influencing governments.

“How much do you agree or disagree with each of the following statement: Religious leaders should not influence government.” (% Strongly Agree)

Canadian Béquistes – 43%
American Democrats – 34%
American Independents – 30%
Canadian New Democrats – 27%
Canadian Liberals – 26%
Canadian Conservatives – 25%
American Republicans – 19%

Weekly attendance at religious services: American Republicans are noticeably more likely to attend church or other religious services on a weekly basis than supporters of any other party in either Canada or the U.S. Canadian Conservatives and Liberals and American Democrats were about equally likely to attend religious services weekly. Attendance was lowest among New Democrats and Béquistes.

“Apart from weddings, funerals and christenings, about how often do you attend religious services these days?” (% Attend at least once a week)

American Republicans – 51%
American Democrats – 34%
Canadian Conservatives – 31%
Canadian Liberals – 30%
American Independents – 24%
Canadian New Democrats – 17%
Canadian Béquistes – 10%

Conversely, when it comes to those who never attend religious services, what’s surprising here is how high the figure among American Independents is in comparison to Democrats and Republicans – perhaps a sign that the “independent” label attracts a lot of secular Americans, or refugees from the culture wars? Fairly large numbers of Béquistes and New Democrats never attend religious services.

“Apart from weddings, funerals and christenings, about how often do you attend religious services these days?” (% Never Attend)

Canadian Béquistes – 55%
American Independents – 44%
Canadian New Democrats – 42%
Canadian Liberals – 28%
American Democrats – 26%
Canadian Conservatives – 23%
American Republicans – 16%

Religion as a very important part of life: Americans are generally more openly religious than Canadians, and that shows in the findings below. There’s a 20-point difference between American Republicans and Canadian Conservatives on this question – smaller than the gap between the Canadian Conservatives and any of their domestic rivals except for the strongly secular Bloc Quebecois.

“For each of the following aspects, indicate how important it is in your life: Religion” (% Very Important)

American Republicans – 59%
American Democrats – 43%
Canadian Conservatives – 39%
American Independents – 39%
Canadian Liberals – 38%
Canadian New Democrats – 25%
Canadian Béquistes – 15%

Active membership in religious organizations: Again, a substantial difference between the American Republicans – more than half of whom are actively involved in a religious organization – and everyone else.

“Now I am going to read out a list of voluntary organizations; for each one, could you tell me whether you are a member, an active member, an inactive member or not a member of that type of organization? Church or religious organization” (% Active Member)

American Republicans – 53%
Canadian Liberals – 35%
Canadian Conservatives – 35%
American Democrats – 35%
Canadian New Democrats – 23%
American Independents – 23%
Canadian Béquistes – 8%

Active membership in political parties: When it comes to organizing, American parties have an advantage over their Canadian counterparts in that Americans are more likely to be involved in politics. Canadians know that politics isn’t nearly as important as hockey.

“Now I am going to read out a list of voluntary organizations; for each one, could you tell me whether you are a member, an active member, an inactive member or not a member of that type of organization? Political party.” (% Active Member)

American Republicans – 21%
American Democrats – 21%
American Independents – 10% (whatever…)
Canadian Conservatives – 6%
Canadian New Democrats – 6%
Canadian Béquistes – 6%
Canadian Liberals – 5%

GOP leadership positions – women need not apply?: This was quite stunning. Forty-one percent of self-identified U.S. Republicans agreed that men make better political leaders than women do — way out of whack with supporters of other parties. This sentiment was nonetheless shared even in this day and age by one-in-five Canadian Conservatives, Liberals and American Democrats. The Béquistes and New Democrats were the least sympathetic to this point of view.

“Do you agree strongly, agree, disagree, or disagree strongly: On the whole, men make better political leaders than women do.” (% Agree or Agree Strongly)

American Republicans – 41%
American Independents – 23%
Canadian Conservatives – 19%
American Democrats – 19%
Canadian Liberals – 18%
Canadian Béquistes – 12%
Canadian New Democrats – 8%

Global warming as a very serious problem: This is an issue that resonates more strongly north of the border than south of it. Note the 11-point gap between Canadian New Democrats and American Democrats, and the even more stunning 35-point gap between Conservatives and Republicans.

“Please, tell me how serious you consider each of the following to be for the world as a whole. Is it very serious, somewhat serious, not very serious or not serious at all: Global warming or the greenhouse effect.” (% Very Serious)

Canadian Béquistes – 76%
Canadian New Democrats – 71%
Canadian Liberals – 67%
Canadian Conservatives – 62%
American Democrats – 60%
American Independents – 52%
American Republicans – 27%

Not so okay to be gay in the GOP: When asked to rate the justifiability of homosexuality on a 1-to-10 scale, with ‘1’meaning that it’s never justifiable and a ‘10’ meaning its always justifiable, Canadian Béquistes and New Democrats tended to have more accommodating attitudes, while American Republicans were noticeably less accommodating. Canadian Conservatives were a little more — well, conservative — in comparison to other Canadian parties, but much more liberal than the American Republicans.

“Please tell me for each of the following statements whether you think it can always be justified, never be justified, or something in between, using this card: Homosexuality.” (Average score, out of 10)

Canadian Béquistes – 6.9
Canadian New Democrats – 6.5
Canadian Liberals – 5.7
American Democrats – 5.3
Canadian Conservatives – 5.0
American Independents – 4.8
American Republicans – 3.3

Source: World Values Survey 2005-08 wave

* – Original question: “If there were a national election tomorrow, for which party on this list would you vote? Just call out the number on this card. If Don’t Know: Which party appeals to you most?”