Do the Greens Split the Progressive Vote? (They do, though they aren’t the only offender)

Early this summer Elizabeth May wrote an opinion piece in which she used five ridings selected from provincial and federal elections past to argue that the Greens do not split the vote.

It is her central thesis for the 2015 election campaign, and I’ve heard it repeated by canvassers and candidates alike.

But is it true?

Disclaimer: This is not a hit piece. I have voted Green provincially twice. I live in Victoria, where the Conservatives have arguably their smallest chance of winning of any riding west of Toronto. A vote for Jo-Ann Roberts (GPC) is a vote for Jo-Ann Roberts; to claim otherwise would be unmistakably partisan.

That said, there are four claims in May’s piece that I find questionable, and I have pored over data from current polling as well as every federal election since the PC/Alliance merge in an effort to fact check them. Some of what I found changed my mind; some of it confirmed my suspicions.

Claim #1: Greens aren’t vote splitters.

We’ll tackle May’s thesis first.

Whether you personally define the Greens, Liberals, and/or NDP to be progressive is a post for another day. For the purpose of this post, I’ve defined a “progressive vote split” as follows:

A result in which the Conservative candidate won, and the candidate placing third received enough votes that, if they were added to the second place candidate’s votes, that would have vaulted the second place candidate over the Conservative candidate.

I looked at all 308 federal ridings from 2011, and found this to be the case in an impressive 47 of them. That’s close to a third of Harper’s 166 ridings won due to a progressive vote split. Applying the same methodology reveals a similar result in BC’s 2013 election.

Of those 47 Conservative ridings, the Greens placed third in only one of them (Yukon), but we’ll add Calgary Centre, as the Greens placed third there in a 2012 by-election.

If, for arguments sake, we add 3rd to 2nd in all those ridings (Calgary Centre included), we get:

47 fewer CPC seats

15 new NDP seats

32 new LPC seats

To put that in clearer terms, here is the 41st parliament with an organized progressive vote:

CPC 119 seats

NDP 118 seats

LPC 66 seats

BQ 4 seats

GRN 1 seat

Feeling wistful yet?

“But that operates under the assumption that all 3rd place votes would have gone to the 2nd place candidate.”

Yes, but if you look at the margin by which the 2nd place candidate would have vaulted over the Conservative winner, the average is 4,757.7 votes. If we split that margin evenly between the NDP, Liberals and Greens, a progressive candidate still wins in 37 of the 47 “progressive split” ridings, still putting Harper in a minority government position.

“But this is an argument as to why vote splitting is a problem in general, as opposed to the Greens in particular.”

Well said, particularly considering how the the NDP’s 2011 surge played out in parts of Ontario. Take Scarborough Centre: The NDP saw their vote share increase by 14.4% in 2011, almost all of which was at the expense of the Liberals. While all three parties were a factor in the race, this ultimately meant a Conservative victory in what had previously been a Liberal stronghold.

But let’s look deeper into the Greens’ numbers.

May claims that “removing all Green candidates and [their] entire vote [from 2011] does not change the Harper majority”. Besides being an accidentally good argument not to vote Green, this assumes Green supporters wouldn’t vote at all if the party didn’t run a candidate. But in the most recent poll by Nanos, only 9% of Green supporters selected “none” as their second choice of party. 37% chose NDP, 35% chose Liberal, 9% chose Conservative, and 7% chose Bloc Quebecois.

Here’s how close it was in 2011: Of the 47 “progressive split” ridings, 15 had a 4th place candidate whose votes, if added to the 2nd place candidate’s votes, would have easily vaulted the 2nd place candidate into 1st.

Of those 15 ridings, the Greens were that 4th place candidate 13 times. All were ridings in which the Greens were a distant fourth, and in every one of them the Greens haven’t come close to threatening to gain a seat in the entire post PC/Alliance merge era.

Harper got his majority by 11 seats.

Granted, the Greens are not the only reason for that. But if you are to accept that the NDP surge gave Harper seats in Ontario that would have gone Liberal, then you must also concede that the “Greens don’t split the vote” claim is empirically false.

Claim #2: Previous results are not useful predictors.

May cites the five ridings in which the Greens have experienced enough of a surge after consistently low results that they threatened to win a seat. They are:

Saanich—Gulf Islands (BC, federal)

May won Saanich—Gulf Islands in 2011, having led the federal Greens since 2006. It took losses in ridings in Ontario and Nova Scotia in ’06 and ’08 to develop enough of a profile to win on Vancouver Island, the most Green-friendly area in Canada.

Oak Bay—Gordon Head (BC, provincial)

This riding, which Andrew Weaver won provincially in 2013, overlaps with most of May’s riding. Leader, Jane Sterk ran in the riding adjacent to his and still lost.

Victoria (BC, federal byelection)

Victoria borders May’s riding and also contains Oak Bay. The Greens were narrowly defeated by the NDP in a 2012 by-election, and remain contenders in 2015.

Fredericton South (NB, provincial)

David Coon narrowly won in 2014. The riding’s boundaries had been redrawn, though not by much, and it should be noted Coon is a longtime colleague of May’s, but we’ll give her this one regardless.

Kellys Cross—Cumberland (PEI, provincial)

As for Kellys Cross—Cumberland, the Green provincial leader won in 2015, and this was after taking years to build up a profile, losing in nine different elections as a Green candidate before finally winning.

So what would be a more typical election-to-election pattern for the Greens?

The Greens had 3.9% of the national vote in 2011, 6.8% in 2008, 4.5% in 2006, and 4.3% in 2004.

For a representative riding-level sample, let’s consider those 13 ridings where the Greens placed 4th with enough votes in 2011 to vault the 2nd place candidate over the Conservative winner:

Screen Shot 2015-09-11 at 5.38.16 PM

See link at bottom of post for further details.

The largest swing upward the Greens experienced in any year in any of those ridings was 6%, and it went right back down in 2011, as it did in every riding on that chart after the Greens had performed measurably better in 2008. If anything, I could turn May’s logic around and in fact have more data to suggest that a swing upward for the Greens actually predicts a poorer result in the following election. Were I to be exactly as selective with my data as May has been, I could use London North Centre and Nipissing-Timiskaming as evidence that no one should vote Green ever.

But that would be cherry picking.

Even in the five ridings that May uses, previous results were a useful predictor, as they illustrated that strong Green results can indeed be achieved in a First Past The Post system — in or adjacent to ridings with party leaders who have taken years to build up a profile.

Where, outside of Vancouver Island, is that candidate in 2015?

Claim #3: Greens raise voter turnout.

May points out that in the four aforementioned ridings where a Green won, the voter turnout was extremely high; 90% in the case of Kellys Cross—Cumberland.

But that’s an argument that the Greens do better when the voter turnout is high; not that it’s specifically Greens who attract new voters and/or people who wouldn’t vote otherwise.

The national voter turnout did increase between 2008 and 2011, to the tune of 2.6%, or nearly a million votes. But the Greens went down in vote-share by 2.9%, which flies in directly in the face of May’s argument. Perhaps May is onto something in specific areas where the Greens have concentrated support from a national leader, but she provides no data that proves her broad claim that Greens raise turnout generally.

To be fair, recent Nanos polls do suggest between 9-14% of Green supporters don’t have a second choice, suggesting a portion of the Greens’ base may indeed stay home without them. But that isn’t nearly enough of a rallying point to woo NDP or Liberal supporters (or undecided progressives), who can bank on at least 85% of Green supporters considering a strategic vote.

Claim #4: The Conservative vote is shrinking.

This is a strong argument for May’s party — on Vancouver Island, where an Insights-West poll has the NDP at 39%, the Greens at 30%, and the Liberals and Conservatives at 15%. Insights-West called the closing of the gap between the provincial NDP and Liberals before Christy Clark’s surprise victory in 2013, so they have some credibility here.

At the time May wrote her piece the Conservatives’ national polling average (per put them in second place at just over 28%, down four points from April, when they were in the lead at 32%. As of this writing they are still in second place, and their polling average, is, in fact, nearly two points higher at 29.7%. (This comes after a slide in early September when they dipped just below 27%, their lowest polling average of the campaign so far)

With just over a month before the election, there may be more room for Harper to shrink than grow, but every poll in the field shows his base not having budged, and remember, Conservatives redrew riding boundaries to suit how their base is distributed, so their seat count is going to be higher than their share of the popular vote would indicate. Just how high is still hard to say.

So where does that leave the Green Party?

The Greens consistently polled around 12-14% in BC throughout late August and early September, which is skewed by competitive numbers on Vancouver Island; Nanos most recently has the Greens down to 9%, with the Conservatives up as high as 30% (Forum has the Greens at 7% in BC, and the Conservatives at 28%).

Canada-wide the Greens don’t poll over 6%, and that includes BC. In fact, polling averages suggest the Green vote has shrunk nationally — by a point and a half since the beginning of September. As of this writing projects the Greens at over 15% in only two federal ridings outside of Vancouver Island; in neither are they over 20%. Threehundredeight got 88% of all ridings correct in 2011, and from election to election they average only 3.6 errors in number of seats per party.

So is the Conservative vote shrinking? It was when May wrote her piece, and has dipped since, but recent recovery suggests it hasn’t dipped enough for the Anything But Conservative movement to take its foot off the gas.


Elizabeth May calls vote splitting rhetoric “fear mongering.” Andrew Weaver has called it a form of voter suppression. While I am sympathetic to their concerns, the data says what it says. If the Conservatives start consistently tanking in the polls, then ABC voters might consider the Green candidate in areas, say, west of the Okanagan.

If the Conservatives maintain their base Canada-wide, though, then current polls don’t suggest the Greens are an option, unless you can point to strong riding-level polling and a Green candidate who has worked years to build up a profile.

Furthermore, Harper has cheated in every election he has won, and there’s no reason he won’t this time. He has stacked the deck against us with actual voter suppression tactics, and progressives need to be vigilant and at times pragmatic in order to defeat him. Sources like will help.

What the Green Party needs is for Canadians to elect a government that will end First Past The Post; that, at least, is a realistic possibility, as the NDP is committed to mixed member proportional representation and the Liberals are committed to some type of electoral reform, such as PR or ranked ballots, pending further study (for what it’s worth the Law Commission of Canada recommended MMPR in a 2004 report).

Don’t mistake this as being patronizing; Speaking as a one-time Green voter, I would love a situation where a strong Green caucus could push for a basic livable income and stymie the other parties’ half-measures on environmental protections.

It just isn’t going to happen this time.

[Data I worked with may be found on this spreadsheet. Columns B through G are based on public domain data available through Elections Canada, Stats Canada,, and Columns H & I are based on personal speculation only. Feel free to use any of what I’ve written and compiled to help spread the word. I just want us to win. Follow me on Twitter: @Taylewd]


Welcome Aboard the S.S. #NotAllCandidates Forum, Victoria. #yyj #vicvotes #elxn42 #cdnpoli

Last night I attended the All-Candidates Forum at the Victoria Event Centre. This is my official play-by-play, to be taken with a grain of salt, as I was typing on an iPhone 4 as fast as possible, so I probably missed some things the Times Colonist will cover more timely and colonist-ly.

750 people RSVP’d on Facebook, which usually means 30 show up, but this is Victoria, and dammit we love our politics. I arrived at 5:50, the door was at 6:00, and at 6:07 one of the moderators announced they were at capacity.

Apparently fire regulations, unlike pot laws, are enforced in Victoria.

Apparently fire regulations, unlike pot laws, are enforced in Victoria.

The moderator asked if any older, experienced voters would kindly give up their seat aboard the S.S. All-Candidates Forum so they could admit some younger, newer voters. A handful of mid-age folks obliged, to a smattering of applause. Nice.

As expected, only three chairs were onstage, and Victoria Conservative candidate, C. Sandiego was nowhere to be found. I’m not saying the Conservative was up to no good somewhere, just if you were out last night I’d wash all your mugs.

Screen Shot 2015-09-10 at 11.48.23 AM

As the Conservative candidate did not show up, I won’t dignify their candidacy by saying their actual name.

The Format

50 questions were submitted online to Victoria Votes, which broke them down into 5 policy areas, given in advance to each candidate, who gets five minutes to address them, with the order randomized to give some opportunity to respond to each other. Each candidate also gets 5 minutes to introduce themselves.

You’d think such a format would have been agreeable to the Conservatives. Victoria audiences don’t exactly carry pitchforks and torches (our buildings are very old).

The Intros

Jo-Ann Roberts (Green Party) is up first. She begins by acknowledging we’re on Esquimalt First Nations territory, to applause by audience (and the other candidates).

She then tells her personal story of a life as a journalist, mentions “speaking truth to power” as something important to her in and out of journalism. She accounts having had to quit a job as a young parent because she was given only 6 weeks maternity leave. She left the CBC a year ago because she wanted to combat Tory cuts, and felt she could do more by running for public office.

It was a good intro for Roberts, as people need to know who she is. In my estimation the biggest problem the Greens have is that more than any other party they essentially have to run their leader in every riding in Canada.

Cheryl Thomas (Liberal) is up next. She tells her story, which follows a similar path, in that she was faced with the same situation re: maternity leave in trying to balance her career as a speech pathologist. She stresses the importance of engaging people so that they care about the political process. She then talks about her past efforts in helping developmentally disabled people find work.

Another good intro, as Victoria is a two-horse race between the NDP and Greens, and even less people here know who she is.

Murray Rankin (NDP) is last, and he goes right into policy. He says we have a “crisis in democracy”, and discusses how the refugee crisis highlights the failure of the Harper Government.

Not a lot of the personal from Rankin, but such is the power of incumbency. Victoria knows who he is already, which allows him that leg up.

Policy Area 1: Housing.

Murray Rankin (NDP) goes first. He talks about how affordable housing is a concern for his two sons (this is a young audience, so not an insignificant choice of tactic for Rankin).

Rankin points out we used to have a Minister of Housing, and do not anymore, and that we would under an NDP government. Rankin also promises 2 billion in investments in co-op housing by 2020.

Rankin stresses the importance of the NDP’s $15/day childcare program, pointing out that Quebec’s $12/day childcare has allowed 70,000 women to enter the workforce, and thus provided a significant economic boost. I like very much how he’s tackling the housing problem laterally as well as directly.

Cheryl Thomas (LPC) is next. She says part of the Liberals’ proposed 60 billion dollar investment in infrastructure is for social housing. She does not say how much. (I posed the question on Twitter, and one of her staffers told me the number is 125 million a year in incentives for developers and landlords to keep costs down)

She says our health care system is set up for the 60’s and 70’s and that Liberals will “modernize” it. One of the ways would be assisting the College of Physicians in helping more people get a family doctor (not insignificant and would very much help vulnerable folk).

Thomas than refers to “one of Harper’s known racist remarks”, and only I laugh loudly. Whoops. Anyway Thomas is bold and quite funny.

Jo-Ann Roberts (GPC) brings up the rear. She says her daughter, who has a degree in refugee studies, had a hard time finding a one-bedroom apartment for $850/mo, which is above 25% of her income, a situation many young people face.

Roberts then suggests a 5% tax credit for renters to incentivize reduced apartment costs. Fixing the problem by lowering taxes sounds like a Tory-style approach, so what would the Greens also do to address the problem laterally? Well, they propose eliminating tuition for post-secondary education as well as a guaranteed basic income. Not an insignificant proposition, though it ain’t gonna happen so long as we have First Past The Post.

Different approaches from all three candidates. I’m calling round one a three-way tie, and a tie goes to the incumbent. Point Rankin.

Policy Area 2: The Environment

Cheryl Thomas is first, and she discusses how green infrastructure is a key element of the Liberals’ 60 billion dollar infrastructure plan. Specifically, the Liberals will invest big dollars in retrofitting older buildings with green technology.

She also talks about the sewage problem in Victoria, and says the federal government will provide municipal support in addressing such problems.

In a moment that could only happen in 2015, Thomas references Twitter at the exact moment I respond to her account, which tweeted me while she was onstage talking.

Thomas will be a distant 3rd and here she is making a lot of sense communicating the Liberal plan, which really says something for their slate of candidates.

Jo-Ann Roberts next. She says even the IMF (which is a pretty Conservative group of folk) says we need to move beyond fossil fuels. Roberts wants Elizabeth May at the climate delegation in Paris (which I believe is in November), and asks Rankin tell Mulcair to invite May if elected. (Rankin laughs warmly, but doesn’t say whether he will do so).

Roberts says the Greens are the only party opposed to transportation of diluted bitumen, which gets a big applause.

Murray Rankin next. Says the NDP will provide clean technology incentives. He also points out that solar creates more jobs than the tar sands do.

Rankin differs from Roberts in saying the focus should be transitioning to a low-carbon economy as opposed to a no-carbon economy. This is less what a lot of BC voters want to hear, but it’s infinitely more realistic.

I’m giving round two to Cheryl Thomas, as her knowledge of the Liberal platform is encyclopaedic and she communicates it very clearly.

Policy Area 3: First Nations.

Jo-Ann Roberts is first. She immediately says the Greens would repeal the Indian Act. I’ve been on that stage tearing a strip out of the Indian Act before, so it’s nice to hear it from a political candidate. The Greens would also follow every recommendation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

She also gives this fantastic quote: “When we’re talking about fracking and LNG, we’re talking about First Nations.”

Murray Rankin next. He discusses the UN’s recommendation for an inquiry for missing and murdered indigenous women, and he says it will happen in the first 100 days if the NDP is elected. They would also institute all 94 recommendations of the TRC.

Cheryl Thomas quips how alike all 3 candidates are, and again only I laugh out loud. :/

She said the Liberals will invest millions in schooling and school infrastructure for First Nations. Not only that, the Liberals will ensure the history of Canada’s abhorrent treatment of First Nations is taught in schools, particularly the history of residential schools. A very powerful statement, and something I didn’t know was in the Liberal platform.

Of residential schools, which Thomas has visited, she says, “You can feel the evil in the walls.”

Initially I gave round 3 to Thomas, but I’m going to tip my hat to Roberts on this one for her very astute comment on fracking.

Policy Area 4: Civil Liberties

Murray Rankin starts, and he brings down the house, saying, “We must get rid of Bill C51”. Cheryl Thomas, the Liberal, applauds (!!!). Rankin spends his five minutes trashing Bill C51, saying he was proud to be an NDP MP when Mulcair came out against it at a time the bill had over 80% of public support.

Cheryl Thomas says C51 “is and was a crappy bill”. Oh boy. How’s she gonna spin this when her party voted for it?

She goes on to say the Liberals “made a choice…to be parliamentarians”, which, huh? She does kinda get me back when she says the Liberals want to clarify in law that CSIS is not a police force, which C51 obscures. That is, to Trudeau’s credit, an important distinction.

What Thomas fails to do, though, is explain why C51 was at all necessary. It’s clear she doesn’t believe it was, and that she is not in agreement with Trudeau, which is frankly encouraging if people like her are in the party.

Jo-Ann Roberts is next, and she says, to Thomas, “You almost got an applause before saying the Liberals will repeal *parts of* C51”. I belly laughed.

Roberts lauds May’s instant condemnation of #C51, a reference to Mulcair’s waiting two weeks. (He wanted to consult with multiple legal experts first, which, how un-Prime Ministerial of him)

Round 4 goes to Murray Rankin by a country mile. The Liberal candidate applauding and agreeing with his stance more than her own kinda, y’know, helps.

Policy Area 5: Electoral Format

Cheryl Thomas says this will be the last election conducted under First Past The Post if the Liberals are elected, which is frankly great to hear with the Liberals starting to beat the crap out of everyone in Ontario. She highlights how beneficial to the Green Party this would be.

Jo-Ann Roberts talks voter suppression by proxy, saying how negative ads and messaging create a climate of cynicism and apathy. Good point.

Roberts then asserts that almost half of Green supporters have no second choice, citing one Ekos poll. This is a cherry picked and dishonest figure. Ekos asks people (by party affiliation) what their first and second choices are; they don’t specify “none” as a second choice in any poll I’ve seen of theirs.

Nanos, on the other hand, does specify that, and they consistently have less than 15% of Green supporters selecting “none” as a second choice, far less than “almost half”. In fact, their latest poll shows 89% of Greens as having a second choice. So Roberts’ use of data is either dishonest of misguided; either rubs me the wrong way.

Hashtag Wrongzo

Hashtag wrongzo

Murray Rankin says the NDP is committed to instituting mixed member proportional representation.

Round five is a tie between Thomas and Rankin, and a tie goes to the incumbent.

Final Score

Rankin: 1

Thomas: 1

Roberts: 1

Tie: 2

Winner: Murray Rankin, based on incumbency and the fact that Thomas outperformed Roberts in spite of Roberts’ likely being the only real contender to Rankin in this riding.

Final Impression

Murray Rankin did a fine job, particularly on housing, and was very decisive on civil liberties and proportional representation. I like his direct and lateral approach to making housing more affordable for youth and seniors alike. He has been a fiery opposer of Harper in the House of Commons, and so has given me no reason not to want him re-elected.

I agree with Jo-Ann Roberts on a lot of her general stances on issues, though I don’t think she communicated concrete aspects of the Greens’ plan as well as Rankin and Thomas did. That of course doesn’t mean concrete elements aren’t there, or that Roberts wouldn’t be a good MP. I give her the benefit of the doubt that she was misinformed in her provably false assertion that nearly half of Green voters don’t have a second choice, but the misinformation doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in me either. Still, if you’re a hardcore Green supporter, you can vote for her with impunity, as the Conservatives are nowhere in this riding, and someone needs to be advocating for student debt forgiveness and basic income.

Cheryl Thomas was phenomenal, and while she won’t win in Victoria, what she succeeded in doing was convincing me that Canada will be just fine if the Liberals are elected. I thought she hedged a bit on C51, but her problems with the bill were reassuring, and her knowledge of the Liberals’ infrastructure plan made me feel excited for Canada. The “Liberal Tory same old story” maxim plays well out here, but it falls apart on closer inspection.

We have three decent, progressive candidates in Victoria, so vote to your heart’s content.