Harper’s Mandate: 77.78% of Canadian Voters Do Not Support Government

The record low turnout of 59.1% and the government’s support among voters of 37.6% means that only 22.22% of all eligible voters in Canada voted for Harper. When factoring in people not on the list such as permanent residents who are not citizens, roughly 4 in 5 adults in this country did not vote for our new New Government. But, how does this compare with previous governments? Is there a crisis of legitimacy developing?
Let’s look at the 1945 to 2008 results…
Legitimacy of Government Mandates Decreasing Over Time

Legitimacy of Government Mandates Decreasing Over Time

Clearly, the major post-war pattern is a move away from broad-based support. Yet, our system continues to give near-total power to the Prime Minister and complete control of all cabinet files to the largest party. Our country is more and more divided while concurrently our citizens are less and less inclined to care.
What Canada needs now are serious investigations into the causes of absenteeism as well as a sober analysis of how best to reflect the diversity of opinion in the country in our parliament. We who are concerned with democracy in Canada – whether left, right, or center – need to sit down and assess the situation and come up with a plan to keep our system healthy for years to come.

27 responses to “Harper’s Mandate: 77.78% of Canadian Voters Do Not Support Government

  1. I agree with you, it’s a sorry picture. We need some sort of Proportional Representation, or at least a rank-order transferable vote that allows a degree of consensus.

    I propose that next time the opposition parties figure out a way to stop splitting the vote, and elect a coalition with democratic reforms as the top priority.

    Then the coalition can fall apart, and we can elect a truly representative government.

  2. Thanks for the comment, Daniel.

    I’m very interested in mixed-proportional and automatic run-off systems. I think, though, that they also have their problems and so we need to have a large, long, impartial investigation into the options and Canadians’ opinions of them.

  3. In terms of strengthened mandate, the Conservatives received FEWER votes in 2008 than in 2006. They received about 168,000 fewer votes for a gain of 1% in popular vote and 6% in seats.

  4. The transferable vote idea was approved by BC voters 58 – 42 in a referendum some years back. Unfortunately the threshold for passing was set at 60%…
    The Conservatives know they have nothing to gain. Your Sober Second Choices post demonstrated this perfectly.

  5. Perhaps, daniel, the Conservatives will rise above partisan short-term gains and recognize the need to have a stronger democracy in Canada. Conservatives like Andrew Coyne have advocated for systems such as the one in BC you mention inspite of its short-term consequences because it is a system better able to ask for and represent public opinion.

    I remain hopeful that the Conservative Party is filled with individuals who, like me, are concerned about the growing disconnect or democratic deficit.

  6. But what if they don’t?

  7. If they don’t support democratic renewal in this country, then we are not going to get anywhere.

    But, I suspect that the “adults” in all the parties are alarmed by the low turnout and poor representation of diverse opinion. No one who cares about the state of democracy in Canada can look at that chart above and say that there isn’t a problem. Even the Bloc commentator on CBC last night said there is a problem – and they are th most OVER-represented party under the current system.

    And, I’ll add, the problem may be coming on quicker than we realize. If I included only those elections since the new Constitution, the trend is far steeper.

  8. I’m sorry if I sound dismissive but the conservatives won’t support democratic renewal. (unless you count their useless ideas about the senate)

    I can recall an election forum on democratic reform that included Stephen Fletcher on the panel. He said, and I paraphrase, that we NEED a system where a minority of voters can elect a majority government because we NEED strong government that is empowered to make decisions.

    The conservatives have been salivating at the prospect of a majority for 15 years. They’re in no mood to change the rules in a way that might disadvantage them now.

  9. If Conservatives do not support a system that ask for and represents the views of the people of Canada, as is the case of Stephen Fletcher, then they do not deserve to govern the country. I would hope that Conservatives will be more level-headed than that and hold out hope that they too will be concerned by the trend.

  10. What exactly is the point of this post? Voter turnout is poor, and yes, something needs to be done in some way to address this. But to deny the credibility of the Conservative victory because so many people didn’t vote is incorrect. Your math here is flaky. There is no meaningful way to determine how any non-voter may have voted. So, its only reasonable to assume the split of support for the various parties would be the same across the entire population.
    One could also just as easily say that 75% of Canadians didn’t want a Liberal government, and 94% do not want a Green Party government.

  11. Hi Timo,

    Welcome to the blog and thanks for the comment.

    The “flaky” math is a look at the historic trends in Canadian federal elections, determining what percent of the electorate voted for the government of the day. If this goes down over time, there should be some concern to those of us interested in the state of democracy in Canada.

    You are absolutely right in saying that there is no meaningful way – based solely on voting results – to determine how any non-voter may a have voted. But, what we do have is a record-low vote in favour of the government that comes as part of a long-term, alarming trend. We cannot say for certain why this trend exists, only that it is happening.

    That the Conservatives won the election is undeniable. I wouldn’t claim otherwise. But, the legitamacy of their claim on power is smaller than say, Dief the Chief’s claim in 1958 when he received the votes of about 43% of all eligible voters. To say that the legitimacy of governments is going down over time is a fact – if we measure legitimacy in a democracy by the amount of votes cast for the government divided by the number of potential votes. (And, yes, I would claim that the first Harper government was stronger because it was supporter by 168,000 more people than this one.)

    The point is that governments in Canada – both Liberal and Conservative – are receiving the votes of fewer and fewer Canadians. If this trend continues, at what point will governments cease to have a legitimate claim that they are representative of the views of Canadians? 20%? 15%? Then, the real questions: What are the causes of this trend? Should we not act to reverse this trend? What can we do to reverse that trend?

  12. Hi Timo,

    Please note that this is a systemic problem. The smallest three majorities were Liberal and were the most recent three majorities. The second-worst result in terms of legitimacy was Paul Martin’s victory in 2004. This is not a Conservative problem.

  13. My opinion: it’s a bi-product of each of the parties playing to the middle ground instead of making bold policies that reflect their true ideologies. People tend to think that they’re all the same. It is also a result of having leaders with no charisma. Harper: completely devoid of charisma. Dion: has even less charisma, if that’s possible. If we ever get a likeable and exciting leader I think you’ll see popular vote increase again.

  14. And yet charisma might be the worse possible reason to vote for someone.

  15. It may not be a good reason, but it’s definitely a factor.

    Also, for an opposing viewpoint on proportional representation –> http://ommag.blogspot.com/
    OMMAG doesn’t mince words.

  16. Thanks for the link, cherenkov. I’ve posted in the comments of that post and I’m looking forward to OMMAG’s take on the graph above. I think – and I could be wrong – that anyone who is concerned about democracy would be concerned about that trend. We’ll see.

    For the middle-ground, charisma argument, two thoughts. Charisma is the worst reason to vote for someone, policy is the best. But, I think you are right about pandering to the middle ground – its uninspiring.

    I think that another source of disconnect is negative ads. These are slowly turning us off everyone.

  17. “Charisma is the worst reason to vote for someone” -donaldstreet

    I’m sure you’re not serious here, but just trying to make a point. There are people who base their votes on hairdos, voice, clothes, etc. Actually, I’d even argue that charisma is really an important attribute because it helps to motivate a group of people around issues (can be good or bad). But yeah, policy is most important, by far.

    That aside, this topic sorely requires more attention. I don’t see this as a partisan issue…. sure PR could negatively impact parties like the Conservatives, Liberals and Bloc. But I think the point of this discussion is to take it past that… let’s stop saying things like:

    “The Conservatives/Liberals won enough seats in this/that election to form the government; now let them govern, dammit.”

    “The Green Party got lots of votes, but no seats; that’s not fair.”

    You get the point. What I’d like to see is these types of comments removed from the debate. Perhaps not realistic, but even though both comments have validity, the ISSUE here is one of the infamous “democratic deficit.” We, as a country (read: Conservative, Liberal, NDP, BQ, Green, independent, other, non-partisan, non-voting person), really need to be concerned about the following point, with subpoints:

    1. There is an overall trend of declining voter turnout, with an almost infinite number of reasons why turnout is declining, including:

    i) Votes don’t equal party representation. This doesn’t necessarily mean we need PR, though.
    ii) The quality of political discussion is declining; almost no one talks about policy in detail. The detail is the critical piece here!
    iii) Parties tend not to follow through on promises, anyways… so who gives a damn about what they say. May be a sentiment, may be a legitimate point; either way, it’s a concern.
    iv) Media coverage has been largely reduced to negative coverage, gaffes, horse races and sound bites. It sells.
    v) There are growing populations of disenfranchised voters in the country: recent immigrants, Aboriginals, low income earners, individuals who don’t have photo ID with an address and people who just don’t see where they fit in the current political landscape. The growth of these groups isn’t the problem; the fact that they feel they/are disenfranchised is.

    I’m sure there’s many more, but I’ll stop here.

    Personally, I’d like to know a bit more about what are options are. How do other systems work in other countries and how can we Canadianize these? I’ll need to study these a bit more before I can comment further.

    I started off by quoting donaldstreet and I’ll end with this quote, which is apropos:

    “Should we not act to reverse this trend? What can we do to reverse that trend?”

    I don’t know what the answers are, but surely engaging in non-partisan discussion is a good first step.

  18. You know, I do think the first-past-the-post system is a fairly decent way to elect people to a parliament, in that it does a fairly decent job of finding the general concensus of people in a particular area.

    However, I do also think that the various political philosphies are not represented as well when you look at the population in general. This is why I think that there needs to be another government wing (or maybe a replacement for the old senate) which is represented by a makeup of the vote to party philosophy. If we are doing it senate-style, then you determine the makeup by splitting the seating by region. Of course, by having this system, we are not directly voting for particular people, but trusting the party with putting in their best.

  19. Thanks for sending me to OMMAG, cherenkov. The PR discussion resulted in fascism being blamed on proportional representation! I love the internet.

    I agree, robondon, that this has to be a non-partisan discussion. The chart above includes loads of Liberal governments which have been elected in recent years by smaller and smaller pluralities. Your list of reasons for democractic decline is also good, but I don’t know if it is complete, how to weight the factors, and what would solve all those concerns.

    And, Evan, I agree that there are loads of advantages to electing a local representative from each riding. Something like the BC automatic runoff system could help solve both problems.

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  24. Kind of obvious isn’t it? The institutionalization of a separatist party in the Canadian political system is having a deleterious effect on our body politic. If Quebeckers don’t need to vote for a federalist party to be governed effectively, why shouldn’t anyone else vote at all? Wooing Quebec has become a staple for parties of all stripes. We might see voter numbers increase in not-Quebec Canada only if people get tired of that effort.

  25. Thanks for stopping by, oracle.

    I don’t know if what you say is true. I can’t disprove it, but I haven’t seen any evidence for it. I can’t imagine that there is that significant a population out there of people who resent rapprochment with Quebec so much that they disengage with the political process. It is true, though, that the Bloc era has mostly seen (except 1993) a drop in overall mandate. But, I think that is for other factors, mentioned above.

    If anyone has a study on the causes of this decline, I’d love to see it.

  26. Just to revive a dead post, can you plug in the new numbers?

  27. Talk about reviving an old post! This is a long-dead blog! Send me an email and I’ll send you the file. I just updated it with 2011. 2011 sets the all-time low for majority governments in Canada – 24.3% voted for the government. It’s the fourth lowest result to date for majority or minority – up from 2004, 2006, and 2008. It’s exactly on the trend line from 1945 to 2008. thanks for jogging my memory.

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