The Counter-Narratives Prevailed

Yesterday’s nearly identical repeat of the 2019 election makes clear that neither the Liberals nor the Conservatives achieved their desired outcomes: no Liberal majority government, no Conservative government. The outcome, as well as the prevalence of negative messaging by each party about the other party and its leader, demonstrates that the counter-narratives prevailed.

Fear and Loathing

The Conservatives were able convincingly to portray Justin Trudeau as dishonest, self-interested, and power-seeking. And the Liberals convincingly portrayed Erin O’Toole as dishonest, unprincipled, and in thrall to his party’s right wing. Unlike the 2015 election, Justin Trudeau is no longer seen as the visionary agent of change. And the Conservatives were not able to portray Erin O’Toole as a steady hand with widespread appeal. The Globe and Mail’s Andrew Coyne accurately described the election as one in which the Conservatives effectively promoted loathing of Trudeau and the Liberals just as effectively promoted fear of O’Toole.

Neither leader achieved an electoral breakthrough. Despite all the sound and fury of the campaign, the political status quo ante prevailed.

How Much Strategic Voting?

In the final days of the campaign, both the Liberals and Conservatives were plumping for strategic voting. Comparing the popular vote totals to the last predictions by the CBC’s Poll Tracker, the Liberals had 32.2 percent (compared to a predicted 31.5 percent), the Conservatives 34 percent (compared to 31 percent), the NDP 17.7 percent (compared to 19.1 percent), the Greens 2.3 percent (compared to 3.5 percent), and the People’s Party 5.1 percent (compared to 7 percent). The fact that the two main parties exceeded their predictions and the three smaller parties fell short suggests that there indeed was strategic voting, with the decision being made on the way to the poll, or indeed in the booth.

Much to Study

These morning-after observations show that there is much to learn from the in-depth analysis of this election. That will be the challenge for the authors of the Canada Election Study, who have been polling every day since the beginning of the campaign.

Perceived traits of the party leaders (trustworthiness, intelligence, effectiveness) should speak to the question of narratives versus counter-narratives. It will be fascinating to see how these traits varied throughout the campaign, and the extent to which different groups in the electorate embraced the different traits.

I’m sure the study has questions that bear on strategic voting, such as the relationship between voter choices in the last election and preferences in this election as well as voter ranking of the different parties in this election.

After the 2000 election, Bill Clinton said “the people have spoken, but it will take a while to determine exactly what they said.” Even though the outcome of the 2021 Canadian election is clear, my colleagues will be using all the tools of quantitative analysis to figure out what the people were saying.

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