Weekly Writ for Nov. 29: What 1st ballot score secures a leadership win?
If Crombie can't win on the first ballot, what's needed to win on the final one? Plus QS chooses a new co-leader and more rough polls for the Liberals.
Welcome to the Weekly Writ, a round-up of the latest federal and provincial polls, election news and political history that lands in your inbox every Wednesday morning.
On Saturday, we’ll find out who will be the next leader of the Ontario Liberal Party. The front runner seems to be Bonnie Crombie, but if she fails to secure a majority of the vote on the first ballot what kind of number will signal she’ll win on the final ballot?
The Liberals are using a one-member-one-vote (OMOV) system with each riding across the province given equal weight. That means if a candidate secures 50% of the vote in a riding with 100 members and 50% of the vote in a riding with 1,000 members, the number of points they will get for that riding is the same.
This has become a common system in leadership contests in Canada, notably used by both the federal Liberal and Conservative parties, along with many provincial parties across the country. Some parties forego any weighting, giving all members equal standing, while yet others still use the old delegated system of leadership conventions.
Regardless of the system used, the process for selecting a winner is always the same: if a candidate fails to secure 50% on the first ballot, the last-place candidate is eliminated and those votes are re-distributed according to voters’ preferences (or another round of voting takes place). This continues until some reaches 50%+1.
This means that candidates have to draw votes from the supporters of their eliminated rivals. It has often been difficult for front runners to “roll-up” the supporters of their opponents, as members generally divide themselves into two broad camps: with-the-front-runner or against-the-front-runner. The OLP leadership contest has even had an explicit formation of such a camp, with Nate Erskine-Smith and Yasir Naqvi supporting each other in order to defeat Bonnie Crombie. Ted Hsu, the fourth candidate in the race, has kept out of the drama.
While it can be difficult for front runners to grow their support on later ballots, their number still inches up as they inevitably get some support from their rivals’ backers, as well as increasing their overall share of the vote as ballots are exhausted (when voters decline to rank all candidates on their ballot).
So what’s the threshold where the first ballot score is nearly as good as 50%+1?
To answer that, I looked at the results of all the leadership contests held over the last quarter century in Canada. I excluded any delegated contest and any race that ended with a first ballot winner. Here is how leaders on the first ballot fared, ranked by their first ballot score:
Of the 33 cases I gathered, 73% of first-ballot leaders ended up winning on the final ballot. But, with the exception of Cindy Lamoureux in the 2017 Manitoba Liberal leadership and Gary Mar in the 2011 Alberta PC leadership, every first ballot leader who secured at least 40% on the first ballot ended up winning. Every first ballot leader with at least 44% won, with no exceptions.
(Lamoureux’s case is even more exceptional, as this was not a preferential ballot but rather a multi-stage voting process where every member was eligible to vote. Word was that Lamoureux lost because too many of her backers didn’t want to wait around for the second round to cast another ballot.)
Of the 12 cases where the first ballot leader had between 30% and 40%, only eight (or 67%) were able to win on the final ballot. The other four were overtaken, though three of those fell just short with at least 48% on the final ballot.
Of the five who led on the first ballot with less than 30% support, only two went on to win (Annamie Paul for the Greens in 2020, Blaine Higgs for the New Brunswick PCs in 2016). The other three made it to the final ballot but were beaten.
If Bonnie Crombie can’t win on the first ballot, then the sweet spot appears to be over 40%, preferably over 43%. If she can manage that on the first ballot, then she is in a very strong position to win on the final ballot. Leading with less than 40% would still give her a shot, but with every point she loses her odds get worse and worse.
And if she doesn’t lead on the first ballot, then the Erskine-Smith/Naqvi deal will likely seal her fate.
MORE ONTARIO POLITICS! Join me and Philippe J. Fournier for a livestream of the Kitchener Centre byelection results tomorrow night, starting at 9 PM Eastern. You will find the livestream for this Ontario provincial byelection here.
Now, to what is in this week’s instalment of the Weekly Writ:
News of a new co-leader for Québec Solidaire, low advance turnout ahead of an Ontario byelection and two provincial party leaders who passed leadership reviews.
Polls show the Conservatives holding their bid lead and Canadians holding mixed views on Israel-Gaza. Plus lots more polls from the last two weeks.
CAQ would lose its majority government if the election were held today.
A must-win for the Saskatchewan NDP in this week’s riding profile.
The Manitoba Liberals choose a leader in the #EveryElectionProject.