Monday, May 23, 2011

On breakdowns

While Alice is working on debunking the all-too-familiar refrain about one-time political standings dictate future strategy and results, Eric is taking the concept to new depths. So let's take a quick look at why it makes roughly zero sense to focus in on the demographic breakdown of the ridings represented by a party (based on a one-time electoral result) as determinative of its support and direction.

In effect, the assumption behind Eric's demographic profiling is that a party's raison d'etre is to represent all constituents within the ridings they've won, and none in the ridings they've lost.

But the supposed changes since May 2 themselves serve as an indication of just how far off base that assumption actually is. If one applies Eric's logic to the status quo as of a month ago, the NDP would have been considered a party whose geographic and demographic base was utterly inconsistent with any interest in winning votes in Quebec - based not just on its past vote shares, but on the theory that it would be too tied to placating its existing bases of support to make an effort to speak to the concerns of Quebeckers.

To the extent anybody wanted to make that case, it would seem to have been entirely debunked. But Eric's analysis takes it as a given that we should use Canada's 2011 election results as a starting point in applying a theory which is utterly inconsistent with those results coming to pass in the first place.

In reality, of course, a party has many different constituent groups to take into account, and the demographic breakdown of currently-held ridings figures to be at most a secondary consideration. In terms of direct influence, the more important figures are bound to be the MPs themselves, along with the party activists and supporters who take a direct interest in the party's message. And in terms of strategy designed to maximize future electoral outcomes, it would be utter lunacy for a party to focus more on the most-distant tranche of voters in ridings it already holds (who are included in Eric's numbers) than on swing demographics which might actually result in winning additional seats in the future (who are excluded).

Fortunately, I doubt that the NDP (or any other party) will decide to follow the suggestion to represent only the demographics in the ridings they now represent, rather than looking at a more complete picture as to who might be able to elect MPs in the future. But it's worth pointing out the flaws in Eric's analysis for the benefit of outsiders too - lest we otherwise see many more opportunities like the NDP's Quebec surge needlessly brushed off by the commentariat.

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