The New Brunswick NDP has been on a roll of late.
They tend to get equal billing to the PCs and Liberals in the press - a status not enjoyed by their fellow non-seat parties the Greens and People's Alliance. And they're soaring in the polls; they eked out a statstically insiginifcant lead over the Tories in a recent poll, and have been consistently at or above 19% in every quarterly CRA poll since May 2011. The NDP has often had interelection spikes of support in New Brunswick, but none this big or this durable. It will be very interesting to see whether the NDP can hold on to all or most of this support in September, and what that might mean for them in terms of seats.
What would 20% of the vote look like for the NDP?
Well it is hard to say. Our first-past-the-post (FPTP) can yield some non-intuitive results.
For instance, in 1987 the PCs got zero seats on 29% of the vote. Why? Because the Liberal margin was over 30 percentage points. As you'll see in these other examples, the margin between the parties matters as much as the actual vote percentage.
Just last year in Nova Scotia, at 26 or so percent of the vote each, the NDP and PCs got 7 and 11 seats respectively. The Liberal margin over these tied parties was about 20 points.
In New Brunswick in 1991 CoR and the PCs both got about 20% of the vote, but got 8 and 3 seats. Why such a difference? The CoR vote was more "efficient", that is to say it was concentrated heavily in a band of ridings running from Fredericton to Saint John to Moncton, while the PC vote was spread thinly across the province. CoR got 35% of the vote in the Fredericton region, enough to win plenty of seats as they were only 5 points behind the Liberals. The PCs on the other hand got fairly consistent support of between 19 and 24% in every region, meaning they were always running 20+ points behind.
All that to say, if the NDP gets 20% of the vote and the Liberals and Tories get 35% each the results for the NDP will be much different than if the NDP and PCs both get 20% and the Liberals get 50% (this is closer to what the polls are showing today).
There is however a continuum of seats for the NDP. There are some seats where the NDP has traditionally and consistently done better than elsewhere. And at 20% of the vote in a race with 3 parties at or above that level, it would be virtually impossible for the NDP to fail to win at least a handful of seats. If their vote dips below 15% however, there would be a risk of them being shut out.
I'll break the seats into categories for the NDP's hopes. In most cases I'll be looking at 2006 and 2010 data as a reference point as these are both recent elections and elections where I've been able to transpose the boundaries accurately onto the new map. As appropriate, I'll get into to older data.
This first category of seats are ones where the NDP should pretty well be guaranteed to win in a scenario where they are getting over 20% of the vote. If they don't win these seats, it will be because their vote has collapsed or they've lost due to an unusual vote split or local scandal.
Saint John Harbour
This is the only seat in New Brunswick that has voted NDP more than once. Parts of this current riding were represented by then NDP leader Elizabeth Weir from 1991 to 2005. One might argue that this is not so much an NDP riding as an Elizabeth Weir riding, or perhaps a riding that is sympathetic to electing a party leader. However, that ignores recent results there. Under these boundaries, the NDP would have got 27% of the vote compared to 35% for the PCs and 31% for the Liberals in 2010. This in an election where they got only 10% of the vote provincewide and where their francophone leader was focussed almost exclusively on winning his own seat in northeastern New Brunswick.
Here is a riding where the NDP came second closest to winning under the new provincial boundaries in 2010. The NDP vote was 21% compared to 32% each for the PCs and the Liberals. Had these boundaries been in place at the 2003 election, the NDP would have won here that year.
Low Hanging Fruit
These are ridings where the NDP has consistently exceeded their provincewide vote in past elections, and where an NDP candidate should be able to win if the provincal vote stays above 20% and the party runs a good campaign in the riding.
It is from this area that long-time NDP candidate and party leader George Little hailed. He built a strong following for the NDP here - growing the party to over 30% in 1987 - that hasn't really died out. The NDP strength here is an anomoly compared to the rest of the region. In 2010, the NDP would have taken 19% here compared to 10% provincewide and in 2006 13% compared to 5% provincewide.
The NDP would have taken 23% here compared to 10% provincewide in 2010, and 7% compared to 5% in 2006. The fact that they still managed to beat their provincewide vote here in 2006 when they had a unilingual anglophone leader and failed to run a full slate of candidates in the region shows the NDP resiliance. The biggest challenge to the NDP will be that they may face off in a two-way race with the Liberals which would be very difficult for them to win if the Liberals stay 20ish points ahead in the polls. Working in their favour is that long-time incumbent Liberal Roland Haché is retiring.
Saint John East
It was here that the NDP won their second ever seat in a 1984 by-election. NDP strength has remained strong here and they would have taken 19% of the vote under these boundaries in 2010.
This seat would have given the NDP 17% of the vote in 2010, and 7% in 2006. With party leader Dominic Cardy running here and a focus by the NDP on Fredericton ridings (they have nominated 4 candidates so far, all in the Fredericton area), this riding should be a realistic reach for them.
Call Me, Maybe?
Here are ridings where the NDP has shown some relative strength, but only enough that they would be positioned to win with strong local campaigns, a surge to 30+% in the polls, and/or a closer three-way race between the major parties provincewide keeping the margin between the winner and the NDP to around 10 points.
The NDP would have taken 19% of the vote under these boundaries in 2010, after failing to field a candidate over much of this riding's territory in 2006. The fact that both a PC and Liberal incumbent could create an opportunity to sneak up the middle in a vote split.
The NDP would have taken 12% of the vote here in 2010, and 10% in 2006. The doubling of the provincewide NDP share here in 2006 is owed in part to the fact that party leader Allison Brewer was on the ballot - but that was only for half of the riding and does not fully account for the strong NDP result. The traditional weakness of the Liberals in the Oromocto part of this riding will help the NDP as well.
Saint John Portland
The NDP took 16% in these boundaries in 2010 and 6% in 2006. But under the boundaries of the old Saint John Portland the NDP got over 20% of the vote in 2003 and this riding became more friendly to the NDP under redistribution.
NDP support has been inconsistent here but has showed points of strength over the years, most notably in by-elections where the NDP placed second in the old Kent riding in 1998 and 2013. In the last general election, the NDP would have gotten 17% of the vote here though they would have done slightly worse than their provincewide vote in 2006. The key to an NDP victory in this riding seems to be strong Aboriginal turnout. If past NDP candidate Susan Levi-Peters or another prominent member of the Elsipogtog First Nation runs for the NDP they could be a contender. Most of the old Kent riding has gone on to Kent South, however its areas of NDP strength have come here. Interestingly they join with Rogersville-Kouchibougauc a riding which has not generally been strong for the NDP lately, but gave the NDP over 1,000 votes in 1991 and 1999.
The NDP would have gotten 14% of the vote here in 2010 and 6% in 2006. My seat model likes this riding for the NDP if the Liberal vote stays below 40% provincewide as the NDP is as likely as the Liberals to benefit from lost PC votes here in that scenario.
These are ridings which either seem on paper to be good targets for the NDP, but not so much intuitively; or vice versa.
NDP leader Roger Duguay got 30% of the vote in the old Tracadie-Sheila riding in 2010. That number is bettered to 37% under these boundaries owing to strong NDP polls that came into the riding from Miramichi Bay and Centre-Peninsule. The NDP did not even field a candidate in Tracadie-Sheila in 2006. My seat model likes this riding for the NDP even when one accounts for the expected "bounce" a leader receives in his riding. This is backed up by the fact that the NDP did better in the polls that came in from neighbouring ridings than they did on average where the leader was actually on the ballot. Coupled with the fact that Roger Duguay did tremendously well in neighbouring Miramichi Bay-Neguac in 2006 (when he was not yet leader), suggests that a strong local candidate could do well here. If the NDP (which had brought in professional operatives from all over for Duguay's 2010 campaign) kept their voter lists and volunteer lists, a strong candidate could be poised to do well here. The NDP campaign would also be helped by the fact that the Liberals have not done well here in two decades and this seat is an unlikely pick up for them.
When Roger Duguay ran here in 2006 he bested the provincewide popular vote of his party by 5 times. He had no provincial profile and limited resources. Obviously a strong candidate could do well here. That said, this riding is not as NDP friendly today as it was then. While the NDP took 26% of the vote under the old boundaries in 2006, under these boundaries they would have gotten only 18% (still impressive considering the 5% taken provincewide).
The model doesn't like this riding for the NDP because in recent elections they've done on average only as well here as they did provincewide. Part of that is due to the fact that the Greens ran a strong campaign here in 2010, probably stealing votes from the NDP's potential voter pool. But the strong NDP history here cannot be ignored. In 1982, this was the first seat to elect a New Democrat to the legislature. That was a long-time ago, but the NDP showed continuing signs of strength. In a 1997 by-election, the NDP nearly won taking 30% of the vote to 34% for the PCs and 33% for the Liberals. And they massively beat their provincewide vote in all elections here from 1974 through 2003.
The model hates this riding because the NDP was crushed here in some parts of the riding in 2006, and didn't have a candidate on the ballot in other parts. In 2010, it managed only to mirror the provincewide average. However, the old Fredericton North gave the NDP 16% of the vote in 2003. That is slightly more impressive if we look at the new boundaries where my estimate gives the NDP 18% of the vote in 2003. Couple this with the NDP focus on Fredericton in general and this riding in particular (candidate Brian Duplessis was the first nominated by the NDP), and this riding is worth watching.
These are 15 ridings in which the NDP has a plausible chance of victory if they hold on to their 20% of the vote. Certainly, there are other opportunities.
For instance, if their campaign focuses on Fredericton and Saint John, their efforts will likely spill into adjacent ridings and ones like Saint John Lancaster and Rothesay could come into play for instance.
If the NDP takes a hard run at northeastern New Brunswick there are also opportunities there. Yvon Godin has proved a New Democrat can win big margins in that region. It is easy to write that off as personal popularity, however there is more to that story. In 1991, the NDP came second in Dalhousie, Restigouche East, Nigadoo-Chaleur and Nepisiguit. In 1995, the NDP came second in Dalhousie and Bathurst, and were just 12 votes short of second in Caraquet. Perhaps a canary in the coal mine that foreshadowed Godin's first breakthrough in 1997? This provincial NDP strength continued into 1999 when they took about a 1,00 votes in each of Nigadoo-Chaleur, Nepigiuit and Centre-Peninsule.
All this is moot however if the NDP strength fails in the heat of an election campaign. We live in interesting political times.