The Grey March

Canada’s legion of Grey voters are growing and are a bigger slice of the pie with each passing election.  We saw in the Lower Mainland transit referendum that voting is a contact sport for grandma and grandpa.

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Two polls released earlier this week show that a Grey March may be afoot.

Abacus:

60 years plus:

  • 41% CPC
  • 26% NDP
  • 24% LIB

IPSOS:

55 years plus:

  • 41% CPC
  • 26% LIB
  • 25% NDP

In both cases, older voters are returning to the Conservatives.  We all know old people vote at a higher rate, so … election in the bag?  Not so fast.

The Abacus poll shows the Liberals neck and neck with the Conservatives in the 30-59 age group (NDP close behind), while IPSOS shows a considerable Liberal lead in the 35-54 group.

IPSOS has the Conservatives lagging in the 18-34s (which rings true) while Abacus has a 3-way split in the 18-29s (that would be surprising).

Where were seniors and soon-to-be seniors a few weeks ago?

Among 60 plus, Abacus found a 7 pt Conservative lead over the Liberals between September 9th -11th; they’ve stretched that lead to 15 points over NDP and 17 points over the Liberals.

IPSOS had the Conservatives and NDP tied among 55+ (33% each) between September 4th -8th.  Now it’s a 16 pt Conservative lead.  That’s a huge swing.

Part of the story of the BC election surprise was the underlying turnout advantage of the BC Liberals.  The age demographic numbers seem familiar in this election except that it’s a three-way fight and the Conservatives do not have enough of a lead among older voters to compensate for weakness among younger voters.

Looking at the Abacus data, and crunching it against the overall number of voters in each age group multiplied by Elections Canada turnout estimates by age group, I find that the Conservatives have an extra bump of 1.5%, pushing them to 33.5% from 32%.  Compared to a few weeks ago, the Conservative war room is probably feeling pretty good about things.   Better not get too cocky about it though.  This race is still very competitive and they haven’t reached Joe Clark territory yet (35.9%).

To win, the Liberals and the NDP need to slow down the Grey March.  These Freedom 55 voters have a turnout rate of around 70%.

Let’s climb down from this scenario and exhale.  Nineteen days is a lot of time in a campaign and we have seen what the last nineteen days have done to the NDP.  Anything can happen and there are things opposition parties can do to divert the march.  Moreover, this analysis is putting a lot of stock into two polls – there are countless others.

Looking ahead, three dynamics on the Grey March:

  1. At 41% among the Grey, the Conservatives are still well below the level of support they had in the last election among this group.  Arresting Conservative growth will thwart their ability to have a decisive win.  Turning it back, will result in a change in government.
  2. What’s the message for seniors?  The Conservatives are dropping messages into this category with precision and it appears to be working.   Opposition advertising will need to be revisited.  Will Justin be able to polarize the debate to drive NDP seniors over to Liberal? Or is at matter of Justin appealing to small ‘l’ liberal seniors who are parking with the Conservatives until they decide on Justin’s readiness?  The NDP have had a stronger appeal with seniors leading into the election than the Liberals but are seeing it ebb away.  Seniors remain consumers of newspapers and TV news – wooing them is not a social media campaign.
  3. In so much as there is a generational advantage with younger voters, effective turnout strategies will be critical.  In other words, if you are going to lose with seniors, you better turn out younger voters.  A very hard thing to do and, in the context of limited resources, arguably yields a poor return.  It would be better to just not lose with seniors!

Did I say there were 19 days left in the campaign?  Oops.  An increasing amount of voters are utilizing advance polls, with seniors being the keenest to vote early.  This election will be over for many voters well before the 19th.

Keep an eye on the Grey March.  The age breaks in these surveys should be focusing the minds of all campaigns and serve as a wake-up call to opposition parties about where this election could be headed.  They’ve fallen … but they still have time to get up.

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