Regional Isolations in Three Parts: ProRep, Brexit, and Trump’s America

Are urbanized centres becoming ideological fortresses, isolated from rural areas and even suburban and regional centres?

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Artistic representation of ProRep support in BC

Building on my ‘hot take’ on the BC ProRep referendum results, maps of the referendum results indicate similarities with Brexit and the 2016 US presidential election, demonstrating the separation (or isolation) between urban (city) and other regions.

In the recent ProRep referendum, ProRep succeeded in only 16 of 87 ridings.  Support was mainly concentrated in urbanized areas.  Six were on the South Island, six were in the City of Vancouver, plus New Westminster.  The remaining three were Powell River-Sunshine Coast, and two in the West Kootenay – not surprising given their political traditions.  Here’s how the results look according to two mappers who put their work on Twitter:

BC ProRep map (published on Twitter by Andy Yan (@AYan604), Director of SFU’s City Program:

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The green (and purple) indicates where ProRep passed.

The red and orange areas show where ProRep did very poorly – in suburban (and diverse) communities in Metro Vancouver, the Fraser Valley, and most ridings in the Interior.

Another map of the BC referendum results was published by Rhea Donsman (@repdonsman456), who describes herself as a political analyst and strategist.  

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The province-wide map shows the bloc of FPTP support in the Interior, while the Lower Mainland / South Island map below shows the pockets of ProRep support in relation to the Metro Vancouver suburbs and Fraser Valley.

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In both of the referendum maps (Yan’s and Donsman’s), you can see the geopolitical differences.

Brexit results by region (source: Vancouver Sun):

Let’s compare the BC referendum results to Brexit.

This map makes the point – London is an island in England, with the countryside and regional cities seeing things differently.  By comparison, Scotland plays the role of Vancouver Island (and Northern Ireland – the West Kootenay?) in terms of seeing things differently than England outside London.

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US 2016 presidential election results by county (source: Wikipedia):

The 2016 US presidential results map (by county) shows the concentration of Democratic Party support on the populated coasts and the domination of the Republicans in the less-populated ‘flyover states’.

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It wasn’t always this way in the US.  In 1960, JFK won in the South and Nixon won the west coast.

1960_electoral_map

Maps are ever-shifting, but in today’s examples, the urban consensus does not have a lot of support in the outlying, rural areas.

Traditional notions of “right” and “left” are being displaced by place.  It’s always been this way, to an extent.  But is it more pronounced today?  In the US, it seems so.  With Brexit, it exposed faultlines on Euroskepticism that have existed since the UK entered the EU.  In BC, parties have tended to draw from all regions throughout history but in recent elections there has been a trend toward regional domination (with the Metro Vancouver suburbs lying in the balance).

Going deeper in BC –  Vancouver Island is very different from the rest of BC.  It’s much less ethnically diverse and it’s a lot older.  However, on the Island, we see the difference between the South Island and equivalently sized region ‘North of the Malahat’.  The South exhibits urban, green values, while the North is more influenced by rural and resource issues.  Environmental values in that area vary between those who generally side with producers versus those who prefer an alternative economy, such as those who live on gulf islands between Vancouver Island and the Mainland.

In the Lower Mainland, higher income areas with lots of post-graduate degrees, in parts of Vancouver, the North Shore, and up toward Whistler, are a different crowd than suburban dwellers, many of whom live in single family homes, with communities being shaped by immigration patterns.  It’s impossible to ignore the impact of the Chinese, South Asian, Filipino, and Korean communities, not to mention Persian, Eastern European, and other growing sub-populations.

The Interior, writ large, has a different mindset than the rest of BC, but within the Interior, the West Kootenay has a very different political tradition than the Okanagan.  The North Coast sees things very differently than Prince George.  In the Interior, the rising tide of First Nations communities is a major factor in a number of ridings (as it is in some ridings on Vancouver Island).  As well, the Interior is not necessarily ‘rural’.  Kelowna, Kamloops, and Prince George are mid-sized cities, with universities, major hospitals, and the like.

The point is that while there are always exceptions to the broad narrative – British Columbia is not much different than other places in the world where there are divides between urban, suburban, and rural or outlying populations.  The BC ProRep referendum reveals these divisions, in a similar way compared to Brexit and the 2016 US presidential election.

In BC politics, the geography of elections has been changing.  The Social Credit increasingly became a rural party, losing most of its seats in urban area, and losing its grip on the suburbs.  In 1991, Gordon Wilson’s BC Liberals supplanted the Socreds by winning a combination of liberal-high income ridings and conservative-minded ridings in the Lower Mainland.  Gordon Campbell built on this by extending the coalition into the Interior.  As things evolved, Christy Clark developed considerable strength in the suburbs and Interior, at the expense of the urban seats (eg. she lost her own seat in Pt. Grey, which had been BC Liberal since 1996).    The BC Liberals won over 50% of the vote in the Interior in 2017 but saw further slippage in urban seats, and most importantly, lost its gains (and then some) in the suburbs.  The map is ever-shifting.  The Greens have gone from irrelevance to becoming a regional power, competing with the NDP on Vancouver Island, yet thus far unable to move beyond that base.  These changes bring us a very different map than a generation ago.  The NDP had MLAs in Kamloops and Prince George; the Socreds had MLAs in Point Grey and Victoria.  Times change, and big-tent parties evolve and change with them.  When the formula isn’t working, they look to find a new formula.  As I wrote previously, the electoral map is always changing under FPTP.

Looking forward, the maps in this post show the limitations of ideas hatched in urban salons.  Many business, academic, and media elites live in the urban echo chamber and can be influenced by that conversation.  It’s when these ideas hit the road and visit the suburbs and the regions that we find out if they are sustainable.  In order to ensure ideas are going to work with the body politic, it’s best to get a reality check where the people are – outside the urban fortress.

 

Two maps: the cultural divide in the US and UK

There has been much discussion about the ‘divides’ in the US election.  Race, gender, and income status all play a part.  I would add a cultural divide between Cities and beyond the Cities, which revealed itself in the US election and also in Brexit.  In both elections, the popular vote was very close nation-wide but very concentrated (either way) at the local levels.

US presidential results by County:

Democrats mainly concentrated in big cities and university districts with notable exceptions of black and hispanic voting clusters, and some rural Democrats (eg. Vermont).  In Democratic states like Washington, Oregon, and Illinois, you see the polarization where most of the geography went Trump while the major cities went with Hillary.

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Brexit results:

Focusing on England itself, it was London (Remain) versus the countryside and regional cities (Leave).

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Source: Vancouver Sun

Brexit: Polls are split, but Market has decided

Updated (3 hours before polls close, June 23)

Interesting piece in The Telegraph that shows slight lead for Remain.

There will not be an election-style exit poll, but YouGov plans to release an election day poll at the moment the polls close (2pm PT / 5pm ET).  If there is going to be a shocking outcome, the first glimpse may be right then.

Gamblers are 84% certain of a Remain victory.  Do they know something we don’t know?  They are probably reading the polls as their main source of information.  If the polls are wrong, they’re wrong. UBC’s Sauder School Election Prediction market is made up of bettors betting real money to predict election outcomes.  In 2013, 85% predicted an NDP majority government; in 2015, only 20% predicted a Trudeau majority.  So, a sucker is born every minute.  We’ll see if the Brits are better bettors.

Professor John Curtice reiterates today that the polls can’t be trusted and it’s basically a crapshoot.  The public pollsters notoriously got it wrong in May 2015 and it was Curtice who conducted the election day exit poll that predicted the majority no one expected.  We might just have to wait until the votes are counted!

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John Curtice (@whatUKthinks), the polling expert who shocked the UK when he predicted a Conservative majority one minute after the polls closed in the 2015 General Election, says Brexit is too close to call.

The markets and the bettors are predicting a victory for Remain.  Political betting analyst Mike Smithson (@MSmithsonPB) has provided data that shows gamblers moved toward Leave about a week ago, but there was a sharp upturn for Remain after the Jo Cox murder.

Figure 1: Remain is a better bet for 75% of UK bettors.

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What are the markets doing?  British Sterling surged over the past few days, pricing in a Remain outcome.

Figure 2:  GBP climbs in final week

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And finally, what are the polls saying?

Figure 3: Compilation of Brexit polls (@MSmithsonPB)

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There has been a slight advantage for Remain via Telephone surveys and a slight advantage for Leave via Online surveys. While the markets and the bettors have turned toward the Remain camp as the likely outcome, those responding to polls are still very divided.

YouGov’s detailed tables reveal some of the underlying divisions in British society concerning Brexit.

The numbers shown in Figure 3 above are Decided support, however, as YouGov reminds us, there are still undecided voters (9%) and those who say they won’t vote (4%).  On decided vote, YouGov has it at 44 Remain, 43 Leave.

According to YouGov, here are some of the dividing lines:

Remain voters

  • Labour (64%) and LibDem (59%) voters
  • 18-24s (64%) and 25-49s (45%)
  • London (50%) and Scotland (56%)
  • Upper/Middle class – ABC1 voters (53%)

Leave voters

  • Conservative (55%) and UKIP (95%) voters
  • 50-64s (49%) and 65+ (58%)
  • Rest of South (45%); Midland-Wales (51%); North (47%)
  • Skilled working class/ working class/non-working -C2DE voters (52%)

When asked who is most certain to vote, Remain was at 79% and Leave at 84%.

On the dividing lines, there is a fundamental generational difference.  The range between young and old is stark.  The Euro debate, and underlying views on immigration, shape partisan leanings as evidenced in the Party ID splits. Class is also significant.  Then in Scotland, attitudes are tied somewhat to Scottish identity – leave Britain, but stay in EU.

But who will vote?

One would expect a high turnout.  YouGov indicates a tilt toward Leave voters.  Young people are expressing a strong preference for Remain but election turnout studies consistently show they vote at a lower rate.  Will they close the gap, like they did in Canada’s federal election, in the Brexit vote?  Will lower income voters vote at the same rate as higher income voters?  How will the UK’s sizeable immigrant communities vote and will they turnout to vote?  We don’t know this from the YouGov poll, possibly because it’s online which is typically less representative of people who don’t speak or read English well.  Telephone surveys are better in including those populations which may explain a slight leaning to Remain.

Going back to John Curtice, he is the most credible voice in the UK on polling and he believes it’s too close to call.   Curtice says the result could split the difference between the aggregate of phone polls which have Remain at 51% and the aggregate of online polls that have Leave at 51%.  A cliffhanger like the Quebec referendum of 1995.

This process ends in a vote and an outcome, but this discussion of the cold, hard numbers comes just days after a shocking murder of Labour MP Jo Cox.  This is no ordinary vote.  The referendum campaign has exposed the fault lines of UK society.  The stakes are extraordinarily high, especially in the context of a campaign that appears to be a photo-finish.

I’ll bet on Remain, based on voters pulling back due to perceived risk, like they did in Quebec in 1995 and in the recent Scottish referendum.  We’ll see if the gamblers and traders got it right.

 

 

 

 

Brexit the latest chapter in year of protest

“No10 panics as Leave surges”, shouts today’s Daily Telegraph.  “Massive swing to Brexit“, screams another.

With only 11 days until the Brexit campaign reaches its conclusion, momentum appears to be swinging at a very inopportune time for the Remain campaign.  A new poll shows a 55-45 gap in favour of Leave (adjusted for voter turnout, it’s 53-47).  UK voters appear open to following a narrative that has developed over the past year on both sides of the Atlantic – defying the establishment.

Brexit

The papers and TV news are filled with Remain campaigners issuing dire warnings about the implications of leaving the EU.  Former prime ministers Tony Blair and John Major said peace in Northern Ireland was at stake.  BBC News discussed an open letter expressing concern for science funding.  Prime Minister David Cameron is visiting job sites to underscore the threat to employment.  Former Labour leader Ed Miliband exhorted Labour supporters to get behind Remain.

It’s a robust campaign.  The Remain campaign is backed by the leadership of the four major political parties – governing Conservatives, Labour, the Scottish Nationalists, and the Lib Dems.

Significant voices in the Conservatives and Labour are advocating for Leave, including former Mayor of London Boris Johnson, cabinet ministers, and Labour MPs, not to mention UKIP, which garnered 13% of the popular vote in last year’s general election and wholeheartedly embraces a Brexit.   Other than UKIP, the Leave campaigners are bucking against their own parties, and while there is an aroma of opportunism, there are also points given for authenticity.

There are some interesting divides at play. There is an elite/populism divide.  The insiders favour Remain while the outsiders look to Leave.  The pro Euro faction of Labour obviously favours Remain but a significant bloc of Labour voters are going the other way.  Labour was particularly vulnerable to UKIP in last year’s election as working-class white voters outside London looked for a new vehicle for protest.  There is a generational divide.  Polls claim that young people are strongly in favour of Remain while plus 55 year old voters favour Leave.

Some constituencies are not bearing as much fruit for Remain as previously thought. Columnist Stephen Bush writes that hoped-for support from liberals and multicultural communities for Remain is less than certain:

The [Labour] Party always knew that it had a problem with persuading white voters in its small-town heartlands to back staying in the European Union.  It now appears that they have a problem persuading middle-class liberals in big cities to turn out to vote, and that the party’s large ethnic minority vote is more hostile to the European project than either the Labour leadership or the Remain campaign ever expected.

We’ve seen this movie before in Canada when a cross-partisan alliance (of elites) fails to mobilize their parties’ followers.  The national referendum on the Charlottetown Accord in 1992 is a shining example where dire warning were made about the future of Canada if there was a No vote.  The outcome was actually “Hell, No”.  Canada survived.

Last year’s transit referendum in Metro Vancouver was another similar example.  Everyone supported Yes except the people.

The 1995 Quebec referendum and 2014 Scottish referendum offer more insights.  Dire warnings were made, and heeded, by voters.  There were moments in those campaigns where the Yes campaigns looked like they would succeed.  In Quebec, the ultimate margin was razor thin.  A key difference was that these campaigns advocated for independence.  The EU referendum is the reverse – “yes” means status quo.  Voting “no” means change.  To mobilize grumpy protest voters, it is arguably easier to coax a “no” than a “yes”.

In all cases, emotion is key.  Bombarding voters with facts and figures from self-interested elites is not the path to success when contrasted with fears over migrants or anger over EU spending.

In the Quebec example, while there were many factors at play, a late-campaign emotional outpouring from Canadians provided much needed momentum.  The federalist forces had their backs against the wall and they rallied, literally, in an historic and emotional show of force.

Can the Remain campaign muster a cogent emotional argument in the next 11 days?  In the past year, the success of Donald Trump, Jeremy Corbyn, and Bernie Sanders provides striking examples of the resolve of voters outside the establishment to go their own way and absolutely tune out traditional voices.  Remain will need to change up their playbook to reach voters that are turned off as much by the messengers as they are by the message.

Over pints at a pub here in the UK, I talked with a collection of university students.  They are incredulous that the UK could vote to Leave.  Their modern outlook sees the opportunities that the EU brings.  The Remain campaign will need to draw on generational differences and mobilize this group of voters that has been typically less likely to vote.

Will the UK vote to Brexit? Most here think not but the next week will be critical in swinging the momentum either way.  As has been said many times, campaigns matter.

 

 

 

 

Politics wins campaigns, not Pollyanna

Today’s Globe & Mail carried an oped from Don Tapscott, the Chancellor of Trent University, concerning the meaning of the 42nd federal election.

Tapscott says: “Voter turnout jumped… in stark contrast to electoral trends in the United States and other Western countries, where a growing number of citizens just aren’t voting”.

Are post-election narratives being written by Pollyannas?

Uh, that’s not exactly true.

The key turnout stat is percentage of voting age population.  Stats Canada compared Canada to the US and the UK in the following chart up to 2011. 

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In recent years, turnout in the US has been increasing while it had been relatively flat in Canada (until 2015).    Certainly, Canada’s turnout rate hasn’t been anything to write home about, and we have hardly been in a superior position to the US or the UK.  UK turnout has been steadily increasing.  US turnout was higher than Canada in 2008, and US turnout in the past three elections has been at the highest levels in the last three decades.

Chart: Turnout as % of Voting Age Population

US Canada UK
2004 55.7% 2006 62.8% 2001 59.4%
2008 57.1% 2008 56.5% 2005 61.4%
2012 54.9% 2011 58.5% 2010 65.8%

The 2015 Canada election is a spike up.  On the basis of voting age population (a larger group than registered voters), the final number will be about 61%, I think (17.5 million voters out of a voting age population of 28.8 million).  The UK’s 2015 turnout was 60.5% (of voting age pop) and 66.1% (of registered voters).

Turnout is increasing everywhere in part because political parties are much more sophisticated in turnout techniques an place a greater emphasis on its role in campaigns.

Which brings me to my other point about Tapscott’s piece.  He heralds increased turnout as proof positive of positive campaigning and that the Liberals “refused to use negative advertising”.  Yes, Justin’s advertising compared to the Conservatives was more positive.  But those “sunny ways” share with occasional cloudy periods and thunderstorms.  Did young people troop to the polls because of sunny ways or did turnout increase to “STOP HARPER”.  The Stop Harper campaign and related strategic voting campaigns were the epitome of negative campaigning – imploring voters to vote against something as the first priority. Engage Canada’s pre-election campaign was not exactly a love letter to the governing Conservatives.  That Justin conducted himself in a positive manner was a smart strategy in the context of the anti-Harper negativity, presenting himself as the antidote. The Liberals didn’t have to do much of the ‘dirty work’ though  they did find time to rough up Thomas Mulcair along the way. That’s politics !

Hey, what do I know.  I’m not a Globe op-ed writer, I’m just a simple countryboy from Haney, BC who thought Laurentian Consensus played for the Montreal Canadiens.  It just seems to me that elections are about choices and contrast.  A party puts out their agenda and leadership and compares it to the others.  All parties did that, to varying degrees, and will continue to do so in the future.  As they should.  Let’s just not be Pollyannish in our analysis about what really took place.  Voters are comparison shoppers.  Yes, the Liberals profited by the comparison.  Yes, more voters turned out.   And yes, a negative view of Stephen Harper was probably the strongest impulse driving new voters to the polls.

What happened here was not that unique relative to other countries, nor is it that unique in the context of election campaigns in general.  This time, the Liberals just did it better.

The insurgencies of Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders, and Jeremy Corbyn

You wouldn’t necessarily think that Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have much in common, let alone Donald Trump and presumptive UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

Their politics are miles apart; kilometres in the case of Corbyn.  But whether it is on this side of the Atlantic or in the Olde Country, voters are going in the opposite direction of their ruling class – at least for now.

I was in the process of linking these three candidacies in what I believed was an original thought when Roger Cohen of the NY Times nailed it.  Says Cohen: “This is a season of radical discontent.  People believe the system is rigged.”  In Corbyn’s case, “He’s against everything Tony Blair stood for”.  On Sanders: “his suspicion of all things ‘feel good’ are part of his attraction”.  And “Trump’s ‘deal with it’, is the phrase du jour”.  In all cases, these three candidacies are thumbing their nose at party apparatchiks, media elites, and the winds of prevailing conventional wisdoms that flutter in the stale air until the next gust of change comes along.

Where I do disagree with Cohen is his belief that Corbyn’s leadership will be a “disaster”.  It may very well be, but just because the elites don’t like it, doesn’t mean he’s destined to fail.  Leaders have won against the grain of their caucus (Christy Clark), the party establishment (Jimmy Carter) or against a larger, like-minded rival (Preston Manning) and left their mark as they stabilized their support and moved forward.

Here’s a simple rule of arithmetic.  There are more outsiders than insiders.  There are more people who don’t feel they are part of the ‘elite’ than those who do.  When the outsiders move, they can upend the conventional wisdom.    Trump, Sanders, and Corbyn are giving voice to outsiders right now.  Everytime someone in the ‘ruling class’ decry the implications of their election, as Tony Blair and Gordon Brown have done, they embolden the insurgents.  Often time, these insurgencies give way to incoherence and a lack of discipline.  But they have accomplished one thing already, they have shaken up their parties in a way that no one saw coming.