The Power of the Rural Vote
As we come into the final week of the Ontario election 2018, this has been a dramatic campaign to watch. After three broadcasted debates, the parties continue to fight to win over voters in ridings all across the province.
Based on current polls, it seems unlikely that we will see the same urban/rural divide we saw in the previous election, where the Liberal majority was elected primarily in urban ridings, and rural ridings sent primarily opposition Conservatives to the legislature. Both of the two leading parties in current polls, Conservatives and NDP, have support in both rural and urban ridings, though in different regions of the province. However, many ridings are still closely contested between two or even three candidates.
The power of the rural vote is still being discussed in the media but in a different way than in 2014. After the last election, many in rural areas felt the power of their vote had diminished, since the Liberals were able to form a majority government largely without rural support.
In this election, the power of the rural vote is being discussed again, but in a very different way. While polls attempt to tell us the mood of the electorate in terms of popular vote, in our first-past-the-post system, the candidates who win in each riding finally determine who becomes Premier. This is why, although current polls indicate the NDP has more popular support, the Conservatives are still largely expected to take more seats and thus to win the election.
In order to explain this, media are using the term “vote efficiency,” meaning how many votes it takes to win a seat. In rural ridings, fewer votes are required to win seats in the legislature, compared to urban ridings. A recent article from the Toronto Star notes that the Conservatives are benefiting and the NDP suffering from the impact of vote efficiency at the moment—especially because of certain rural ridings. The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives’ blog “Behind the Numbers” explains that vote efficiency has played a role in the last number of Ontario elections as well.
Things have been changing dramatically over the course of the weeks of this campaign, as is evident from pollsters and political scientists attempting to track voter intentions for the election. Interestingly, Barry Kay, Associate Professor of Political Science at Wilfrid Laurier University who is also behind the Laurier Institute for the Study of Public Opinion and Policy (LISPOP), notes that opinion polls are far less accurate than they were in the past. In a recent news release, he notes that “participation in opinion polls has fallen to less than 10 per cent of those contacted from 75 per cent 40 years ago.”
What is clear is that, rural or urban, votes count in this election. With such a close race, it is vital that voters make their voices heard through their ballots on June 7th. We strongly encourage everyone to take the time to vote and keep our Ontario democracy working.
Suzanne Armstrong is Director of Research and Policy for the Christian Farmers Federation of Ontario. The CFFO Commentary represents the opinions of the writer and does not necessarily represent CFFO policy. The CFFO Commentary is heard weekly on CFCO Chatham, CKXFM Chatham, and CKNX Wingham.