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Trying to guess the outcome of Monday’s elections?
Take a look at a riding’s demographics.
Vancouver data authority Andy Yan has, though he has a word of a caution.
“Demographics aren’t destiny — they’re direction,” said Yan, who is director of Simon Fraser University’s City Program. “Just because you have one particular demographic, it doesn’t necessarily guarantee it’s going to fit into the partisan stereotype.”
Demographic data don’t reflect the charisma of individual candidates, he said. And it may not capture the impact of social networks, like a church or temple, or of ridings with issues-based campaigns — like sexual education — within immigrant communities.
Still, I visited Yan’s office to have a look inside his crystal ball — or at least at Excel spreadsheets on a Dell UltraSharp Curved Ultrawide Monitor.
He combined the 2015 election results with 2016 census data to see what demographics tells us about voters.
“It is interesting to see cases where characteristics have descriptive power,” Yan said.
Yan handed me the dataset from the last election, and here are 10 lessons I pulled out.
Ridings with dense populations were far more likely to vote “progressive” (or at least not Conservative).
The 25 per cent of ridings with the densest populations range from Brossard—Saint-Lambert on Montreal’s South Shore with 2,037 people per square kilometre to Toronto Centre, with 17,785 people per square kilometre. (Skeena-Bulkley Valley in B.C.’s northwest had less than one person per square kilometre.)
Of the 85 ridings, 67 elected a Liberal MP and 11 an NDP candidate — 92 per cent were won by a progressive candidate.
Liberals won in higher-density ridings.
The median density for the 184 ridings won by the Liberals was 1,217 people per square kilometre.
The median density in the 44 ridings won by the NDP was 543 people per square kilometre.
For Conservatives, the median density in the 99 ridings they won was 36 people per square kilometre, reflecting their support in rural areas.
So if you’re called for a riding prediction, check population density before you make a decision.
If your riding has a majority of visible minorities, there’s an 85-per-cent chance it elected a Liberal.
Let’s look at ridings that are “majority minority.” That is, ridings whose populations are more than half non-white, or what the census calls “visible minorities.”
There are 40 of these ridings, from New Westminster—Burnaby at 51 per cent non-white to Scarborough North at 92 per cent.
The Liberals won 34 of them, and the NDP and Conservatives won three each.
Canada’s only two majority-Chinese ridings voted Conservative.
They are Markham—Unionville, with 64 per cent of its population identifying as Chinese, and Richmond Centre, at 59 per cent. (Conservatives are likely to retain both seats Monday, according to projections from 338Canada.)
Ridings that were more than one-fifth South Asian all voted Liberal.
There are 23 of these ridings. It was a decisive win for the Liberals, perhaps in part because two-thirds of their candidates in those ridings were of various South Asian backgrounds.
South Asians are Canada’s largest minority group at 1.9 million people, 5.5 per cent of the population, according to the 2016 census.
The Liberals won 84 per cent of majority-immigrant ridings.
There are 31 ridings with more people born outside Canada than in Canada. The Liberals won 26 of them.
Rich ridings like the Liberals and Conservatives equally.
The richest quarter of ridings in Canada have median household incomes between $82,443 (Peace River—Westlock) and $155,906 (in Fort McMurray—Cold Lake).
The Liberals and Conservatives won 41 each out of the 85 ridings. The NDP won just two and the Bloc Québécois took one.
Ridings with lots of renters didn’t vote Conservative.
There was no clear homeowners’ party, but it’s clear that ridings where more than 50 per cent of households were renters did not like the Conservatives.
Of the 43 majority-renter ridings, 33 voted Liberal, nine voted NDP and only one (Beauport—Limoilou) voted Conservative.
Ridings with the most unaffordable homes (relative to incomes) looked to the Liberals for a fix.
In ridings where home prices were most out of whack with household incomes, who did residents vote for?
Yan looked at the median home price in each riding and divided it by the median household income to find the home-price-to-income ratio, a common measure of unaffordability.
(Renters aren’t directly accounted for in this measure, but areas where homes are expensive to purchase tend to be expensive to rent.)
Looking at the top quarter of ridings where this ratio is the greatest, the Liberals came out on top. Of these 85 ridings, the Liberals won 65, the NDP won 12, the Conservatives won six and the Greens won one.
Voters — both renters and homeowners — could’ve been attracted to the Liberals’ ambitious housing promises in 2015 to invest in rental housing, co-op housing and low-income housing, as well as to help homebuyers.
Ridings with higher education mostly voted progressive.
Let’s look at Canada’s most educated ridings, with between 31 per cent with higher education (Fredericton) and 62 per cent (Spadina—Fort York).
Of those 85 ridings, 63 elected a Liberal, seven a New Democrat and one voted a Green. That means 84 per cent of Canada’s most educated ridings elected MPs from parties that leaned toward the progressive end of the political spectrum.
If we look at all of Canada, the median percentage of people with higher education is 15 per cent in Conservative ridings, 19 per cent in NDP ridings, and 24 per cent in Liberal ridings.
Again, as Yan warns, demographics aren’t destiny, they’re direction.
But this kind of data is useful for political organizers.
“They’ll know where to concentrate their efforts,” said Yan. “They’ll know where their outliers are, where their strongholds are. They might inherently know this through their own political instincts, but this provides a view into the demographic characteristics behind those voters.”
At the very least, said Yan, “it’s food for the pundits.”
Read more: Election 2019