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Battleground BC

A Rule of Thumb for Seat Guess-timates

By Will McMartin, 14 May 2005, TheTyee.ca

An aberration. That's how many political observers, and especially those supportive of the New Democratic Party, describe the 2001 general election, when the NDP fell to a historic low in terms of popular vote with just 21.6%, and captured only two of 79 seats in the Legislative Assembly.

Bizarre and peculiar is how pundits and Liberal backers describe the 1996 general election. In that contest, the Liberals garnered a greater share of the popular vote than did the New Democrats, 41.8% to 39.5%, but obtained fewer legislative seats than their rivals, 33 compared to the NDP's 39.

Given those sentiments about B.C.'s last two electoral contests, Battleground BC has examined a longer trend: the 10 general elections held between 1966 and 2001. Below are tables with the number of legislative seats captured by the party that formed government, the party that became the official opposition (or as occurred in 2001, the opposition that was denied 'official' status), and the total for third parties, over the period.

The legislature during that time grew from 55 to 79 seats - B.C.'s population climbed even faster, from 1.9 million to 4.2 million - so it has been necessary to convert legislative seats into percentages. Since 1966, the party forming government has won a total of 424 seats, or 67.1%; the opposition, 178 or 28.2%; and third parties, 30 or 4.7%. If that pattern holds on May 17, the government should obtain 53 seats; the opposition, 22; and third parties, four, in the 79-seat Legislative Assembly.

However, third parties failed to win a single seat in four of the last 10 general elections, and it is doubtful that any party other than the Liberals or New Democrats will do so in 2005. Excluding minor parties, the results are 55-56 seats for the government, and 23-24 for the opposition.

(If the lop-sided 2001 results are eliminated, the outcome would be: the government, 52-53; the opposition, 26-27.)

As a rule of thumb, we may expect that the party forming government on May 17 will finish with roughly twice the number of seats as the official opposition.

Table - Seats won by the party forming government, from highest to lowest

  • 2001 - 77 of 79
  • 1991 - 51 of 75
  • 1986 - 47 of 69
  • 1996 - 39 of 75
  • 1969 - 38 of 55
  • 1972 - 38 of 55
  • 1975 - 35 of 55
  • 1983 - 35 of 57
  • 1966 - 33 of 55
  • 1979 - 31 of 57

Table - Seats won by the party forming the official opposition, from highest to lowest

  • 1996 - 33 of 75
  • 1979 - 26 of 57
  • 1983 - 22 of 57
  • 1986 - 22 of 69
  • 1975 - 18 of 55
  • 1991 - 17 of 75
  • 1966 - 16 of 55
  • 1969 - 12 of 55
  • 1972 - 10 of 55
  • 2001 - 2 of 79

Table - Seats won by third parties, from highest to lowest

  • 1972 - 7 of 55 (five Liberals, two Progressive Conservatives)
  • 1991 - 7 of 75 (seven Socreds)
  • 1966 - 6 of 55 (six Liberals)
  • 1969 - 5 of 55 (five Liberals)
  • 1996 - 3 of 75 (two BC Reformers, one PDA)
  • 1975 - 2 of 55 (one Liberal, one Progressive Conservative)
  • 1979 - 0 of 57
  • 1983 - 0 of 57
  • 1986 - 0 of 69
  • 2001 - 0 of 79
 [Tyee]