The result in next week’s federal election will very much depend on two competing factors – voter anger vs voter apathy.
Traditionally, an upset outcome in any election usually depends on voter turnout. The higher the voter turnout, the better for the Opposition. People either vote for something, or against something. People who normally vote for a particular party, or government, do so as a habit and/or a sense of civic duty. In other words, they’ve always voted Liberal, or Conservative, or NDP, and will continue to do so.
People who vote against a particular government, or party, almost always due so out of anger, or in protest. This type of voter is not attached to any particular party, and if things are going well, they likely won’t vote at all. But get them riled up and they will move heaven and earth to cast their ballot. It should also be noted that anger is a much more compelling motive for voting than force of habit.
Case in point, the voter turnout in the last provincial election which say the defeat of the Liberal government was the highest in more than a decade. In 1995, 64.41 per cent of eligible voters replaced the Liberal government of the day with an NDP majority. Four years later, the Conservatives were swept to power thanks to the second highest voter turnout in the provinces history.
After the Liberals beat the Conservatives in 2003, they were returned to power in 2007, when only 52 per cent of eligible voters bothered to show up, and again in 2011 when voter turnout fell to just 48 per cent. It was only slightly higher when the Liberals won a third consecutive mandate in 2014.
In the past three federal elections that saw a change in government, voter turnout was higher than the preceding election. And more recently, a five-point jump in voter turnout helped the Conservatives upset the Liberals in Nova Scotia.
In a nutshell, high voter turnout spells trouble for the incumbents and the angrier the electorate the higher the voter turnout is, or at least that is the conventional wisdom, and there is little doubt that voters are angry at the current Liberal government. They are angry at how the Liberals have dealt with the COVID pandemic and they are angry that an election has been called at all.
But counteracting that anger is voter apathy. Despite the level of anger that is out there, we could end up seeing the lowest voter turnout in quite some time because most people have better things to do than to follow the election campaign – like seeing their kids go back to school safely, for instance.
So at the end of the day, we are either going to end up with another Liberal minority government, or a potential Conservative minority. Which way it goes will depend on whether anger will win out over apathy, or vice versa.