I noted earlier that the election in Canada resulted in a leading party with the smallest plurality of seats in Canadian history: 40.26%. Here I want to compare this result to other plurality jurisdictions. As part of an academic paper that I am working on now, I have collected data on 187 elections held under plurality electoral rules in parliamentary systems that have mostly nationalized party conpetition.* These elections cover a period of 30-40 years in the U.K., Canada and the Canadian provinces, New Zealand (prior to its shift to MMP), and several Caribbean countries.**
How many of these 187 elections produced a plurality smaller than what the Conservative party currently holds? One.
In Nova Scotia in 1998, the Liberal party obtained 19 of 52 seats in the provincial legislative assembly, or 36.5%, on 35.3% of the votes. That election produced a tie in seats, with the NDP also obtaining 19 seats on 34.6% of the vote.
The next closest examples are:
Ontario 1975, 40.8% seats (36% votes)
Canada 1972, 41.3% seats (38.5% votes)
Ontario 1985, 41.6% seats (37% votes)***
Canada, 1957, 42.3% seats (38.9% votes)
These are the only cases in my data in which the largest party in parliament won under 43% of the seats.
As I noted in a post on election day, Canada’s federal minority parliaments have averaged a life of about 18.5 months, or about the length of the minority parliament elected in 2004. Given what a dysfunctional parliament this is likely to be, it will be hard pressed to keep itself together even that long.
In fact, I think Declan said it best:
Something about Martin’s tone when he said that ‘the people of Canada have chosen Harper to lead a minority government’ made me feel that he was trying to hide his glee about how Harper would suffer trying to do just that.
Declan also notes, in his running commentary from election night: “Is Stephen Harper still speaking?” I saw it on C-SPAN and I have to admit, I stayed up past my usual bedtime to hear what Harper had to say, and I thought it was the worst victory speech I had ever heard any politician give. I am not sure how I stayed awake.
*The data therefore do not include India, where a very large share of the seats and votes are won by state-specific parties. In India coalition governments have been the norm in recent decades because the largest party usually has under 30% of the votes and seats. I also did not include cases that hardly have a party system at all, such as Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands.
**Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Jamaica, and Trinidad and Tobago.
***In this election, the second largest party in parliament (which had obtained a higher votes percentage) formed the government with the support of a third party.