NDP vote stalls in reverse

The great thing about political punditry is the ability to be right and wrong at the same time.

The great thing about political punditry is the ability to be right and wrong at the same time and get away with it, which is why the pundits who were no better at predicting the outcome of the B.C. election shouldn’t be expected to be any better at interpreting the results.

It’s quite simple: the B.C. Liberal party set out to win at all costs and did. They ran the better campaign, got their vote out and won. They were even willing to throw a candidate or two under the bus to do it, as witnessed by two full page ads in Victoria’s Times Colonist extolling the virtues of Green party leader Jane Sterk paid for by none other than the B.C. Liberal party.

Fault them for their tactics, but not even the huffing and puffing of political observers over those tactics seems to resonate long with the voters who ultimately decide elections.

What should be of concern though is the emergence of an almost constant pool of voters in B.C. and an equivalent block of non-voters.

In 2009, 1.65 million voters cast a ballot. In the 2011 HST referendum, 1.61 million mailed-in their vote. And last week, 1.63 million made the trek to the polls, although that number will rise slightly when absentee ballots are tallied.

Looked at another way: close to half of the province’s eligible voters continue to turn their back on the ballot box. That’s not a good thing.

And what lurks beneath these numbers should worry NDP operatives.

In 1979 at the crest of its support, Dave Barrett and the NDP won 46 per cent of the popular vote or 646,188 votes out of 1.4 million cast. They still lost the election. Last week, Adrian Dix and the NDP won 39.5 per cent of the vote or 643,399 votes out of 1.63 million cast.

Over 35 years, the NDP has seen its share of the popular vote steadily decline and its actual vote stall, despite an electorate that has nearly doubled in size over the same period.

Parties that don’t grow their base lose and risk withering away.

While the Liberals grew their vote marginally over their 1979 Socred brethren, they don’t have too much to boast about either. In 1979, the Social Credit party won 677,607 votes. The B.C. Liberals pulled in 723,618 votes.

Dermod Travis is the executive director of IntegrityBC. This is part one of a two-part column.

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