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The worst election in history

Updated: Jun 24, 2023

One election over 100 years ago in Alberta is the most unrepresentative result ever.

The long-anticipated Ontario election is inching closer which means statisticians are forming their models.

The most famous model in Canadian elections is Éric Grenier's poll tracker. As of May 19th, his model projects the PC's at 36% of the vote, Liberals with 28%, NDP with 23% and Greens with 6%. However, the model also projects a 75% of a PC majority.

It may not seem strange to casual political followers, but a 75% chance of a majority with only 36% of the vote is an extremely bold projection given the history of elections in Canada. Such a result would make many headlines for how rare an occurrence it would be.

The current record for the lowest percentage of the vote while winning a majority in Ontario belongs to the Bob Rae in 1990.

Seeing the PC's getting 24% is quite the sight in retrospect. Especially considering they received 37% of the vote just five years earlier under Frank Miller. Bill Davis' PC's received 44% of the vote in 1981. What a decade it was for the PC's in Ontario.

But recent times have also shown us that a majority is possible with just 37% of the vote, as was the case in Quebec in 2018.

The 2018 election in Quebec is an excellent example of the importance of the gap between the number one party and the number two party. The CAQ only received 37% of the vote. But there was a 12% gap between the CAQ and the Liberals, paving the way for 60% of the seats. According to Grenier's model, the gap is 8% in Ontario.

Can it get worse than Quebec in 2018? Yes. Looking through Canada's federal and provincial elections reveals two examples that will blow your mind. First, there's the 1927 election in Manitoba. A majority with 32% of the vote.

John Bracken was the premier who led the "Progressive Party." In the next election, his party and the Liberal party had combined into the Liberal-Progressive Party. Such marketing brilliance must have made the Conservative Party jealous because they too added on "progressive" to their name that year. A decade later, Bracken was the leader of the Progressive Conservative Party on the federal level.

But the trophy for the least proportional election of all time goes to Alberta. If the last result blew your mind, Alberta's 1921 election might cause you to spontaneously combust.

Henry Wise Wood was the leader of the brand new United Farmers Party. But he didn't even run in this election. What's more bizarre is that he received 29% of the vote but won 62% of the seats.

It appears as though the United Farmers Party did rather poorly in the more urban areas but swept the seats in the rural areas. On the other hand, the Liberals ran up the votes in the urban areas but were also competitive in the rural vote leading to one of the strangest election results in history.

It may seem far-fetched for a candidate to win a majority with only 36% of the vote, and such an occurrence is extremely rare. However, history tells us that the gap between the top two parties and the regional breakdowns are our best ways of understanding if it will happen again.


Blog: Blog2
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