The Conservative party’s leadership race produced two significant candidates whose extreme views are likely to concern progressives. On one hand, Kellie Leitch’s anti-immigrant rhetoric scared many into believing that the far-right anti-immigrant movements that have been on the rise in Europe and North America were making their way to Canada. On the other hand, Brad Trost raised concerns about the potential for the strong social conservatives that had a great deal of influence over the Reform party and Canadian Alliance would start to influence the Conservatives. In contrast, Michael Chong’s centrist campaign attracted the support of many progressives seeking to influence the race, while Erin O’Toole ran a campaign that was more conservative than Chong, but less extreme than Leitch or Trost.
In my last post I looked at how the two strongest candidates, Andrew Scheer and Maxime Bernier, fared in the swing ridings the Conservatives will need to win if they want to get back into government. In the post I will compare Leitch, Trost, Chong, and O’Toole’s results in these ridings. This comparison can provide some indication of which of the weaker candidates Scheer should make a special effort to include within the party leadership. Like with the last post, it is important to remember that the general electorate will be very different than the electorate that voted in the leadership race. At the same time, the leadership race results can give some indication of which candidates are better organized and in a better place to deliver votes in the ridings that are likely to determine the next election results. A look at the different candidates’ success suggest that O’Toole and, to a lesser extent, Trost, are the stronger candidates in swing ridings.
The graphs below show the relationship between the support each of the four candidates won in the leadership race and the Conservative margin of victory or defeat in 2015 (the first graph) or average margin between the 2015 and 2011 elections (the second graph). While Chong and Leitch do the best in ridings that Conservatives did the worst in, their support drops quite quickly as the Conservatives get closer to winning a riding. In both the graph that looks at the 2015 margin and the graph that looks at the average margin O’Toole is the strongest candidate by the point at which Conservatives are within at least 25 percentage points of winning a riding. Brad Trost moves to being the second strongest of the four shortly after. Both Chong and Leitch are especially weak in the ridings in which the Conservatives had the largest margins of victory.
That Chong and Leitch did so poorly in both competitive ridings and Conservative strongholds suggests that, while they were able to generate a lot of news coverage, they were not able to build strong bases of support in the ridings that the Conservatives need to win elections. This suggests that the inclusion of both O’Toole and Trost in key leadership positions is more important to success than the inclusion of Chong and Leitch. Chong’s moderate campaign, while it caught on with progressives, failed to win over many Conservatives in swing ridings or strong holds. Leitch’s anti-immigrant rhetoric also failed to gain traction with these voters.
It is particularly worth looking at the different levels of support the Leitch and Trost were able to win. As an anti-immigrant candidate, Leitch represents the nationalist conservativism that is rapidly growing in much Europe and the United States, while Trost represents a more traditional social conservativism, which has been common in past conservative parties in Canada such as the Reform party or Canadian Alliance.
The two graphs below show that Trost’s social conservativism is more popular in swing ridings and conservative strong holds that Leitch’s anti-immigrant conservativism. Each red x represents Trost’s support in a riding in the first leadership ballot while each green x represents Leitch’s support. In both the graph that looks at 2015 margins and the graph the looks at the average 2015 and 2011 margin, there are far more red xs in the top middle of the graphs than green xs. This indicates that there are a large number of close ridings in which Trost did well in the leadership race than ridings in which Leitch did well.
In my last post I wrote about how, despite the close race for leadership, Andrew Scheer, had been stronger than Maxime Bernier in the swing ridings that the Conservatives need to win in order win future elections. Of the next four candidates, it appears that O’Toole and Trost are the strongest candidates in swing ridings. Both of these results bode well for moderate and traditional Conservatives in Canada. Compared to Bernier’s libertarian candidacy, Scheer’s looked very similar to Stephen Harper’s. Amongst the other four candidates, the more moderately conservative O’Toole and socially conservative Trost did significantly better than the very centrist Chong or the anti-immigrant Leitch. These results suggest that in swing ridings and Conservative strongholds the next Conservative campaign will look a lot like previous campaigns and that the strong anti-immigrant rhetoric of Leitch’s campaign and the centrism of Chong’s will have a less prominent role in Conservative politics.