"We can't allow things that are inaccurate to stand." — The Word of Our Dan, February 19, 2008.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

On incumbency

This pretty chart shows the average age of partisan Canadian second-order governments in power since 1900. Click to enlarge:

The source data is the age of all partisan provincial (and one territorial, plus pre-Confederation Newfoundland) governments, calculated by assigning an age of "1" at the end of the calendar year in which the party took office.

Some provinces which had non-overtly partisan legislatures early in their history, as well as the two "consensus" territories, are excluded, as is the federal Parliament.

Transitions from one party leader to another do not impact the calculation of age. For example, the PQ government in Quebec keeps "aging" from Parizeau through Bouchard to Landry.

Several notable historical trends are obviously visible. By the mid-1930s, the Great Depression had cleaned the clocks of incumbents right across the country. (Along with other episods of government-replacement, the bar for 1936 is shown in dark green). Their replacements benefitted from lingering resentment of governments that got blamed for tough times, then the War years and post-War boom, to set records in many provinces for long-lived administrations. This was the era of Smallwood, Duplessis, Angus L., Ernest Manning, Tommy Douglas, Wacky Bennett, and the birth of Ontario's Big Blue Machine.

There was a bit of a "correction" in the late 1950s, bringing the average age of incumbent governments back to the long-term historical average of just under 10 years, followed by another period of stable incumbencies through the 1960s. However, from about 1968 to 1972, voters in every province except PEI and Ontario turfed incumbent parties, and nearly did so at the federal level in the minority election of 1972. This episode has been called by some wag, "the Great Housecleaning." There then followed another period of incumbency advantage, ending with a bunch of turnovers in the mid-1980s, most notably in Ontario and Quebec. This also coincided with the era of the 1984 Mulroney federal PC landslide.

Through the rest of the 1980s, incumbents continued to lose advantage, including the defeat of the ex-Peckford and Hatfield PCs in Atlantic Canada. After the huge federal turnover election of 1993, incumbency advantage began to grow again, and has trended mostly upwards ever since.

At the far right of the chart, the columns in yellow show what the incumbency situation would putatively be out to the end of 2014, assuming that:

  • Brad Wall's Saskatchewan Party wins the current election campaign;

  • nothing unusual happens to any of the incumbent governments who have won the other provincial and territorial elections so far this fall — especially the minority-of-uncertain-stability in Ontario; and

  • other incumbent parties who face elections in the next four years are also successful in their bids.
If some, or even most, of those conditions are met, the average age of incumbent provincial and territorial governments in Canada will be approaching record highs.

Hands up, everyone who thinks that trend will continue in a linear progression.

Both hands up, everyone who thinks that trend will continue if 2012, if not 2011 already, brings the second of a double-dip.



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