Canadian Voting Trends

Apr 27, 2010 (Last modified Feb 2, 2013)
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Developing more effective environmental outreach

Canadian environmental groups are facing less sympathetic governments even though the environment remains a top-line concern of Canadians. To reverse this dynamic, some groups are becoming more sophisticated in their outreach. Unfortunately, limited voting data exist in Canada and voter lists are available only to political parties.

Canada and British Columbia also have strict non-party election spending and advertising laws; for federal elections, allowing non-party organizations to spend only ~$3,000 on advertising per federal riding (electoral district) which often contain 60,000 to 120,000 people. The Canadian parliamentary system also has no fixed election dates making preparing for elections unpredictable.

Over the last decade Canadians are getting increasingly disillusioned with electoral politics with voter turnout declining to historic lows: only 58% voted in the last federal election (down from 64% over last decade and 75% plus turnouts before 1988). In BC only 51% went to the polls in the last election with only 20% of eligible voters aged 18 – 24 casting ballots.

In the face of declining turnouts, limited resources and restrictive laws, how can non-profit organizations effect political outcomes on environmental values?

Dogwood Initiative is working to answer this question. Dogwood Initiative is a Canadian non-profit group that helps British Columbians exercise local control to create healthy and prosperous communities. They are determining effective methods of targeting voter outreach to improve local engagement and advocate for sustainable land reform.

Basic politics in Canada is similar to the US, it is essential to build support in ridings. In fact recently a retiring legislator said, “There are only two kinds of people in this world… those who can hurt you at home, and everybody else…” With this in mind, Dogwood began researching the best places to focus its limited outreach resources.

Dogwood Initiative first gathered voting data from each polling division (a subdivision of electoral districts) in 15 ridings in BC.

To compare election results and analyze trends, first it was determined which polling division boundaries had not changed between elections. Using voting trends from these districts, Dogwood identified bellwether and swing polling divisions (areas that consistently presage broader election results).

Later, election results in these polling divisions were analyzed and combined with demographic data to identify local value groups with similar voting trends. For example, the organization may identify swing divisions with concentrations of young people, who tend to have progressive values, and then work to determine the most effective method of targeting that group locally.

Once an effective technique is determined, it is tested in another area with similar characteristics. These techniques can make targeted outreach, on a neighborhood scale, more effective. As they are refined, this methodology can be expanded across Canada making politically effective outreach, education and mobilization more affordable.

Recommended by Brendan Ward
Tosha Comendant. 2010. Canadian Voting Trends. In: Data Basin. [First published in Data Basin on Apr 27, 2010; Last Modified on Feb 2, 2013; Retrieved on Sep 22, 2020] <>

About the Author

Tosha Comendant
Senior Conservation Scientist with Conservation Biology Institute

Senior Scientist at Conservation Biology Institute working on the conversion of scientific knowledge into conservation practice. Team lead for Conservation Planning and Management.I am one of the creators of Data Basin, a science-based mapping and analysis platform that supports education, research,...