Have the People’s Party Overtaken the Greens?

Recent announcements from the People’s Party of Canada indicate that, in the three-and-a-half months since it formed, it may have already surpassed the Green Party of Canada to become Canada’s fourth-largest federal party.

To determine whether the PPC has indeed taken fourth place, this post compares the two parties in several key statistics: recent polling, membership levels, donations, and number of EDAs.

Recent Polls

The CBC Poll Tracker, which aggregates the results of federal polls by various polling companies and provides a weighted average, shows the Greens at 6.9% nationally and the PPC at 1.8%. On the surface this would appear to put the Greens far ahead of the PPC. However, there are three additional factors to consider.

First, as I have reported previously, the Greens typically poll almost double between elections, often at double the level they ultimately achieve on voting day. Whether this effect is related to strategic voting, campaign style, or some other cause is hard to say. But that also means it’s hard to say whether a similar effect would apply to the PPC at election time (for example, strategically voting Conservative instead of PPC, much like NDP/Liberal instead of Green), so I feel this factor should be excluded.

Second, CBC polling analyst Éric Grenier has observed that the PPC’s support is strongly dependent on name recognition for Bernier. When Bernier’s name is mentioned alongside the party name in polling, PPC support appears to be closer to 4%. Without Bernier’s name mentioned, the party draws closer to 1% support. Which figure is a better representation of the party’s real support? Leader names are not included on federal election ballots, so it depends on how much name recognition Bernier can generate for the People’s Party before the election takes place.

Finally, we need to consider momentum. Is it accurate to say that the PPC has gone from 0% to 4% support in under four months? Likely not. Bernier has a pre-existing reputation as a Conservative leadership candidate and a long-time MP. The public was introduced to the PPC through Bernier’s high-profile exit from the Conservative party—but his exit was only high-profile because of his pre-existing reputation.

In other words, it’s not as if we should simply draw a straight line from 0% through 4% and project PPC support at 8% by March. Some of that 4%, possibly even most of it, already existed from day one of the PPC. Meanwhile, Green support has not moved significantly in the past few months, so there is no clear momentum to factor in for the Greens either. That makes this factor a wash as well.

In summary, even if we assume the PPC’s true level of support is 4%, that’s still much less than the 6.9% support enjoyed by Greens, so the edge today clearly goes to the Greens.

What about the party leaders? A recent poll by Mainstreet Research suggests that Bernier is effectively tied with the Conservative candidate for the lead in his riding (within the margin of error) at about 38%.

By comparison, the 2015 election saw Elizabeth May achieve 54% support in her riding, far ahead of the second-place candidate at 19%. In 2015, Bernier was similarly elected with 59% support, but that was as a Conservative. Bernier’s next run will be against a Conservative opponent with whom he is currently tied. Therefore, as far as polling for the leaders goes, I give the Greens the edge as well.

With both the party and the leader in a stronger polling position, the Greens clearly remain the fourth-place party today in terms of public support.

Of course, polling only tells part of the story. As the saying goes, “the only poll that matters happens on election day”, and election-day results often don’t match between-election polls. With that in mind, let’s now look at some other tangible measures of support to see what the future may hold.

Membership Levels

The PPC claims a membership total of 33,000 as of mid-December. The most recent membership total I have for the Green Party shows 15,162 voting members as of 2018, based on the party’s pre-convention voting results.

(Whether the Greens are actually fourth in membership is uncertain. Wikipedia gives the Bloc Québécois membership as 19,000 as of 2014, but given the troubles the party has endured over the past five years, and its lower polling numbers today, it’s likely the current number is less than 19,000. However, I was unable to find a more recent total.)

Taken at face value, this would put the PPC solidly in fourth place for members, with more than double the GPC membership. However, the numbers are not directly comparable, because the two parties count memberships differently.

The PPC, in its three month startup period, has allowed people to become “Founding Members” for free—only a declaration of allegiance to the party was required. However, the party has collected thousands of donations in those three months, so some fraction of the 33,000 members should be considered “paid members”. (Note: the PPC now charges $5 for membership.) An additional wrinkle is that the PPC cannot yet issue tax receipts, so some Founding Members may be waiting to donate until they can make a larger, tax-deductible donation.

Meanwhile, the GPC requires a minimum donation of $10 for an annual membership. Recently, the party has had a tendency to automatically sign up any $10+ donor as a member, whether they request it or not. This has the effect of temporarily inflating the “official” membership numbers in election years. For example, in 2016 the party had 20,081 voting members according to internal vote results, compared to 15,162 voting members in 2018. Did the party really lose 25% of its members in two years? Or were those 5000 members really just one-time donors who never wanted to be members in the first place?

And so, we have a comparison between:

  • PPC members, all of whom have explicitly asked to be members, but only some of whom have made a monetary donation; and
  • GPC members, all of whom have made a monetary donation, but only some of whom have explicitly asked to be members.

I have contacted the PPC to ask how many of their members are paid versus free, but have no received a reply as of publication.

Without that information, there is no way to directly compare the PPC’s 33,000 to the GPC’s 15,162. However, we can narrow the range a bit for the PPC. Shortly after Bernier’s departure from the Conservatives, the PPC claimed to have received 2500 donations. Later, the $5 membership fee came into effect when the PPC had about 32,000 members, meaning the last 1000 were all paid memberships. This gives a likely floor of 3500 paid members in the PPC, and a range of 3500-33,000.

Depending on the real number of paid PPC members, the PPC would be anywhere from fourth to sixth in terms of paid membership.

Donations

Registered parties file quarterly financial reports with Elections Canada, so we can compare GPC donations with the amounts informally claimed by the PPC.

The Green Party’s return for the third quarter of 2018 indicated the party had raised $555,387 from 7309 contributors. In a CBC report on third-quarter fundraising, the PPC is quoted as claiming $331,000 of donations in the third quarter.

Again, a direct comparison here would not be appropriate. Bernier left the Conservatives on August 23rd, meaning his party’s $331,000 was raised in only five-and-a-half weeks, versus the Greens’ $555,387 raised over a full three months. If we pro-rate the PPC donations to a three-month period, the amount would be approximately $783,500, significantly more than the Greens.

But is pro-rating in this way reasonable? Likely not. The PPC’s formative month is a significant event in the party’s history, probably as significant as its first federal election. A fundraising surge would be expected. Meanwhile, for the Greens, this is just another quarter, with no special event or significance.

So who gets the edge?  I’d say the Greens. Pro-rating aside, $555,387 in the bank is more than $331,000 in the bank. Next quarter’s totals will allow for a more direct comparison. If the PPC can sustain their pace and out-fundraise the Greens, the edge would become theirs.

Number of EDAs

The PPC claims to have formed electoral district associations in 292 of Canada’s 338 ridings.* This is significantly more than the GPC’s most recent total of 174 EDAs—and more even than the GPC’s peak of 234 EDAs, which occured back in 2010. (See my report, Decade of Decline, for more details on the GPC’s loss of grassroots strength since 2007.)

* Update: As of December 23rd, the PPC claims to have formed EDAs in all 338 federal ridings.

Here again a direct comparison would be a mistake. The PPC EDAs can’t be registered with Elections Canada yet, and as a result, haven’t actually needed to meet the ongoing requirements of a real EDAs. A PPC EDA, today, is closer to a statement of intent. How then should we compare them with GPC EDAs?

In Decade of Decline Part 1.2, I note that many Green Party EDAs are in fact nothing more than paperwork, having neither income nor expenses:

Decade of Decline, chart 1.2.2: Percentage of ridings in Canada with a Green Party EDA, colored by number of contributors (0, 1-10, >10)

In fact, in 2017 only 57 of the GPC’s EDAs had financial activity, with the rest being “paper” EDAs. This would suggest that, even if only one fifth of the PPC’s 292 existing EDAs actually follow through with submitting paperwork and become financially active, the PPC would still have tied the GPC for fourth in terms of number of active EDAs.

Potentially embarrasing for the Greens is the fact that the PPC has already established EDAs in all 42 ridings in British Columbia, the province with by far the strongest support for the GPC. Despite this being the home province of leader Elizabeth May and the home of many of the GPC’s strongest candidates in the last election, the GPC only has 31 EDAs in British Columbia, of which only 13 were financially active in 2017. Again, if even one quarter of the PPC’s EDAs in British Columbia become fully-active, they have equalled the GPC.

What about the leader’s riding? Bernier’s home riding of Beacue claims 481 local PPC members, while May’s home riding of Saanich-Gulf Islands had 433 donors in 2017. Again we have the challenge that PPC members are not all necessarily paying members, so a direct comparison is impossible. However, calling this a tie is probably not unreasonable.

Overall, it appears the PPC has a significant advantage in EDA creation. With the next federal election less than a year away and preparations for the election already beginning, it is reasonable to assume that most of the volunteers who formed these initial PPC EDAs will remain interested. When the PPC becomes formally registered and its EDAs begin to submit financial returns, a more direct comparison will be possible.

Other Factors

There are a few other factors we can consider, but in my opinion they are not reliable enough to sway the overall analysis.

First is social media reach. Here, there is no contest. On facebook, the official PPC page has 8800 likes, compared to 85,700 for the official GPC page. On twitter, the PPC has 12,700 followers compared to 159,000 for the GPC. And on Instagram, the PPC has 653 followers compared to 2090 for the GPC. Overall, the GPC’s social media reach is approximately 10 times that of the PPC. However, social media use is strongly affected by supporter demographics and by party strategy, so it would be wrong to read too much into this.

Second is local rallies. Bernier has been holding regular rallies with hundreds of people attending, and appears to have some buzz around his appearances. However, without knowing the ratio of “curious” to “committed” in those crowds, this doesn’t mean much. Plus, to whatever degree these rallies are pulling in donations and memberships, we have already taken those numbers into account above.

Finally, we could consider media coverage. Again, there is a buzz around Bernier and the PPC, but this is to be expected. The media will always report on drama between well-known figures; as such, Bernier’s bridge-burning departure from the Conservatives was an automatic headline. There has been less coverage since those early days, and much of it has treated the party as a curiosity. The most common theme appears to be whether the PPC is, or will remain, something serious and newsworthy by the time the election rolls around. None of this is bad press, of course. But if we compare coverage of substance, such as how often party leaders are asked for their opinions on serious policy issues or recent events, it would be hard to assign a clear winner.

Conclusion

The Greens hold a clear edge in today’s polling, both in terms of support for the party and support in the leader’s riding. Membership numbers are inconclusive and could favour either party. Donations appear to favour the Greens, with better data soon to be available. EDA creation, however, strongly favours the PPC.

The overall picture of the PPC is a party within striking distance of the Greens. If the PPC continues to improve in polling, sustains or increases its fundraising in the next quarter, or publicly confirms 15,000+ paid members, it would have a bona fide claim to fourth place. Until any of that comes to pass, the fourth-place title remains the Greens’ to lose.

A Final Question: A Contrast in Strategies

Since the PPC has launched, its growth priorities appear to have been members, donations, and EDA formation. The party’s platform is still just a copy of Bernier’s Conservative leadership platform, no constitution is available yet, and the party’s web presence is basic.

By comparison, the Greens have a deep policy book and a more complete website, along with an emphasis on (and successful track record of) growing donations to the central party.

The main strategic contrast between the two parties is the different emphasis they appear to have placed on forming and sustaining EDAs. Bernier has been clear from the beginning that he intends to not only run 338 candidates, but to also have 338 EDAs in place by the time of the election. The Greens have never come close to 338 EDAs, and do not seem particularly concerned about that, nor about the fact that their number of financially active EDAs decreases each year.

If the two parties go into the 2019 election as two organizations comparable in size and reach, and if both leaders are included in the national debates (as appears likely under the new rules), we may have an opportunity to see the impact of these different priorities.

One thought on “Have the People’s Party Overtaken the Greens?

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