Wednesday, January 30, 2013

On voter pools

Yesterday's announcement of the membership numbers for the Saskatchewan NDP leadership race gives us some indication as to how the rest of the campaign will play out. But let's put the final membership number in context.

First of all, the oft-mentioned 35% increase over the party's 2012 numbers is bound to be at least slightly misleading. While last year did include a federal leadership race, the level of attention devoted to signing up new members in Saskatchewan figures to be higher in a vote limited to members within the province.

Instead, the more important precedent for the NDP's total membership numbers figures to be the number of eligible voters in 2009 - the most recent year when a provincial leadership race was similarly in progress. And in that comparison, the party has seen a modest drop from 13,000 members in 2009 to 11,160 in 2013 - but without a single campaign overwhelming the voter pool as Dwain Lingenfelter seemed to do in the previous race.

Meanwhile, the composition of the voter pool looks to be a clear plus for the NDP. A 350% increase in young members compared to last year offers a strong signal of renewal, particularly if the new voters stay involved beyond the leadership convention.

Naturally, the individual campaigns are each emphasizing different aspects of the new numbers: Ryan Meili focusing on the new numbers as evidence of renewal, Cam Broten highlighting the fact that his Saskatoon-Massey Place constituency features the greatest number of members in the province, and Trent Wotherspoon again using a general "hundreds" number to describe the new members signed up by his campaign.

But the ultimate takeaway looks to be a voter pool well within the range of expectations, but a bit younger and newer than the campaigns may have anticipated. And we'll see whether that shapes the candidates' appeals as the race approaches its home stretch - with online voting set to start on February 4.

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