Strategic voting and the Nanaimo by-election

Post Date


Vancouver B.C. (7 February 2019) 

Reports of the demise of BC Green Party swirled following the surprise (for some) win of the BC NDP in last week’s by-election in the Nanaimo electoral district.

In conversations with several news outlets in the days before the by-election, we urged reporters to consider decades-long NDP support in Nanaimo (2001 being the exception since 1972). With an absence of tangible events driving support elsewhere, our overriding opinion was the NDP would win handily; albeit without our own poll, we couldn’t back-up our hunch.

In the days (and moments) prior to polls closing on January 30, some media outlets prepared for a Liberal win. (One news outlet briefly published their BC Liberal victory story.) Confusion about the speculation tax explained a poll released January 28 reporting a substantial Liberal lead. There was less discussion of the spending scandal revealed in the Plecas report and the discovery of troubling expenditures by some Liberal MLAs. Our feelings were 1) the electorate understands the speculation tax affects very few homeowners, 2) the spending scandal has the potential to entrench NDP support and drive soft Liberals to NDP, and 3) voters understand this is a two-party race for the future of the provincial government. We were right, we think, on two of those three.

While the speculation tax and spending scandal are top-of-mind for some residents (16% and 12%), housing dominates for the plurality of Nanaimo citizens (26%).

When NDP’s Sheila Malcolmson was declared the winner, for many the takeaway (aside from the NDP minority government’s survival) was the Green Party “collapse”. Pundits predicted the NDP-Green (“unholy”) agreement spelled doom for the BC Greens and the Nanaimo by-election was the evidence.

For the record, we don’t believe a result for the third party in this critical race predicts voter sentiment province-wide. Yet our poll, conducted less than a week after the by-election, finds well fewer than half of 2017 Green voters cast their by-election ballot for Green.

What happened to that Green support? The Green Party in Nanaimo fell from 20% support in 2017 to 7% in the by-election. Did Liberal growth (from 33% to 40%) cost the Greens as some suggest? Our poll finds a more nuanced explanation.

Voter mobility

The poll, conducted February 5 and 6, finds the overwhelming majority (90%) of 2017 Liberal supporters also voted Liberal in the by-election. A similar number (86%) of 2017 NDP voters again supported NDP in the by-election. Far fewer 2017 Green voters supported the Green candidate in the by-election (38%).

Examined another way, 12% of Nanaimo’s 2017 NDP supporters rejected the party in 2019. Similarly, 10% of Liberal voters in 2017 rejected the party in 2019. By comparison, a majority of 2017 Green supporters abandoned the party in the by-election.

We find significant voter mobility among 2017 Green supporters. Most 2017 Green support is now divided between Green and NDP (38% and 39%), while one-in-five (20%) voted Liberal. Voter mobility (between 2017 and 2019) is in the single digits among NDP and Liberal supporters.

Strategic voting

About one-in-four (23%) of last week’s by-election voters cast their ballots strategically.

Most strategic voters tell us the did so “to keep the minority NDP in power” (14% of all voters), while nine percent voted to “prevent the minority NDP staying in power”.

The poll finds the majority of voters supporting each of the main parties “truly support” their choice (67-74%). This reveals that sizeable minorities of NDP and Liberal by-election support (24% and 20%) is explained by a strategic choice to keep or extinguish the NDP minority government.

Green Party supporters in the 2017 general election were, by far, more active in strategic voting than were their NDP and Liberal counterparts. Forty percent of 2017 Green supporters say they voted strategically, compared to 20% and 24% of 2017 NDP and Liberal supporters.

Our conclusion?

There is no evidence that Nanaimo’s 2017 BC Green supporters abandoned the party en masse. And there is no evidence that the results in Nanaimo predict Green supporters’ sentiment in the province as a whole.

Much of the collapse in Nanaimo’s Green support can be explained by 2017 Green supporters’ strategic voting, largely to the benefit of the BC NDP. But BC Liberals can thank right leaning 2017 BC Green supporters for some of their support bump. As our poll illustrates, party support is mobile—increasingly so when strategic voting factors in a race empowered to take down the government.

For more information contact:

Barb Justason, Justason Market Intelligence
+1 604 783 4165 /

View data tables


Research Notes

These are the findings of a Justason Market Intelligence (JMI) survey of citizens 18 years and older in the Nanaimo electoral district. Potentially qualified residents were carefully pre-qualified to ensure they reside within the boundaries of the electoral district.

The survey, conducted and sponsored by Justason Market Intelligence for public education purposes, was completed in English February 5th and 6th, 2019 by automated random digit dialling (RDD) of landlines and mobile phones. A maximum of three attempts were made to reach potentially qualified individuals. The final weighted sample of 500 was adjusted to the actual gender and age distributions of the 2016 census and to 2019 Nanaimo electoral district by-election results. The final sample of 500 has a margin of error of +/-4.4 percentage points 95 percent of the time. The sample of 426 (by-election voters in this poll), has a margin of error of +/-4.7 percentage points.

1055 W Georgia St, Suite 2429
Vancouver, BC Canada
V6E 3P3

Phone: +1 604 783 4165