The number of voters who actually voted for candidates that end up as MPs on the Government benches can be amazingly small.
The following chart shows, for each of the federal elections since Confederation, the percentage of voters who voted for a winning MP of the party that formed government1. For example, in the most recent (2019) election, the Liberals earned 6,018,728 votes (33.1% of all votes) and formed a minority Government. However, only 3,793,819 of the votes cast for a Liberal candidate were for a candidate who won. That’s only 20.9% of all the votes cast.
The colour of the bar is reflective of the ideology of the party forming government: liberal is red and conservative is blue.
The first chart, above, shows the effective votes for the party winning the most seats. The following is just like it except that it shows, in a lighter shade, the ineffective votes for that same party. Ineffective votes are votes cast for a candidate from that party where the candidate does not win.
The following chart is the same as the first chart except that it adds the effective votes for the MPs belonging to the Opposition. Orange colours represent labour-oriented parties (NDP); lavender colours represent populist parties (Reform); light-blue for Quebec-based parties (the Bloc).
The following chart shows, in the top stacked bar, the votes for all other winning MPs as a percentage of the total vote.
Finally, the following chart adds the ineffective votes for the various parties. That is, those votes that did not help elect an MP.
Each bar has six regions. From top to bottom:
“…the party that formed government” is a difficult concept in the early years
of Confederation, before parties were firmly established. For example, in the first
twelve elections (1867-1911) candidates ran for the “Conservative” party
as well as the “Liberal-Conservative” party. Both parties were led by the same
person, first by John A. Macdonald and then by Charles Tupper and Robert Borden. They
naturally formed government together.
We have made only limited attempts to account for this kind of situation. We have an “ideology code” assigned to each of the 140 parties in the database (see the notes under Raw Data/Party Summary) and run this same analysis counting votes by ideology code rather than strictly by party. Counting by ideology code groups the Conservatives and Liberal-Conservatives together, resulting in noticeably higher effective vote scores through the 1896 election. Starting with 1900, there are only six elections where the two approaches differ by more than 1%; namely (1911 - 1.5%, 1935 - 1.3%, 1940 - 3.2%, 1945 - 1.9%, 1953 - 1.2%, 1988 - 1.1%).
Regardless of the approach, however, the main point remains: only a relatively few voters have voted for the MPs that form government. ↩︎