If you are running for election, either as a rookie candidate or an incumbent, one of the most important things you should consider before launching your campaign are the often predictive nature of past results. Unless there is a groundswell of interest related to a specific local issue driving more people to the polls, measurable indicators such as voter turnout tend to change little from one election to the next. Because of this, past results can be a fairly reliable way of predicting what the electoral landscape will look like in future elections.
Prior to launching your campaign and surveying past results, you should ask yourself some important questions: • How does the mood amongst the electorate today compare to the last election? • Are there any major issues within your community that will result in more or less people coming out to vote? • Will anything be impacted differently this time around?
The answers to these questions can help inform your perspective on just how predictive you can expect past results to be. In most elections, examining previous results can help you determine how many votes you will likely need to win; who your main competitors might be; and how they stacked up last time around. Although none of this should be considered vital, any extra information you can glean is always a good thing!
Most candidates choose to run within their own ward; however, if you have not yet selected a ward to run in, examining previous results can certainly help to inform your decision. You may find that you live in a ward where your opponent is an incumbent who won in the past by an extremely wide margin. While running in the ward where you live should be the preferred course of action, if the incumbent remains a heavy favourite, you might wish to consider running somewhere else.
There may be a ward where the incumbent candidate won by a much narrower margin; a ward where the incumbent was acclaimed; or, a ward where an incumbent is choosing not to run again. All of these options may present a safer bet, even if you do not reside within those wards. If, like most candidates, you are set on running in your own ward, examining past results will at worst help you understand exactly what you are up against. The golden rule is simple: if you think that you can gain enough votes to mount a serious challenge, you should not be deterred by past results.
Examining past results can also help you to identify who your main (non-incumbent) competitors are likely to be. Once you register as a candidate, you should be checking the registry on a weekly basis to see who else is competing for the seat. Every time another non-incumbent candidate registers in your race, you should do your due diligence and check the past results to see if they have ever run before. If your opponent ran in a previous election, you can see exactly how they did – and how serious a challenge they are likely to present.
For example, if your opponent was handily defeated in 2010, in the absence of a major change of fortunes, it is not likely that they will be a serious threat this time around. However, if they were narrowly defeated by the incumbent last time – they are likely to be a contender once more, and you should treat them with the same caution that you would an incumbent.
One of the most important pieces of information you can glean by looking at past results is how many votes you will need to win your local race. Doing this can be as simple as examining the number of votes the winner of your local race achieved in 2010 – and trying to beat that number. However, anyone who knows statistics knows to be weary of ‘outliers’; that is, in this context, instances where the number of votes needed to win in a given race is either much higher, or much lower than average. Thus, in the interest of having more complete information, it is advisable that you examine previous results from, at least, the last two elections.
As an example, if in 2010 the incumbent needed only 300 votes to win, but in 2006, the winner needed 900 votes – it might be a mistake to think that you only require 300 votes to win in 2014. In this example, instead of trying to match the 2010 results, the safer course would be to aim for the higher 2006 number (900). It is likely that the actual number of votes you need will be somewhere in between – but being conservative with your estimates is never a bad thing!
It should also be noted that it is important to compare how many candidates there were in previous races to how many there are this time around. While looking at past results will give you a winning number, one must also look at how many total votes were cast – and how many candidates ran. As an example, let’s assume that in last year’s election there were 4 candidates running, and the winning candidate achieved 30% of the total votes. In this year’s race, there are only two candidates running – you can safely assume that although 30% was a winning share last time around, you will obviously need to gain significantly more than that in your race to win.
Looking at past results is not tantamount to looking in a crystal ball. In the end, they are just numbers – and as anyone who has ever run politically knows, there are plenty of other factors which will influence the eventual outcome of a race. However, as with anything, more information is good information; examining previous results is one of many things that, when taken together, can help put you on the path to victory.
**If you are seeking past results, the best place to start is simply by googling ‘2010 election results in (your community)” it should take you to a page on your municipality’s website. If you can’t find the past results at the municipal website, you may want to check Wikipedia –the answers you are looking for are out there, you just need to look!