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The Carbon Tax & the BC Election

posted Aug 29, 2016, 11:47 AM by Joel Wood   [ updated Aug 29, 2016, 8:11 PM ]
Last week I wrote down a few thoughts about the misnamed BC Climate Leadership Plan and I hypothesized that refusing to increase the carbon tax may be strategic; either trying to maximize BC's share of any federal transfers that may be on the table in the ongoing provincial-federal climate policy discussions and/or trying to win the upcoming provincial election. In relation to the second point I presented maps of carbon tax support in BC federal electoral districts and the results of the 2013 BC election. In this post, I will look at the data behind those maps more closely.

Luckily the data behind one of the maps, adapted from the recent paper "The Distribution of Climate Change Public Opinion in Canada", is available for download. The dataset includes an estimate of the percent of the population that supports a carbon tax for each federal electoral district. I then tried to match each federal electoral district to BC provincial counterparts. In some cases this was ad hoc since some provincial electoral districts overlap multiple federal districts (I just tried to use my best judgement based on looking at the maps). I could then match the carbon tax support with results from the 2013 BC provincial election. The figure below shows average support for the carbon tax in the electoral districts won by each party. Support for the carbon tax was below the BC average overall in districts won by the BC Liberals; though it was still over 50%. Support for the carbon tax was above the BC average overall in districts won by the NDP, Green Party, and Vicki Huntington.

However, there were districts with strong support for the carbon tax that voted Liberal and districts with low support that voted Liberal. The next figure plots carbon tax support against Liberal vote share in each electoral district. Despite the carbon tax being a policy implemented by the Liberals, there is indeed a negative relationship between support for the carbon tax and the percentage of votes for the Liberals. This could help explain why the Liberals have been reluctant to increase the carbon tax since 2012.

Let's look at another metric: the margin of victory/defeat for the Liberals in each district. For districts won by the Liberals, this is the Liberal vote share minus the vote share of the runner up. And in districts this is the Liberal vote share minus the vote share of the winner. A negative relationship between carbon tax support and the margin of victory/defeat is apparent in the following figure. 

But maybe the Liberals are going to win most of the districts where carbon tax support is low regardless of what they do with the carbon tax. Places like Fort Langley-Aldergrove where the tax has sub-50% support are going to vote Liberal for other reasons. Where the carbon tax might matter is in districts where the votes were close in 2013. I restricted the sample to the districts where the Liberals either won or lost by less than 5% of the vote and redid the plot. There were 14 districts that had a "close" result in 2013. The Liberals won 9 of these districts to secure their majority of 49 seats in the legislature.If all their other seats remained in 2017, they would need to win 3 seats from these "close" districts to maintain a majority. Five of these districts have below average support for the carbon tax (though still >50%). There is still a negative relationship in these close districts between carbon tax support and the margin of victory/defeat. In 2013 the carbon tax was a non-issue as the Liberals and NDP had both pledged to maintain it at $30/t (they only differed on how the money was to be spent). The carbon tax could certainly become an issue in these close districts if the NDP promises increases. 

After looking at the charts above, it appears that keeping the carbon tax at $30/t (the level it has been since 2012) probably won't hurt the Liberals in the next election, it may even help. They can attract both people who support the carbon tax and those who oppose it (with an unorganized Conservative Party in BC, the freeze of the tax may placate voters who do not support the carbon tax).