Conservative MP endorsements made a difference in leadership vote

Candidates for the Conservative leadership were scrambling for caucus endorsements, and an analysis of the results suggests it was worth it.

In most cases, leadership candidates did better in ridings in which they had an MP's endorsement

Andrew Scheer, left, receives congratulations from MPs Diane Watts and Luc Berthold Monday at the Conservatives' first caucus meeting following Scheer's leadership victory. (The Canadian Press / Fred Chartrand)

Conservative leadership candidates who sought the endorsements of their colleagues apparently did so with good reason. An analysis of the Conservative leadership vote suggests that MP endorsements had a positive impact.

And in the case of Andrew Scheer, who won the leadership by a slim margin, that impact was a potentially decisive one.

While it is impossible to know for certain what influence MPs had on the vote of members in their home ridings — their efforts on behalf of their supported candidate varied and some MPs may have endorsed candidates they knew to be popular among constituents — the results suggest that MPs were largely able to deliver votes for their candidate of choice.

On average, the 70 MPs who made an endorsement boosted their candidate's support in their own riding by an average of 11.4 points on the first ballot, compared to how that candidate did in ridings (within the same province) in which they did not receive an endorsement.

Only five of those 70 MPs failed to give their favoured candidate a boost: Jacques Gourde (who endorsed Maxime Bernier), Peter Kent (Michael Chong), Jim Eglinski (Erin O'Toole), Matt Jeneroux (Scheer) and Bob Saroya (Scheer).

Gourde's endorsement was the least helpful. Bernier did six points worse in Gourde's Lévis–Lotbinière riding than he did elsewhere in Quebec.

Did caucus support put Scheer over the top?

With only seven endorsements from sitting MPs, Bernier did not get much of a boost from caucus support. The combined effect of their endorsements was some 111 points, or 15.8 points per riding, based on the difference in Bernier's performance in ridings within the same province where he was and was not endorsed by a sitting MP. That is a small fraction of the 16,578 points he had by the 13th and final ballot.

Scheer's endorsements, however, might have been more significant. His boost averaged 14.8 points per riding and their total value was about 355 points on the first ballot — more than half of Scheer's margin of victory over Bernier on the final ballot. Had those points gone to Bernier instead, he would have squeaked by.

The strong caucus support for O'Toole may have also helped Scheer by the final ballot. O'Toole had more MPs backing him than any other candidate, though they failed to deliver as many votes at an average of 9.6 points per riding. Nevertheless, this represented 299 points on the first ballot.

On the final ballot, Scheer received about 59 per cent of O'Toole's points to push him past Bernier.

The MPs who delivered

Alain Rayes was the top performer among all endorsing MPs, as Scheer took 84 per cent of the vote in his riding of Richmond–Arthabaska, nearly 58 points better than Scheer's performance in Quebec ridings where he had no endorsement. 

Luc Berthold was the next-best performer, boosting Scheer by 50 points in his Quebec riding of Mégantic–L'Érable.

How much of these scores can be chalked up to Rayes and Berthold, however, is up for debate. Scheer was backed by dairy farmers who opposed Bernier's policy to end supply management. The two ridings of Richmond–Arthabaska and Mégantic–L'Érable are in the centre of Quebec's dairy industry.

Alupa Clarke in Beauport–Limoilou boosted Bernier by 43 points, while Mark Strahl gave Scheer a 33-point bump in Chilliwack–Hope.

Five other MPs increased their candidate's support by 20 points or more (James Bezan and Ed Fast for O'Toole, Tom Kmiec for Bernier and Garnett Genuis and Arnold Viersen for Scheer).

Proportionate to a candidate's support, Gérard Deltell was the most helpful endorsement in the race. Though he was unable to deliver his Quebec riding of Louis-Saint-Laurent to O'Toole, who finished second there, the Ontario MP did more than 3.9 times better in Louis-Saint-Laurent than he did elsewhere in Quebec.

The importance of caucus support

The analysis suggests that while endorsements may not have been a critical factor in the race, they could have made the difference at the end of a very close vote. In addition, Scheer was able to gather second-choice support throughout the count, suggesting he was a broadly acceptable option to a majority of voting members. His support within caucus might have contributed to that perception.

However, Bernier nearly won the vote with very little support within caucus while O'Toole finished a distant third despite being the most popular choice among Conservative MPs — demonstrating that caucus support is not a determinant factor.

This may prove to be a lesson for the on-going race for the leadership of the NDP. Caucus endorsements alone will not deliver victory to any candidate. But in a close contest, it is better to have them than not.


Éric Grenier

Politics and polls

Éric Grenier is a senior writer and the CBC's polls analyst. He was the founder of ThreeHundredEight.com and has written for The Globe and Mail, Huffington Post Canada, The Hill Times, Le Devoir, and L’actualité.


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