The true measure of the health of our political parties, as we all well know, isn’t their standing in the opinion polls, which are notoriously fickle. I’d suggest, instead, that the measure lies in the commitments of their supporters, as measured by the outgo from their wallets — in other words, political contributions.
After all, with the political subsidy being phased out, our national parties are going to be more dependent than ever on the goodwill of citizens, who get to decide whether or not to send out a fair chunk of their disposable income to an organization that will spend that money on advertisements and campaigns whose aesthetic and ethical value — well, let’s just say that “getting their money’s worth” is a bit beyond the scope of this blog post, alright?
Anyway: what I’ve done is use a spreadsheet to chart two bits of data. The first is the quarterly contributions, in dollar amounts, to the five major federal parties since the first quarter of 2006, when the Harper government first came to power. (These numbers, by the way, come from Elections Canada.)
As you can see, the dollar amounts for the Big Three fluctuate according to the quarter, with most donations happening at the end of the year. And donations tend to be driven by events: that big spike for the Liberals in the fall of 2006 happened because that was when they had the leadership convention which elected Stephane Dion. Their next spike, in July 2009, was their next leadership convention which affirmed Michael Ignatieff. You’ll also note that the Tories experienced a spike in the last quarter of 2008, when the “coalition crisis” occurred.
Now let’s have a look at the other bit of data: the number of donors or contributors, by quarter, for the same period.
The fluctuations aren’t quite as severe, and that’s helpful, because one thing you’ll notice is that the number for the Tories seems to be trending downwards, while the lines for the Liberals and NDP are actually going up.
The trending is hardly surprising. Now that the Tories have achieved majority status, the party fundraisers are probably finding it harder to broaden their donor base beyond their core support; after all, why give to the party if the party’s already achieved power? And while the Liberals and NDP are still well below the Tories in terms of donor numbers, I wouldn’t be surprised if they were able to achieve a rough parity be the time 2015 comes around.