Anyone who follows Canadian politics is aware of the Green Party’s catastrophic performance in the 2021 election.
After the party failed to nominate a full slate of candidates and saw its support collapse to 2.3% of votes Canada-wide, then-leader Annamie Paul publicly announced her resignation, comparing her experience as leader to crawling over broken glass. Paul’s formal resignation did not come until 6 weeks later, following a protracted internal negotiation.
It’s inevitable that an implosion of this sort would damage not only the party’s public image, but also its internal support and morale. Recent data allows us to put hard numbers on the impact of past 15 months, and it isn’t pretty:
From July of 2021 to October of 2022, the Green Party of Canada lost 11,272 members. In relative terms, this means the party has lost a full one third of its membership.
How do we know?
The Green Party of Canada uses an online voting service called SimplyVoting for its internal votes. After each vote, SimplyVoting provides the party with a report of the outcome, and the party posts this report on its website and/or emails it to members.
In addition to the voting results, these reports indicate the number of eligible voters. Since every member of the party is entitled to participate in internal votes, the number of eligible voters is the same as the number of party members.
There’s at least one internal vote every year, to elect members of Federal Council. Many years contain additional votes to ratify policy, for leadership reviews, or for leadership elections. Using these reports, we can accurately measure changes in the party’s membership.
The 34% drop reported in this post is based on internal votes which took place from July 2021 to October 2022. During this time, the number of eligible voters dropped from 33,124 to 21,852.
What about phantom members?
Although we have accurate counts of party membership, we still need to address the issue of phantom members.
For as long as I can remember, anybody who donates to the GPC is automatically given a party membership, whether or not they want it. As a result, a one-time donor would appear to “join” on the day they donate, and would appear to “quit” whenever their membership automatically expires. However, this “joining” and “quitting” is purely administrative, not the actions of a real person expressing loyalty or disillusionment.
So long as these phantom signups are spread evenly across the calendar, they become a sort of statistical noise. This noise would pad the overall membership numbers, but other than that, could safely be ignored.
The exception is election campaigns, when the number of one-time donors spikes. A year after the election, the bulk of these phantom memberships would expire, and that drop could be misinterpreted as a loss of genuine members. (Members donating $25 qualify for a three-year membership, so depending on the exact details of the signup process, those phantom memberships would expire after two more years in an “echo” of the first expiry.)
A federal election was held on 20 September 2021. The expiry date for any one-year phantom memberships would fall in August or September of 2022, right in the middle of the time period we’re examining. So, how do we know we aren’t looking at a phantom drop?
To eliminate that possibility, I examined three other statistics: how many members voted in each internal election, how many members cast a vote that was not “abstain”, and how many people donated to the party in the preceding quarter. (The first two numbers come from the SimplyVoting reports; the third comes from Elections Canada data.)
If the drop in membership had been caused by phantom memberships expiring, we’d expect to see little or no change in the number of voting members. (Remember that phantom members, by definition, don’t vote.) Instead, we see a drop of 36% in the number of members who voted, and a drop of 30% in the number of members who cast a vote other than “abstain”.
Furthermore, if the 11,000 lost members were a phantom drop, we’d expect to see no corresponding drop in donations outside of the election period. (Remember that phantom memberships spike due to donations during an election campaign.) Instead, when we compare two quarters that our both outside of the election period, we still see a drop in the number of donors.
This gives us two separate confirmations that this is not a phantom drop, from two different sources (SimplyVoting and Elections Canada).
There’s one other statistic that indirectly reinforces our conclusion. Prior to the 2021 election, the GPC polled at 6% nationally. In 2022, after the dust had settled from Annamie Paul’s resignation, support had settled at a new base level of 4%—a decrease of one third.
What about the leadership race?
The current leadership race does not appear to be having any meaningful impact on the decline in membership. Based on candidate financial returns provided to Elections Canada, none of the leadership candidates has recruited any more than a few hundred members. As of this writing, total recruitment for the entire leadership race stands well under one thousand. (Contrast this with the 10,000+ members the party added during the 2020 leadership race.)
This ongoing loss of members has had a deep impact on GPC finances. The party has already laid off half of its staff, come close to bankruptcy, and closed its head office. With the leadership race failing to replenish membership numbers, the GPC will emerge from this period a much smaller organization, with less resources and a smaller pool of volunteers to draw on—assuming it emerges at all.
In a future post, I’ll look at the Green Party’s future prospects in a larger context. But before that, I hope to deliver a projection for the leadership race, which ends six days from now on November 19th.
To be notified of new posts, please subscribe—it’s free.
Edited November 18th to indicate that donations over $25 qualify for a three-year membership. Thanks to Miranda Grace for pointing out this omission.